Guest blog by Shelley Abbott, Fair to Nature Technical Facilitator, RSPB

The twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change are increasingly forefront in the news. Especially here in the UK with COP26 just days away! But are they separate crises? Surely biodiversity and climate are closely intertwined, where changes in one have an impact on the other?! Human activity impacts them both.

Image: Large skipper butterfly on black medick (c) Shelley Abbott, RSPB

Looking after the world’s biodiversity is part of ensuring that temperatures do not continue to rise at such a fast rate. Here in the UK, around 70% of the land is farmed in some way. That is a huge area that farmers, and therefore their customers, have an influence over. We cannot blame those that farm the land for the sharp declines in farmland biodiversity since the 1970’s. Farmers were reacting to the call for food security. They were encouraged to ensure maximum production to feed a growing population. Unfortunately, some of the practices that were encouraged were to the detriment of farmland wildlife.

During that time, farmers became very efficient producers of food, leading to the lower food prices we still enjoy today. But now the focus needs to widen. Farming methods need to adapt to stem the declines in biodiversity. As knowledge increases, agricultural practices that restore and regenerate the land have been growing in popularity. In some instances, this has meant returning to old ways of working with nature to increase the resilience of the farming system. In other areas, science has increased our understanding of subjects like the importance of a healthy soil and how changes in cultivation methods can boost rather than reduce the levels of carbon locked in the soil, thereby impacting on climate change.

Working with farmers to restore nature

The RSPB’s Fair to Nature certification scheme helps farmers work with nature on their farms. Specific wildlife habitats are created and managed across at least 10% of the farm, habitats that have been shown through research to deliver for a broad range of farmland species like wildflowers for pollinators, seed-rich plants to feed wild birds, wet features for all wildlife, hedgerows to provide connectivity between habitats, and much more besides.

Fair to Nature farmers also monitor the health of their soils and strive to make them more resilient to flooding and drought. They do this by adopting measures to increase the amount of precious organic matter in their soils, like minimising soil disturbance and growing green cover to protect the soil when a crop is not growing on it. Looking after soil health also reduces the need for fertilisers and other chemicals and helps to stop the run-off of potential pollutants from fields.

Fair to Nature farmers look closely at their management of crop and livestock pests, using natural methods to increase the beneficial predators of pest species, reducing the pest burden and the need for chemicals, thereby protecting the environment.

Image: A wildflower-rich field margin on a Fair to Nature farm (c) Brin Hughes

Fair to Nature is a whole farm scheme with a focus on providing suitable habitats for wildlife to thrive. The RSPB’s own farm, Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, has been a Fair to Nature farm since 2015. With Fair to Nature habitats building on the great work that had been taking place on Hope Farm since the RSPB took it over in 2000, the density of bumblebees is 19 times greater than on nearby farms with no wildflower resource, and the seed-rich habitat has encouraged a huge increase in the number of wild birds visiting the farm to feed, nest and breed.

Working with manufacturers to restore nature

As you are reading this, you may be thinking how you, as a shopper, can help these farmers continue the good work they are doing on the land and in the countryside that we all enjoy.

Well, the Fair to Nature scheme can also be adopted by food manufacturers, brand owners and other businesses. These businesses commit to buying the produce from Fair to Nature farms to put into their own products. They are then able to use the Fair to Nature logo on those products, informing their customers that what they are buying has come from farms which work with nature, not against it.

A great example of one of those businesses is WHM Pet Group. WHM Pet Group make pet food and wildlife care products. They manufacture all the RSPB’s bird food and the seeds and grains in those bird food mixes are grown on Fair to Nature farms, where possible, even the sunflower hearts. So, if you feed your garden birds with RSPB bird food, you are also feeding the birds in the wider countryside, on the Fair to Nature farms!

Another recent business to join Fair to Nature is The Consumer Brand. During the development of their products, The Consumer Brand ask their potential customers what qualities they are looking for in a product, then they set about fulfilling that wish list. The concept has proved successful in France, where The Consumer Brand’s counterpart, C’est qui le Patron, has over 16 million customers. Their first UK product is a plain flour milled from wheat from Fair to Nature farms. You can purchase the bags of flour online from Matthews Mill.

Image: The Consumer Brand plain flour (c) Shelley Abbott, RSPB

Looking forward to a future that is Fair to Nature

More brands will be coming on board as interest in the Fair to Nature scheme continues to grow. We are looking forward to our forthcoming new website (scheduled to go live in early December) where we will be able to showcase our dedicated farmers and the manufacturers who support them.

If you’d like to find out more about Fair to Nature, please visit www.fairtonature.org for basic information at the moment or send us an email at fairtonature@rspb.org.uk.

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