The RSPB does a lot of work on farming and food, from science to identify what’s causing wildlife declines on farmland to free advice which helps farmers protect and restore wildlife on their land to ensuring all our reserves cafes meet the Food for Life standard. This week on Twitter we’ve been asking your views on what threatens nature, which of our farming stories have caught your attention most and what you think about farmland wildlife and food.

Last year’s State of Nature report brought together data from over 50 organisations to look at how wildlife in the UK was faring. As many of you pointed out in our poll, the picture remains alarming: over half our species declined between 1976 and 2013. There are a number of activities which can pose a threat to nature, from urban encroachment to climate change.

Producing our food doesn’t seem like it should be one of them. But with 75% of UK land used for food production, the way this land is managed has a vital role in the state of nature with agriculture making an important contribution to the fortunes of wildlife. Over the years farming has changed dramatically, this has meant that farms often have less space for nature.

The speckled brown bird, the meadow pipit, perched on bracken; cornflowers in a wildflower field margin, and a harvest mouse perched on an ear of golden corn in a cornfield.

Farming practices and the state of nature are inextricably tied together. Many of our names for now declining countryside wildlife show the connection: L-R meadow pipit, cornflowers and harvest mouse. (Image credits L-R Tom Marshall, Andy Hay, Ben Andrew, all rspb-images.com)

 

Spot the farms that are great for nature

An over-whelming majority of you on Twitter said that you are almost always on the lookout for wildlife when you’re in the countryside. Fortunately, there are farmers creating, restoring or protecting homes for nature on the land they manage. Like the farmers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are all working in different ways to save the curlew. And stone curlew hero Rachel Hosier in Wiltshire, who introduced stone curlew plots on her farm to successfully encourage these strange and rare birds to flourish.

These nature friendly farmers are demonstrating that is possible for farming and nature to go hand in hand. Whether it is skylarks or turtle doves, cornflowers or pollinating bees, many of our most iconic species live on farmland, making it often a great place to experience wildlife. You can look out for the tell-tale features seen on nature friendly farms:

  • Established habitats like species-rich grasslands and woodland are some of the most important for wildlife.
  • Hedgerows and field margins are home to nesting birds and small mammals and also help link up other areas of habitat.
  • Water features such as farm ponds are vital for those species which live, feed or breed in or near water.
  • Wildflower meadows offer a home to pollinators and other insects, as well as native plants.
  • During winter many birds need a helping hand from farmers to find the seed food they rely on to survive until the plentiful summer period. Look out for fields at this time of year where the crop has been harvested but the stubble left over winter, allowing birds including yellowhammers, linnets and corn buntings to feed on them. 

 

But what about the shop shelf?

Of course farms are not nature reserves – they are places where our farmers produce the food we eat. You told us you quite often tend to think about the impact of the food you buy on wildlife and this is great to hear! However right now it can be hard to find much information. But it’s not impossible: we’ve pulled together six simple ways to make your shopping basked more nature friendly.

 

Time for a new system

While many farmers are motivated by a love of nature and the responsibility they feel as stewards of the land, government support is vital to help them to help nature. Nature brings us so many benefits, from food grown in healthy, fertile soils, to the great feeling of being surrounded by nature. But our ‘use’ of nature that way has a cost. Something needs to be put back in to look after the environment we benefit from. There’s very little money for that in the food supply chain, instead, it comes from government schemes which pay farmers to deliver environmental benefits.

We are on the cusp of an extraordinary opportunity for change, as the Government next year will present a new agriculture bill, the first in over 40 years, which will determine the future shape of farming in this country. You told us that you think it’s their job to ensure our food meets a minimum standard of environmental sustainability. We want the Government to take this chance to shift our food system to one that protects our environment and sustains the healthy, diverse wildlife that support food production. If you agree, sign up to be a campaign champion to join our campaigning when the Government publishes its proposals next year.

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