Sophie Mott, Research intern at Hope Farm, provides an overview of the 2018 Autumn visits.

January on the farm is a little quieter than the busy autumn preceding it. Which makes it a good time to reflect on autumnal visits to the farm, where organisations and individuals stretching from other sides of the globe have come to learn about wildlife friendly farming here, and why our principles are core to future farming in the wider landscape.
 
Way back in September, we were fortunate enough to host Sukhdip Sidhu and Gurharminder Singh, Senior Scientific Officer on the Punjab Biodiversity Board for two days. The Punjab is a very prosperous agricultural area, which has led to large scale intensification to support India's food demands. However, this intensification has also led to a huge over reliance on chemicals, and a disregard for potential harmful effects of current practices on the sustainability of an agricultural system. Gurharminder and Sudkip visited us as part of their trip to the UK to learn about sustainable land management, with a focus on wildlife friendly farming at Hope Farm and at Martin Lines’ farm nearby.

We had a fantastic opportunity to learn about farming in a different landscape, with the chance to show what we have learned by managing land for the benefit of both food future production and wildlife simultaneously. They are now taking the lessons they have learnt in how to farm sustainably with wildlife to try to work complementarily rather than at detriment to the natural landscape in the Punjab.

From left to right, Gurharminder Singh, Sophie Mott (RSPB), Rob Field (RSPB), Sudkhip Sidhu. Image: Georgie Bray, RSPB

A team from Natural England who focus on the national implementation of agri-environment schemes met with us in the autumn to share thoughts on current execution and future improvements to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. It was beneficial for us to be able to demonstrate the myriad of habitats we have enhanced for wildlife on the farm using the mid-tier Countryside Stewardship scheme. It also gave us a platform to discuss challenges we have had with parts of the scheme and potential solutions. We presented our research projects aimed at improving farmland habitat in the field, without taking land out of production and complementary to improving yields, sparking ideas for new elements for future plans in the team.

October was a month for visits of the turtle dove farmer variety. We hosted the Fens volunteer surveyors, who dedicated time and expertise to help with the turtle dove project, to thank them for their involvement in Operation Turtle Dove, run by a cooperation between Natural England, the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and the RSPB. We took the group out to different features and habitats that have led to our huge increase in biodiversity on the farm, with a particular focus on our turtle dove seed mix trials.

A group of Suffolk farmers in the turtle dove friendly zone also came to Hope farm, to gather inspiration, and share practical ideas for how to prepare areas of their farms for turtle doves when they arrive in late spring to breed. Turtle doves have faced rapid declines across the UK in recent years and one cause of this is thought to be the loss of suitable breeding habitat and food availability across UK farmland. Being able to help farmers provide these habitats by looking at what is grown in the ground first hand is crucial to ensure survival of this iconic farmland species.

Suffolk farmers working in the turtle dove friendly zone listen to Georgie Bray (rspb) talk about hedge management at Hope Farm. Image: Sam Lee, RSPB

As well as hosting a few productive days on the farm, a slightly quieter period for visitors enabled us to venture out elsewhere. Georgie spoke to the Barnet, Potters Bar, and North East London RSPB local groups about our wildlife friendly farming at Hope Farm. Our message was also taken out to Germany, to a conference talk about wildlife friendly farming

Last but certainly not least, in late November, we joined the Nature Friendly Farming Network in parliament to meet MPs and discuss new legislation once we leave the EU. Having our thoughts heard by policymakers who can make landscape improvements to the future of UK agriculture is a key to influencing changes on a large scale.

It's been a busy few months engaging with so many people about different experiences in agriculture, and the how farming is either evolving or still needs to change to support the biodiversity so fundamental to a sustainable agricultural landscape.

At Hope Farm, one of our primary aims has always been to demonstrate, influence, and research wildlife friendly farming, and as we plod on through a dreary winter it is warming to reflect on such inspiring visits from the autumn.

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