24 March 2000

Action plan eases

headaches

By Edward Long

INFORMATION is everything when integrating conservation projects into large scale farming.

For one Essex farmer that prompted the creation of a detailed action plan which is used by everyone involved with day-to-day farming operations.

Among other agreements Peter Fairs contract farms 400ha (1000 acres) at Bovingdon Hall near Braintree, where an Arable Stewardship Scheme is being run within the Anglia Pilot Area.

An extension of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Arable Stewardship Scheme aims to conserve and enhance wildlife value of arable land whilst recognising the practicalities of commercial farming.

Average field size at the Tabor familys Bovingdon Hall is 8ha (20 acres), which provides plenty of hedges. There is also 80ha (200 acres) of ancient woodland and many small spinneys.

The farm was among the first to apply to join the MAFF scheme. "As soon as it was accepted it was up to us to work out how best to implement the various provisions of the scheme," says Mr Fairs.

Various types of conservation headland were sited next to woods or hedges where they could do most good and the 12m width chosen to match half a sprayer bout.

An implementation plan was then prepared, with an overall map of the farm to show field layout and highlight which areas were included in the scheme and what level of management was permissible.

A map of each field was then produced to provide the OS number, dimensions and target conservation areas, with a list of permitted chemical products. "The end result was the Stewardship Handbook which is now our bible," says Mr Fairs.

The loose-leaf folder has a page for each of the 20 fields on the farm included in the scheme each year. It is referred to when drawing up new worksheets and when an operator is about to start work he can see from the map what restrictions apply to each field.

The master copy of the "bible" is kept in the farm office, with copies in the farm car, the sprayer cab and with the agronomist. If a particular weed or pest problem needs tackling product choice is determined after checking the list of products permitted for each field. Entries are updated each year as crops rotate around the farm.

"The bible is absolutely vital to the success of managing fields within the MAFF scheme," says Mr Fairs. "It would be extremely difficult to implement the various requirements on an estate with a lot of small fields without it."

Bovingdon Hall has run the scheme since 1998. But extra work means extra costs, says Mr Fairs, and there is also greater pest pressures in crops adjacent to blocks sown with wildlife seeds mixtures.

"Although the compensation payments look generous when lumped together for the whole farm, they only just cover the extra costs. The big bonus comes with the conservation improvements that will both conserve and enhance wildlife on the farm." &#42

Scheme options

&#8226 Limited herbicide use on cereal stubbles left undisturbed until March when a false seed-bed is prepared. This should encourage hares, provide seed for birds over winter, and allow rare arable plants to survive.

&#8226 Field edges with no insecticide applied until after mid-March to encourage spiders and insects so providing food for fledgling birds.

&#8226 Conservation headlands with restricted pesticide usage to create a barrier next to non-crop habitats.

&#8226 Longer term tussocky grass strips for ground nesting birds and small mammals.

&#8226 Blocks sown with wildlife seed mixtures to provide flowering plants to encourage foraging insects and birds.

Action plan eases

headaches

By Edward Long

INFORMATION is everything when integrating conservation projects into large scale farming.

For one Essex farmer that prompted the creation of a detailed action plan which is used by everyone involved with day-to-day farming operations.

Among other agreements Peter Fairs contract farms 400ha (1000 acres) at Bovingdon Hall near Braintree, where an Arable Stewardship Scheme is being run within the Anglia Pilot Area.

An extension of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Arable Stewardship Scheme aims to conserve and enhance wildlife value of arable land whilst recognising the practicalities of commercial farming.

Average field size at the Tabor familys Bovingdon Hall is 8ha (20 acres), which provides plenty of hedges. There is also 80ha (200 acres) of ancient woodland and many small spinneys.

The farm was among the first to apply to join the MAFF scheme. "As soon as it was accepted it was up to us to work out how best to implement the various provisions of the scheme," says Mr Fairs.

Various types of conservation headland were sited next to woods or hedges where they could do most good and the 12m width chosen to match half a sprayer bout.

An implementation plan was then prepared, with an overall map of the farm to show field layout and highlight which areas were included in the scheme and what level of management was permissible.

A map of each field was then produced to provide the OS number, dimensions and target conservation areas, with a list of permitted chemical products. "The end result was the Stewardship Handbook which is now our bible," says Mr Fairs.

The loose-leaf folder has a page for each of the 20 fields on the farm included in the scheme each year. It is referred to when drawing up new worksheets and when an operator is about to start work he can see from the map what restrictions apply to each field.

The master copy of the "bible" is kept in the farm office, with copies in the farm car, the sprayer cab and with the agronomist. If a particular weed or pest problem needs tackling product choice is determined after checking the list of products permitted for each field. Entries are updated each year as crops rotate around the farm.

"The bible is absolutely vital to the success of managing fields within the MAFF scheme," says Mr Fairs. "It would be extremely difficult to implement the various requirements on an estate with a lot of small fields without it."

Bovingdon Hall has run the scheme since 1998. But extra work means extra costs, says Mr Fairs, and there is also greater pest pressures in crops adjacent to blocks sown with wildlife seeds mixtures.

"Although the compensation payments look generous when lumped together for the whole farm, they only just cover the extra costs. The big bonus comes with the conservation improvements that will both conserve and enhance wildlife on the farm." &#42

Scheme options

&#8226 Limited herbicide use on cereal stubbles left undisturbed until March when a false seed-bed is prepared. This should encourage hares, provide seed for birds over winter, and allow rare arable plants to survive.

&#8226 Field edges with no insecticide applied until after mid-March to encourage spiders and insects so providing food for fledgling birds.

&#8226 Conservation headlands with restricted pesticide usage to create a barrier next to non-crop habitats.

&#8226 Longer term tussocky grass strips for ground nesting birds and small mammals.

&#8226 Blocks sown with wildlife seed mixtures to provide flowering plants to encourage foraging insects and birds.