Practical messages on countryside trail
Integrated crop and farm
management, warts and all,
will soon be on wider view
along the countryside trail at
Zenecas commercial farm
beside their research station
in Berkshire. Andrew Blake
took a walk
SKYLARK landing strips, beetle bank slip ups, and revamped set-aside were all topics for discussion during a recent visit to the Jealotts Hill, Bracknell site where farm manager Mark Osman led the way.
Two hours with Mr Osman and Zeneca technical manager Ray Tucker ahead of the ICM trails LEAF launch in June reinforced the message that integrating arable and stock farming with wildlife can be both fascinating and frustrating.
Zenecas ICM trail has long been in place, former manager Angus Golightly being largely responsible for its conception, said Mr Osman. "It has always been open to our own staff. But from June the aim is to make it available to a much wider range of invited visitors.
"The trail is a valuable tool showing how we act responsibly towards the environment. It is especially useful now with the huge level of interest among farmers in how ICM can be used to run their businesses more profitably. You only have to look at our support payments to see the way things are likely to go."
Getting the integrated message over to the public is also becoming increasingly important, he added. "Millions of people live within a 50 mile radius of Jealotts Hill."
However the short walk, of about a mile, showed that making ICM rewarding needs thought and effort.
Contrary to widespread belief that skylarks are disappearing from agricultural land, they are abundant on the farm. But shelter belt and corridor hedge planting for other wildlife has also encouraged foxes, said Mr Osman. "We monitored 100 acres of cereals, with 65 skylark nests, last season. They use the tramlines as landing strips."
But the local vixen watches for the landings and easily picks the birds from their nests. "They rarely nest much more than 1m from the tramlines," said Mr Osman.
Now trials are under way with small sprayed-off landing areas further from the tramlines to try to confuse the fox. "We also plan to lift the drill out of work for a metre between tramlines this coming season, which may be a practical solution to the predator problem."
Beetle banks at Jealotts Hill are no-go areas for tractors and cultivators. "They are sacrosanct," said Mr Osman. But care with adjacent land is also vital, he explained. Constant one-way ploughing beside one strip had eventually formed a ditch into which the bank collapsed.
Permanent set-aside has not proved as valuable a wildlife habitat as first thought. Indeed Mr Osman is considering switching back to a rotational two-year system.
The main difficulty has been preserving a varied vegetation, he explained. After a while the taller grass species have taken over, leaving fewer nesting sites and encouraging slugs which move into bordering crops.
"Going back to rotational set-aside means we will get the best wheat crop, the first, out of a whole field. And effectively we shall only have to put down 5% each year." Bearing in mind the heavy slug pellet and re-drilling spend under the current system, the move could prove cheaper, he suggested.
lThe trail is due to be visited by agriculture minister Joyce Quinn on June 5. *
• Environment/payments link.
• Tramline alternatives.
• Beetle bank plough care.
• Set-aside modification.
Ploughing beside beetle banks needs care, Mark Osman (left) reminds Ray Tucker. Repeated one-way ploughing can make them unstable.
Awkward field corners at Jealotts Hill are planted up to benefit wildlife and screen buildings. A larger wood has attracted a range of bird species.
Sprayed off cereal patches are being tested to encourage skylarks to nest out of sight of foxes.
Data on the web
Web-sites offering information on ICM specific to the UK include www.leafuk.org/