8 January 1999

Green surveys on council land

ENVIRONMENTAL surveys are being carried out on council- owned farms to see how wildlife and the landscape can be enhanced without damaging the commercial viability of the holdings.

The surveys are being carried out in Suffolk where the county council owns more than 5666ha (14,000 acres) of agricultural land, split into 135 tenanted farms.

The council, under joint Lab/Lib-Dem control, wants to demonstrate that it practices what it preaches about the need for environmental improvement.

More than a dozen farms have already been surveyed by the county branch of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) in a project being funded by the agrochemical firm Bayer.

A further 44 council-owned farms are in line for similar treatment in the next 12 months.

Adam Gretton, one of the countrys FWAG advisors, said despite a mixed response from tenant farmers, the surveys were already leading to action.

"Most of them have taken on board at least some of the recommendations, even if it just means leaving ivy on trees and some dead wood for wildlife," he said.

Other farmers were taking advantage of conservation schemes which would provide a guaranteed income from the land involved for the foreseeable future.

One conservation-minded council tenant, Harry Brown, of the 68.8ha (170-acre) Hall Farm, Copdock, has succeeded in an application to MAFF for a Countryside Stewardship agreement.

This will lead to the restoration of 3km of hedgerow and two ponds and the establishment of grass margins around arable enclosures.

Meadows are to be managed traditionally to increase wildflowers and opportunities for ground-nesting birds, while existing rights of way are to be connected through the creation of a new public access path to create a circular walk.

Local residents have already helped to plant a 400m stretch of new hedgerow.

Mr Brown, said: "What Im doing wont affect profitability. I wouldnt have gone ahead if that was the case because its hard enough trying to make a profit from such a small acreage."

Christopher Storey, county farms manager, said "ad hoc" environmental work such as tree planting had been carried out on the councils land for many years but the surveys represented a turn to a more structured approach.