The success of our Hope Farm project just shows what can be done with a bit of public money and a bit of imagination. After 10 years, the farmland birds on our Hope Farm have almost trebled in numbers.
At a time when Defra is looking at cuts across the board it just shows how important the Entry Level Scheme is - or does it? Well, in a way it does, because most of the increases in farmland bird numbers have been achieved through options that are now available in the ELS. On the other hand, the take-up of in-field options, such as skylark plots, by farmers has been disappointingly low.
Skylark numbers have increased on Hope Farm from 10 pairs to 44 pairs last year (I think they will be in the 30s again this year) - what an amazing increase!
The Campaign for the Farmed Environment, led by the NFU and CLA, and supported by the RSPB, is trying to persuade a few more farmers to add their efforts to those of farmers who are already doing lots for wildlife. Hope Farm provides a model of the type of increases that can be achieved - and at the moment the money is there for farmers to be paid for helping wildlife. The RSPB is arguing that Defra should not cut agri-environment schemes in this round of savings.
However, it is important that the ELS scheme, if it survives, is improved. It really ought to be the case that more of these proven and effective actions are employed on more farms. Whereas the Higher Level Scheme (about 25% of the wildlife-friendly money on the table) has proven benefits, the wildlife benefits from ELS are currently too small. A few tweaks to the prescriptions would not disadvantage farmers but would make a great difference for wildlife. At this time of a new government, with public spending under threat, we would like to see better value for money delivered by the existing hundreds of millions of pounds.
Hope Farm shows the type of remarkable wildlife transformation that can be achieved through such schemes.
Meconopsis - I don't think you'll find that the Game Conservancy have had such impressive increases in a number of threatened bird species. And I'm sure they are slightly envious of the fact that they started with grey partridges at their farm at Loddington and lost them, whereas we started with no grey partridges at Hope Farm and now have them - the grey partridge is the logo of the GWCT. So there are some real differences - and, of course, the GWCT have spent money on predator control at their farm - whereas we haven't.
In terms of funding, it's true that GWCT are not large landowners (as is RSPB) and has a much smaller membership than ours. But I notice that the current Minister for Agriculture at Defra, Mr Paice, is an elected GWCT trustee (or at least was on 1 January 2010).
I have been carrying around the GWCT's excellent annual review for a while but haven't had time to read all of it - I will. The GWCT have done some excellent work in the past and we work closely with them on several issues - we agree on more than we disagree, for sure.
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