It was with great relief when I opened the envelope from Natural England and read that the farm’s application for a new higher tier countryside stewardship scheme has been successful. It will begin in January next year and go through until December 2022. For our farm, conservation management is not only important for the wildlife that lives here but also for our bottom line. If we didn’t receive funding for the habitat management work we undertake much of it sadly wouldn’t happen, for example large expanses of the marshes would probably be put to the plough, out of economic necessity more than anything else. It’s brilliant to think that the positive progress we’ve made over the last ten years with regards to habitat management will continue for at least a further five. For me, the taxpayer is receiving great direct benefit from stewardship schemes such as the one we are undertaking, and those that we have been involved with for the past ten years.
I heard that the new countryside stewardship scheme was complex before I started working on our application last spring, but now I realise quite how long a process it can be. In general I like the fact that there are lots of different options available and that an application can be tailored fully around the individual needs of the place and its potential for improvement, but this can also mean added complexity in terms of getting it right and making sure everything works together. Fortunately we have a brilliant local Natural England advisor who has been on the end of the phone whenever there has been a question or concern and soothed the stress.
Now however the real work begins.
I’m aiming to make some short vlogs about the scheme and what’s actually happening on the ground as work is undertaken (posted on twitter and here), but I’ll outline the general aims of our new agreement below:
- There is a significant emphasis on managing our areas of coastal grazing marsh inside the sea wall with various breeding and overwintering wading birds in mind, including Lapwing, Redshank and Avocet. This will mostly involve effective grazing management and we’ll be using a combination of sheep and cattle to keep the grass sward in suitable condition at various times of year.
- Support the farm’s colonies of the rare Fisher’s Estuarine Moth by suitably managing the Sea Hogs Fennel plots on the farm (we have five lots). We have a management plan for these plots which basically involves rotational cutting and ensuring scrub doesn’t encroach on the parcels.
- Provide winter feeding opportunities for birds
- Provide areas of scrub and suitably manage hedgerows
- Manage our 70ha of saltmarsh outside the sea wall to maintain the quality of the habitat and minimise disturbance to breeding birds, including Little Tern and Redshank.
We’ll be putting up a lot of new fencing in the coming months to ensure that all areas that need grazing can be grazed effectively.
The main thing to do with management however, to make sure you fulfil all requirements of these schemes is record keeping, and lots of it! It is going to be spreadsheets galore over the coming months.
Hope you’re all prepared for Christmas, and if not, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to get organised.