08/05/2014 - NFU Journal Feature

Written by Chris Tomson – RSPB Conservation Advisor

NFU Journal Feature

As the RSPB’s conservation advisor for the Yorkshire Wolds and Coast my role is to offer local farmers and landowners free advice on how to enhance their land to benefit wildlife.
This part of Yorkshire boasts some excellent habitats for wildlife and has huge potential to help boost declining farmland birds, as well as other animals from butterflies and bees to hares and hedgehogs.
As food production is obviously the priority for any farming enterprise, I am advising farmers on how they can make their land better for wildlife without compromising their crops or income. From my previous experience working as a farm manager for 25 years and latterly as an agricultural conservation adviser I know that wildlife can flourish on commercially successful farms.

A brilliant example of this is JSR Farms Ltd, an enterprise which effectively combines nature conservation with modern, efficient and highly technical agricultural production.
Wildlife conservation is such an important part of Driffield based JSR Farms Ltd’s business plan that the company employs Mark Richardson full time to manage the 380 hectares of land that is in environmental management, which accounts for 10% of the total area farmed. 
The RSPB has twice awarded a Highly Commended certificate to the company in recognition of the high standard of conservation on its farms.

Working across the company’s13 sites in East Yorkshire, Mark ensures that the grass margins, beetle banks, nectar mixes and wild bird food plots are all compliant with the Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship agreements and manages them as if they were commercial crops to ensure that they are producing the maximum output for the wildlife.  He also manages the wildflower meadows, field corners and ponds, as well as the wet grassland alongside the chalk stream – the Eastburn Beck - which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  In addition, Mark maintains the many miles of established hedgerow each year, and the tree sparrow and barn owl nestboxes scattered across the farms.

Philip Huxtable, JSR’s technical arable director believes that the company’s sustainable intensification enables them to improve yields without impacting on the wildlife. They farm to make a profit so that they can re-invest in the farm’s natural resources. By maintaining a healthy soil structure they reduce their need for artificial fertiliser and maintain important habitats for wildlife.  Cropping is on a six year rotation with cereals, rape, potatoes and vining peas. The slurry from the pig units is all put back onto the land as a valuable fertiliser.
An “Investor in People” - the company employs 14 full time arable farm staff - they all are keen to maintain the high environmental and conservation standards across the farms. The Company is also registered with LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and is a demonstration farm - promoting the benefits of integrated farm management (IFM) to the agricultural industry.

As part of the RSPB’s Yorkshire Wolds and Coast advisory service we are monitoring the populations of farmland birds on JSR Farms over a three-year period as well as studying the bird’s seed preferences in the wild bird seed plots to enable us to recommend seed mixes to suit individual species.  We are also keen to learn which seeds are still available in mid to late winter to keep birds in good condition for breeding in the spring
It’s not just about birds. The company is involved with Operation Pollinator, a project designed to encourage farmers to sow blocks of vetches, clovers and other wildflowers to benefit bees and other pollinating insects. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is also working with the company to improve habitats for water voles along the Eastburn Beck.

I am very keen to hear from other farmers in the Yorkshire Wolds and Coast who, like JSR Farms, are interested in making more space for wildlife on their land. Get in touch for a chat.

Direct line 01484 868426
Mobile: 07900 164 601
Email:chris.tomson@rspb.org.uk

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