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An ambitious new landscape-scale conservation project aimed at tailor-managing arable farmland across a large area is being launched at the Oxford Farming Conference

Working with a group of 14 neighbouring farmers around a village in Cambridgeshire, the RSPB has established the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone for the benefit of farmland birds and other wildlife.

The initiative is centred on the village of Thorney near Peterborough where nature-friendly farmers who manage 3,782 hectares of surrounding farmland have come together.  

The 14 farmers are stepping up for nature by selecting key Entry Level and Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme land management options, such as unharvested crops to feed birds over the winter, fallows and skylark plots providing in-field nesting habitat, and nectar rich plots supplying insect rich areas.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “For many years, we have worked on individual farms across the UK, but for the first time, this project has a mixture of local farmers to deliver and provide a strong wildlife identity to an area.

“All 14 farmers in the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone are balancing the optimal needs of farmland birds and other wildlife with those of their farm businesses.  Farming in the heart of what is considered to be one of our most productive arable areas, they act as a great example of how it’s possible to marry the needs of food production with environmental delivery.  We hope this will be the first of many successful landscape-scale projects linking the work of wildlife-friendly farmers.”

By creating the Farmland Bird Friendly Zone, a large area of wildlife friendly habitat has been formed, influencing the conservation prospects of, in particular, six range-restricted farmland bird species: corn bunting, tree sparrow, turtle dove, lapwing, grey partridge and yellow wagtail, and other species to over 220 square kilometres of farmland.

Land management options for farmland birds within the UK Government Environmental Stewardship Schemes are being used, resulting in up to 10% or more, of individual farm areas being managed for the year-round benefit of birds and other wildlife.

Gary Cade of SKG Farms Ltd, one of the farmers involved in the project, is actively promoting the work to other farmers and the local community.  He said: “The Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone has the ability to bring the public and farming together to demonstrate how modern productive agriculture can go hand in hand with protecting and enhancing farm wildlife.”

The Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone is part of the RSPB Fens Futurescape initiative. The ultimate aim will be to produce a contiguous area of land which is being managed to benefit wildlife, and create a wildlife-rich countryside for the local community to value, enjoy take pride in.

Janet Herbert, another farmer taking part in the initiative, said: “‘It really melts the heart to watch flocks of little songbirds cheerfully playing over a field of wild bird seed mix, searching out seeds and insects.  Undertaking stewardship as an individual farmer is certainly rewarding, but to also be part of the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone is even more fantastic because working together the benefits to birds and wildlife are increased enormously."


Written by Scott Buckler
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 14:02

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