Group offers advice on conservation subsidies
By John Allan
A NEW advice group to help farmers take advantage of fast expanding conservation grants is to offer a range of tailored services.
The Farmers Conservation Group, supported by The Game Conservancy, Aventis CropScience and DETR, aims to research, develop and inform farmers on practical conservation issues to help them meet future environmentally based subsidy payments, says Nick White of Aventis.
"The Conservancy has 60 scientists, thats more than Kew Gardens," says FCG co-ordinator David Bird.
Plenty of information is available on moulding farming to benefit wildlife, but little is packaged for public consumption. The group aims to change that.
Thirty years of re-search exp-erience at the Game Conser-vancy will be fed to group members. A dedicated web-site (www.tfcg.co.uk), farm-based briefing days, field officer visits, newsletters and habitat and conservation literature will help spread the word.
Standard membership is free to all, while full membership comes alongside that of the Game Conservancy Trust at £45 per year.
Full membership includes a briefing day on a fully costed farm, farm walks and national conferences and access to more detailed web information through Aventis sponsorship.
Aventis is supporting BASIS-eligible training. That will lead to a Farmland Conservation Certificate, which may help grant and aid claims. *
Wildlife benefits shown on commercial farm
Work at the commercial 334ha (825 acres) Allerton Research and Educational Trust farm at Loddington, Leics over the past eight years has shown significant wildlife advantages by replacing whole field set-aside with 20m strips at field margins or alongside cocks-foot based grass mix beetle banks.
There has also been a move from block to intermingled cropping. "Two hundred acres of oilseed rape provides very little wildlife habitat," says project director Nigel Boatman.
Research also shows that if grass strips are too narrow whitethroat bird numbers can plummet, two and a half meters being the optimum width. That evidence was vital in achieving a rational view during the recent controversy over the ECs 2m rule, he says.
Provided set-aside is not cut to 5%, the cost of environmental measures at Loddington works out at about £5/ha (£2/acre). If the pilot Arable Stewardship scheme is extended that could help cover such a cost, Dr Boatman says.