Farmers and Wildlife
When we think of farmland, we often picture vast expanses of yellow-beige fields filled with monoculture crops. But, farmland has the potential to support a huge variety of habitats that are valuable to a range of UK wildlife. Take hedgerows, for example; a traditional feature of agricultural land. Yes, they’re useful for marking field borders and containing livestock, but they also create essential wildlife corridors that allow wild animals to safely move between different habitats, and they can also provide foraging and nesting opportunities to many species, including dormice and breeding birds.
Hedgerow near Cridmore Farm © Graham Horn (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Just over 70% of the UK’s land is used for agricultural purposes (DEFRA, 2017) … that’s a lot! As such, the condition of all of this land has the potential to ‘make or break’ UK wildlife. If all of the UK’s agricultural land was diverse, eco-friendly and contained valuable habitat for biodiversity to thrive in, can you imagine how rich and teeming with wildlife our nation would be as a whole? Many farmers are mindful of wildlife and take steps to incorporate nature conservation on their farmland, and we need to support more farmers to run farms like this.
It is clear, then, that farmers hold an important key that could lead us to a healthier, greener future. The way in which they manage their land, including which natural features are incorporated into the land, are big determinants of what animals and plants will thrive in the area. Farmland ponds are a haven for amphibians, dragonflies and reptiles and patches of grassland and woodland provide ideal habitat for a whole range of different animals, from our larger mammals to the smaller invertebrates.
Farm Pond © Nigel Mykura (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Wildlife-friendly farming (or, ‘ecological intensification’) is where nature conservation methods are incorporated into farming practices. This can include a range of techniques, such as; reducing the amount of pesticides used, using mixed crop regimes or even removing a small percentage of the crops at the field edge to replace with ‘wildlife habitat’. This last technique (despite the initial removal of crops) has actually been shown to increase crop yield at those field edges that lay next to the new ‘wildlife habitat’ (Pywell et al., 2015).
Smaller acts of kindness for wildlife are important too though, and a positive attitude towards nature conservation goes a long way. By leaving a few native vegetation patches to grow wild, planting native species around the field edge, or putting up a bat and bird boxes in some onsite trees, farmers can increase the ability of their land to support an assortment of local biodiversity.
Bat Box Photo © M J Richardson (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Farmers can make a real difference to our natural world and have the potential to help recover much of the lost wildlife across the UK. We should strive to implement farming practices that both maximise farming output and enhance biodiversity. But, like many things, this is best achieved by working together, and we must support farmers on their quest to make farms more wildlife-friendly.