Pollinator’s helping hand

Over 70% of Scotland’s land area can be labelled ‘agricultural’. It’s no surprise then to learn that the way farmland is managed has a significant impact on nature and wildlife. Given that there is significant pressure on our native pollinators at the moment the fact that many farmers enter into voluntary agri-environment agreements which help deliver a range of environmental improvements is good news all round.

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The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme has been a route enabling Stephen Melville at Cuplahills to deliver benefits for pollinators whilst bolstering his farm’s economic position.   At this family-run farm six-metre grass margins have been added around every field, offering both shelter and potential nesting sites for bees. The addition of species rich grassland and 2km of mixed hedges helps too. It is worth noting that the hedge planting includes not just hawthorn, but a range of other species: the variety of hedges encourages a diversity that wasn’t there before.

With three patches of wild bird seed growing, and an area of habitat-mosaic in management, come summer the farm is alive with colour (and insects) thanks to the sheer variety of seeds, flowers and shrubs that have been introduced.

Stephen is refreshingly open when he acknowledges that it wasn’t simply a desire to improve the biodiversity on his farm that drove his application for Agri-Environmental Climate Scheme funds. It was also an opportunity to generate an additional income beyond arable farming that was a key driver. But having brought a base income into the farm he can reflect with satisfaction that he has also improved the habitat available for wildlife.

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Kirsten Brewster, from Scottish Natural Heritage, worked on “Engaging farmers in biodiversity solutions”, an SNH led project working to understand how farmers value nature and what they see as important in terms of conservation. As Kirsten notes, “The good news is that the work at Cuplahills is not an isolated example.

Not too far from Cuplahills lies Parkhill farm which has been in Roger Howison’s family for 117 years. It comprises over 215 hectares of mixed farmland rolling down to the banks of the River Tay and was originally farmed by monks from the nearby Abbey.

Orchard buzz

Roger is embracing the principles of Agroforestry – combining agriculture and trees. He has made the creation of native woodland a priority, with one hectare of new trees planted in 2017 and another seven hectares to follow by 2019. The thinking behind this is to create corridors of native species that will act as both habitat for wildlife and shelter for the sheep and cattle that overwinter there. As part of the greening requirements the farm now makes greater use of field margins and buffers to create bigger wildlife corridors.

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This will provide both foraging and nesting sites for pollinators in due course. That’s good news on a farm which has made an enthusiastic move into apple growing; a good choice given that the nearby village of Newburgh has a historic tradition of heritage apple orchards.  And of course orchard pollination has long been a ‘strong suit’ for pollinators.

Although setting his sights on a lower yield than a typical apple orchard, the flow of air between trees which have been planted in an ‘open’ system means that they won’t have to use many pesticides such as fungicides.  It is thus more environmentally-friendly and requires lower input costs.

Each row of apple trees has been meticulously spaced out by hand and sits on a strip of wildflowers to benefit and appeal to pollinators. The field also incorporates a large patch of clover and Roger hopes shortly to install beehives; a benefit for both his apple production and nature.

Awareness of the uncertainty surrounding the future of agricultural support has prompted the family to plan for a future without the Basic Payment Scheme as a source of income. More permanent holiday accommodation is being considered in the hope that a diverse business will provide options for Roger’s children to make a living on the farm.

Reaching out

Involving farmers in solutions for biodiversity makes good sense. They are the experts in their local patch. and know best the reality of running the farm business. Using farmers’ experience, knowledge and skills will help us work together to halt the declines of farmland wildlife.

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Kirsten says; “In the time that I was out interviewing farmers across Scotland I was delighted to see the vast array of activity that farmers are doing for the benefit of wildlife through both Agri-Environment Climate Schemes and greening measures as well as voluntary efforts which are not subsidised. Pollinators are a great place to start when looking to boost biodiversity on your land holding as they are the building block that so much life depends on.

The Agri-environment climate scheme (AECS) is currently open for applications. The submission deadline is Friday 12th April 2019 for single applications and Friday 31 May 2019 for collaborative applications involving 5 or more RPID registered businesses. Further information is available on the website: AECS

The Forestry Commission website has information on Agroforestry grant funding available: Forestry grant scheme