A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – September 2018

September is the traditional month to gather the harvest and prepare for the winter. Farmers throughout Kent are busy picking apples and preparing livestock for market. They have also taken the time to discuss the other crop produced on their land this year, a bumper crop of lapwing chicks.

lapwing chick at phil barlingsThis year, numbers of fledged lapwing chicks rose from 39 in 2017 to 55. This figure is actually an under estimate as the wet spring caused a flush of grass in June which made it fiendishly hard to spot chicks and thereby get an accurate count. Pairs of lapwing are easier to accurately record and this year rose from 59 in 2017 to 155 and, for the first time, almost every single farm in the North Kent Breeding wader scheme recorded some lapwing activity.

 
Other species also benefit with redshank having an excellent year and 27 fledged yellow wagtail chicks recorded, 10 on one farm alone! Along with our two fledged black winged stilt chicks, the first ever to fledge off of a reserve in Britain, it shows that we are heading in the right direction and that stewardship payments coupled with tailored advice is the best recipe to reverse the decline in farmland wildlife.

 
After 4 years of working with the farming community I firmly believe that we cannot just hand over stewardship money and expect farmers to know how to do the work, some will, many won’t. We need people back on the ground who get to know the land in all seasons and build relationships with farmers so they can tailor advice to individual circumstances. We need people who can enthuse others to do the work and find solutions to obstacles preventing the land reaching its potential. We also need a stewardship system that is flexible and based in reality.

 
This season, for instance, our main problem is an invasion of sea club rush which is beginning to cover scrapes reducing the amount of bare earth and short vegetation which in turn will impact on breeding pairs and chick success.

farmers need help to manage rush around scrapes

Rush issues on a farm in North Kent.

Stewardship agreements tell farmers they need to manage the rush every year but many farms lack the equipment needed to manage it mechanically or chemically. Endless red tape also makes the situation worse, putting farmers in a difficult position where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. While regulation is a good thing to prevent damage to species and habitats it needs to be flexible to support landowners who are trying to do the right thing and manage their land for the benefit of wildlife.

 
What is needed is a separate fund of money to pay for yearly work on farmland, a pool of equipment such as weed wipers and rotary ditchers that can be lent out to farmers and a common sense approach to legislation.

 
In my experience farmers are more than willing to do the work but we need to give the right kind of practical support to enable them to do it.

2 thoughts on “A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – September 2018

    • Some of them see the money as compensation for profit forgone by not planting the land up with wheat. The stewardship agreements need to be written in plain English and backed up by advice from someone on the ground who knows how best to achieve results. It is not that they are not interested or wish to take the money and run often it is just a matter of not knowing what to do and not having the correct machinery to do it. Without farming advice and support we are handing over money and not achieving results.

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