Archive Article: 1998/10/03

3 October 1998

HEDGE-trimming is now well under way on many farms, tidying up for the winter. Is this, however, the right time to be doing this?

ANCIENT or species-rich hedges are key habitats for many types of wildlife, some of which are of conservation concern.

In arable and intensively-managed grassland areas, hedges make up a large percentage of available cover for wildlife; over 1,500 insects, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded living or feeding in hedgerows. By cutting hedges less often, farmers will be creating the right sort of conditions to allow some of these endangered species an opportunity to increase their range and numbers.

Why not stop and think whether cutting all the hedges on the farm is really necessary? There may be no practical reason why hedges need to be cut so quickly during or after the harvest period, but this will clearly depend on how easy access will be to fields once the new-season crops have been sown.

Perhaps there are some hedges that can be cut in early spring, before the nesting season. For example, hedges beside farm tracks, or around set-aside fields need not be cut now. Leaving them over winter provides a valuable crop of berries for many birds, including thrushes, at a time when little else is available.

If your management has been to cut all the hedges after harvest each year, can this now be adapted to benefit wildlife and reduce management costs? Developing a rotation for cutting hedges is a simple and effective way of helping wildlife and improving the landscape. This will make more food available for birds over winter, and also improve the structure of hedges for nesting birds next spring.

It may also be possible to cut some hedges on even longer rotations. Hedges that run north-south are unlikely to cause crop shading, as are hedges that run east-west if they have a ditch or track to the north. These hedges can be targeted for cutting on even longer rotations, possibly of three to four years. Providing hedges of different age and structure on the farm will increase opportunities for insects, small mammals and birds, in short, increasing biodiversity.

Only farmers have the ability to bring about these improvements, so please think now, before sending the hedge cutters out over all the farm this year.

MAFF is willing to pay for an initial visit and a report identifying important habitats, management and the availability of grants for your farm. Details from Julie Milne at ADAS Boxworth (01954 268211).

Tim Russell,

conservation consultant, ADAS Boxworth, Cambs.

Last chance to enter the wheat challenge

WHEAT crops to challenge the world are already being drilled in the Crops/Advanta contest to find the UKs world class wheat growers and reward the top farmer or manager with a £1,000 prize.

In deference to the late harvest and delayed drilling experienced in some areas, we have extended the deadline for entries by another week to first post on Friday 9 Oct 1998.

The £1,000 first prize will go quite simply to the grower who succeeds in growing the least-cost field of winter wheat in the UK in 1998-99. That could be an owner-occupier, tenant or manager – standardised rental charges will apply for fairness to all contestants – anywhere in the UK. Additional cash prizes will be awarded at the judges discretion in recognition of those growers who may feel they are disadvantaged by soil type or geography from winning the ultimate prize.

If these growers can demonstrate that their cost structure is exceptional for their, or similar, areas, it will still be well worthwhile to enter the competition.

Theres the fun element of deciding what to do with £1,000 but there is also a very serious side to establishing exactly what your growing costs are when the market for wheat is likely to remain volatile.

There are encouraging signs. The UK average of £98.80/t for growing wheat – according to Cambridge University – is a lot better than the £109.90/t achieved in Germany and even more so than the £114.80 it costs to grow one tonne of wheat in the US. With wheat selling around £80/t, that might seem little consolation but there is evidence too that, notwithstanding market volatility, the long-term average world price of wheat is around £100/t.

Theres no doubt itll be back but it makes no sense at all to hang around on current cost structures waiting for that return to profitability.

Return the coupon now to receive a full entry form and copy of the rules.

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