22 March 2002

SUSTAINABLE FARMING: 4

WHOLE-FARM CONSERVATION

Do not let short-term issues take priority over a long-term vision for farm conservation, urges Richard Knight of FWAG.

"Getting the right brown/green combination is important," he notes. "But it requires growers to farm with wider vision. All too often the struggle for business survival gets in the way, and growers cant look beyond individual fields."

The view that conservation management costs money is not always correct, he says. "There are things that can be done which involve no cost. These are the zero budget options."

Dead timber is a good example. "It costs nothing to leave dead timber where it falls. And it supports the highest biodiversity of any habitat on the farm."

Field margins are another case. "Every farm has them – hedges, verges, ditches, margins and tracks. You can make something of them very simply, or get no environmental value from them at all. But some money will be required."

Two very similar farms can have very different levels of biodiversity, he says. "The reason for this can be found in management perception, skill and awareness. You must be aware of what value there is on the farm so that you can then assess what should be there.

"Skill levels can be improved, where necessary, with training and partnerships with other sectors of the industry. The key is to widen your thinking."