Conservation is all about partnership.
Without the exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas, very little can be achieved in farmland conservation – particularly here in the Wessex region. It can be easy for conservation organisations to become insular and locked into their specific taxa group, be it birds or plants or invertebrates, but the reality of arable conservation means that a diversity of wildlife often shares a finite amount of habitat.
Partnership is what the Back from the Brink initiative is all about; it’s the first time ever that so many conservation organisations have come together with one focus in mind – to bring back from the brink of extinction some of England’s most threatened species of animal, plant and fungi.
The Colour in the Margins Project, for example, is a joint Back from the Brink project between Plantlife and the RSPB, primarily because the two organisations are working in tandem on species that occupy similar environments, but also because it is essential to know how – for example – a fallow plot created on farmland for ground-nesting birds may also benefit rare arable plants. Environmental options on farmland can be tailored to suit a range of different species, and whilst a conservation headland might be implemented on a farm for the benefit of Corn Buttercup, it might also provide nesting habitat for Grey Partridge and even a foraging area for the Brush-thighed Seed-eater!
Perhaps the most important partnership to benefit arable wildlife is that of conservation bodies and farmers themselves.
The vast majority of the farming community in this country want to do the right thing for the wildlife on their holdings, and many of the farmers we work with are pivotal in helping to reverse declines in some of our best-loved farmland wildlife. For example, during the 1980’s there were as few as 30 pairs of Stone-curlew in Wessex, but thanks to the hard work of farmers in conjunction with the RSPB’s Wessex Stone-curlew Project, today there are roughly 150 breeding pairs in the wider Wessex area. This is arguably one of the best examples in this country of conservation and farming coming together for the benefit of a species. We are optimistic that the Colour in the Margins partnership can attain a similar degree of success for arable plants.
In order to benefit wildlife, farmers must first know which species are present on the farm, where they are present and what each species requires to survive. There’s not much point in spending valuable time and effort providing habitat for a species that is not known to be present on the farm, and is unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. Equally, it doesn’t make much sense to create habitat that is unattractive to the target species or wouldn’t be suitable in the future. Farmers often want to know what they can do to help conserve species and habitats. There are many options under agri-environment schemes that are designed benefit a particular species (or collection of species), and this is where a close working relationship with Natural England is essential.
The project is working side-by-side with Natural England advisors up and down the country to ensure that farms are provided with suitable, and often tailored advice. Arable plants often have very specific management requirements, and whilst Red Hemp-nettle germinates best after a spring cultivation, Pheasant’s Eye requires an autumn cultivation. Unless the farmer in question has a thorough botanical knowledge, much of this detail can be lost and this is where Colour in the Margins alongside other farm advisers offer the best management advice for individual species.
Skilled volunteers form the foundation of projects like Colour in the Margins, and their specialist knowledge is invaluable in helping farmers make these decisions. Last year we engaged with well over 50 volunteers, all of whom have made an outstanding contribution the preservation of arable flora in their respective geographical areas. Volunteer-led surveys provide farms with detailed biological data that helps them identify which species are present on their land. In many cases, relationships between volunteers and farmers forged through conservation of species and habitats can last for long periods of time, and provides a continuity of surveying resulting in a long-lasting legacy. This in turn ensures farms are aware of any population changes for a given species, allowing them to alter their farming practices accordingly.
Ultimately, conservation requires input from a range of different groups of individuals, and if it is to be successful, these groups must come together to work cooperatively. Farming is always evolving, and it is important that conservation bodies and farmers continue to work in parallel wherever possible. The list of organisations involved in a conservation project like Colour in the Margins is huge and, just in the Wessex area, includes county councils, contractors, military agents, botanical societies and many many more.
There is no doubt that some partnerships require improvement, but the Back from the Brink initiative is undoubtedly a case study in what’s possible when people work together.
To find out more about how partnership working is benefiting wildlife in England, visit https://naturebftb.co.uk/.
Colour in the Margins project officer.
Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:
- Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
- Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
- Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.