In two decades of nature-friendly agriculture, the number of birds has increased more than ten times
Farmland covers 75% of the UK, which makes it vital in the fight against nature’s decline.
Twenty years of nature-friendly farming on the RSPB’s Hope Farm have shown that, with the right support, it is possible to produce healthy food that is good for people, the climate and our wildlife. However, the future of agriculture and the incredible wildlife that call our farmlands home are in balance as the UK government has begun drawing up new plans based on pledges to farmers and to nature.
RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, which employs nature-friendly farming techniques, has shown that it is possible to reverse the decline in wildlife in farmland and maintain a sustainable and profitable business if farmers get the right support.
At the Cambridgeshire farm, wildlife numbers have skyrocketed over the past two decades while the business has continued to generate a steady profit. Simple actions like growing wildflowers, creating ponds, improving soils and cutting insecticides will promote wildlife and show what the future of agriculture and nature in the UK could be.
The number of butterflies is up 409%, compared to a national decrease of 10% since 1990, and there are 19 times as many bumblebees on Hope Farm as on a nearby control farm. There are now regular sightings of endangered farm birds such as lapwing, partridge, linnet and white wagtail that were never registered on the farm 20 years ago, and winter birds have risen by more than 1,200%.
Gray Partridge, Copyright Richard Stonier, from the Surfbirds Galleries
With the UK Agriculture Bill returning to the House of Commons this month, the RSPB urges the UK Government to use this experience to guide the development of new farm laws and nature-friendly farming systems in England.
Jenna Hegarty, RSPB deputy director for nature conservation, said, “The government needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Hope Farm has proven that our farms can become wildlife sanctuaries and make profits if farmers get the right support.
“We have reached a fork in the road – the UK government can rename failed policies and see another lost decade for nature. Or they can take this unique opportunity to change the way we farm. Support and reward farmers for protecting our precious wildlife. The stake couldn’t be higher. The UK government must hold on to its promise to rewrite the future of agriculture and nature in order to revitalize our world. “
Nature is in crisis: 15% of UK species are critically endangered, and the Farmland Bird Index has fallen 57% since 1970. Great Britain is one of the most naturally infested countries in the USA at the bottom of the world ranking. Farmland covers 75% of the UK, meaning farmers are vital to restoring nature and tackling the climate crisis.
While more and more farmers want to support nature-friendly agriculture and want to do more, farm subsidy incentives have done too little to support them.
Defra has started to develop a new support system, the Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMS). However, initial plans seem to repeat the failures of the old system, are not ambitious enough and do not support new farming practices that work with nature.
Georgina Bray, Hope Farm Manager, said: “Farmland covers the majority of our four countries and is therefore an absolutely critical part of the solution if we are to reverse the decline of nature. Farmers are under a lot of pressure, but the amazing thing about managing Hope Farm is that I’ve seen how nature can help produce richer, healthier soils and crops and stay productive over the long term. “
Martin Lines, Chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network and contractor for Hope Farm, said: “It was great to see and support the change of nature on Hope Farm. The massive increase in butterflies, birds and other wildlife is an incredible feat. The benefits of nature-friendly farming practices not only lead to amazing results for nature and the environment, but also fantastic benefits for agricultural productivity. “