Blogger: Niki Williamson, Fenland Farmland Bird Adviser
Have you ever wondered why flowers make people smile? Many things that make us happy are things that promote our survival - a good square meal, a thirst-quenching drink on a sunny day.
But what about flowers? Sure they’re nice to look at, but you can’t really live off them, or use them to fight off predators. But I love walking to my front door through the colourful blooms alongside the garden path. And on those rare occasions when my fella brings me a bunch of flowers, my grin lasts all evening! So if we’ve evolved to feel happy about flowers, maybe they’re more than just a pretty face.
Farmer Andrew Brodie obviously feels the same. He’s managing nearly four hectares of nectar rich habitat on his Cambridgeshire farm, through a Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
The habitat consists of patches of flowering plants, chosen especially with nectar-feeding insects in mind. Clovers, Lucerne, Sainfoin, Black Medick and Birdsfoot Trefoil flower alongside each other, splashing the farm with colour.
But by planting the mix he is not only growing flowers, he’s feeding bees, butterflies and beetles. In turn they’re eating aphids which would otherwise be spreading disease in his crops. They’re also pollinating crops like oilseed rape and beans – pollinating insects are thought to be worth £430 million annually to the UK farming industry. They’re also producing lots of yummy caterpillars which Andrew’s resident corn buntings, grey partridges and lapwings can feed to their chicks.
Andrew is not new to Stewardship, having been in the Entry Level Scheme since it began. He planted some of these patches back in 2005 and they are still going strong, thanks to his careful management. By cutting half the area in June he extends the flowering season, and by cutting the whole lot again in autumn he is continually removing nutrients from the system that would otherwise encourage grass to dominate the flowers.
With help from RSPB advisers, Andrew is stepping up for Nature. “It’s crucial that modern farming goes hand in hand with environmental concerns,” he says as we stroll through the flowers, surrounded by lazy buzzing. “We’ve got to look after our bugs, bees and birds so we can carry on ourselves.”
Andrew Brodie loves Nature. And he’s saying it with flowers.
The interesting thing about this 'wilderness' is that it's specially managed - carefully selected mixes, painstakingly established and selectively cut to ensure the flowers prevail.
The BEST thing about is that is so little is needed to turn things around - research shows that if, for every 100 ha of farmed land, farmers were to do as little as 1 ha of this (or another insect rich habitat), alongside 2 ha of winter seed food and 1 ha of fallows, farmland bird declines could be reversed.
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