Finding the right stewardship option

With some fields up to 110ha (519 acres) and an average field size of 24ha (59 acres), Velcourt’s James Thompson says meeting the Entry Level Scheme points has been relatively straightforward.

On the 2500ha (6177 acres) he manages on the Boston marshes, Lincs, 30km of hedgerows and woodland edges were put into the hedgerow/woodland management options, while 70ha (173 acres) of park grassland will be used for reduced input management.

Awkward field corners have been removed from production and he also plans to divide the largest fields with 6km of beetle banks.

“We’ve tried to make the most of what we’ve got and prevent taking too much land out of production.

From a commercial point of view, it’s been quite easy.

“We already have populations of grey partridge, marsh harriers and skylarks and hope to encourage them to thrive.

Cutting hedges and maintaining dykes in January also helps spread workload and use labour better.”

Fellow farm manager Andrew Welch also wanted to minimise the amount of productive land taken out of production on the 1200ha (2965 acres) he manages for Velcourt near Wintringham, Yorks.

Smaller fields – average size 15-20ha (37-49 acres) – and a large amount of hedgerows mean the hedgerow and woodland management options are key.

“It seems to have enhanced the small bird population greatly.

We’ve also got a large commercial shoot, so it’s advantageous to have some larger hedges.”

The RSPB’s Darren Moorcroft says cutting hedges in the winter on a three year rotation provides around 14 times more berries compared to annual cutting in early autumn.

“The hedgerow options also let you build up structure for different species.

For example, short hedges benefit species like linnets or other finches, while Turtle doves prefer bigger hedges.”

Mr Welch has established pollen and nectar, wildbird mixes and grass strips and also has 30ha (74 acres) of summer fallow land in addition to 130ha (321 acres) of over winter stubble.

“I was sceptical at first, but the results are fantastic.

We’ve got lapwings, skylarks, grey partridge, and a pair of stone curlews on the stubbles.”

Farmers drilling wild bird seed mixes should tailor these to species found on their farm, says Mr Moorcroft. Margins drilled with grasses, if managed correctly, can last for 5-10 years without being re-established, he notes.

A mix of tussocky and fine grasses should be used on beetle banks to provide structure and a range of habitats, he says.

“Ground beetles can move up to 200m into the crop, so if you’ve got enough, they could reduce the need for spraying insecticides.”

Both managers say that while you are unlikely to make significant profits from stewardship schemes, in most cases the financial returns cover costs and it is good PR for the industry.

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