Strategy for urban fringe farming vital
By Robert Davies
BRITAIN urgently needs a national strategy to allow commercial farming to continue close to centres of population, say landowners leaders.
Ian MacNicol, president of the Country Landowners Association, says trespass, vandalism, fly-tipping and stock worrying is leaving some parts of the urban fringe economically sterile. Profitable agriculture has become almost impossible and wildlife habitats are being destroyed.
During a visit to Lord Cobhams 485.6ha (1200-acre) Hagley Hall Estate, located six miles from the centre of Birmingham, Mr MacNicol was told that day-to-day life was a battle against damage and disruption.
On Wychbury Hill, he saw a detached 16ha (40-acre) block of land on which it was impossible to keep stock. Lord Cobham told him fences were torn down and livestock attacked by dogs, air guns and even crossbows.
Two important monuments constructed within the area, an obelisk and a mid-18th century copy of the Temple of Theseus in Athens, had been structurally damaged and covered in graffiti.
Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts and motorcyclists added to the tide of trespass, so all he could do was to cut the grass three times a year to try to keep the area tidy.
On the main part of the estate farm vehicles had been stolen or set on fire, and a combine harvester left in a field overnight was jacked up and the wheels stolen, Lord Cobham said.
He added: "The decision to turn most of our farmland over to set-aside was made with considerable reluctance after years of damage and disturbance. And the added threat of two major road schemes made planning the long-term management of the estate very difficult."
John Cooper, whose 28ha (69-acre) Courthill Farm adjoins the estate, said dogs, fly-tippers, poachers and trespassers made it difficult to farm in the area.
Mr MacNicol said the problems in the Hagley area mirrored what was happening all over the country. Resources were needed to protect farming and wildlife in fragile areas between conurbations and true countryside.
"One possibility could be the development of custom-designed management schemes similar to the Countryside Stewardship principle," he suggested. "The government should put money into the fences and wardens need for managed access to the urban fringe, where demand is greatest, rather than into access to places like the North York moors," he said. *
Culm grassland secure
CONSERVATIONISTS are celebrating the success of a 10-year campaign to save a vanishing landscape in the south west.
The Devon Wildlife Trust says that, with the help of local farmers and landowners, 70% of the remaining wildlife-rich marshy pasture known as Culm grassland is now secure.
According to the trust, about 90% of Culm grassland, which supports a variety of fragile and threatened wildlife, has been destroyed by land drainage and intensive farming techniques since 1905. Since 1989, the trust has helped local farmers and landowners to apply for Countryside Stewardship funding to protect remaining Culm grassland on their holdings.
Gavin Saunders, director of conservation at Devon Wildlife Trust, said: "Farmers themselves have made this a success by being prepared to rise to the challenge and maintain Culm grassland as part of their holdings. This is a good news story about farming and the environment. It shows what can be achieved if all sides work together." *