Summary & Outcome
Co-ordination of advisory effort, farmer liaison within Purbeck and providing training were the over-arching aims of this project. Several adviser forum meetings took place with the aim of co-ordinating work and avoiding duplication, along with a trial of a cross-organisation adviser reporting system. 70 on-farm advisory visits have been undertaken to 54 farmers over three years to advise on new and existing Higher Level Stewardship agreements (HLS) and provide land management advice benefitting the environment; 12 HLS applications were submitted, 25 HLS agreements revisited, and three amended
This has increased the total area of unimproved land with low impact grazing established or maintained within the NIA by 380ha. In addition a further 354ha of land is in good management, supporting the management of the unimproved land by buffering and linking with low input permanent grassland, and creating arable habitats such as wild bird seed mixes and nectar flower mixtures. Management of this has been secured through Entry Level Stewardships (ELS), HLS and management agreements relating to capital grants.
A number of farmer workshops were held with 67 farmers from within WPNIA benefitting, along with others from outside the project area, providing an opportunity to work in partnership with other organisations.These included: balancing grassland management for long and short turf invertebrates, (run jointly with Butterfly Conservation); a nutrient efficiency event promoting the reduction in nutrients affecting Poole Harbour; and a workshop encouraging undersowing of maize was held with Catchment Sensitive Farming.
A workshop on arable plants, farmland birds and pollinators was run jointly with Plantlife and Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE); and a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) information event with the Farm Advice Service. All events all were well-attended, with farmers coming to multiple events demonstrating that they found them worthwhile. A tour of nature reserves was offered to farmers to demonstrate implementation of Lawton principles and encouraging sharing of best practice which 9 farmers attended. Positive feedback was received about this.
Volunteers have carried out 8 arable plant and 10 farmland bird surveys, reporting good results of corn buntings breeding in the corn bunting nest mixes.
The majority of landowners and managers within WPNIA were contacted to highlight the opportunities that were on offer. This included the provision of 3 farmer newsletters and a leaflet outlining best practice gorse control methods, helping them to keep informed of the land management projects and wider achievements and opportunities of the WPNIA.
Lapwings are also known as the peewit dues to its calls and is now a red List Species (Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action. Amber is the next most critical group, followed by green). This farmland bird species is black and white in appearance and has a round-winged shape making a very distinctive in flight.
A Lulworth skipper workshop was delivered in late summer for farmers along the coast in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and a workshop and site visit was held on grassland management with a focus on balancing the needs of short and long turf species. It was aimed at farmers on the south Dorset coast and Purbeck hills. Guest speakers included Natural England, Lulworth Estate and Butterfly Conservation and it took place at Lulworth Heritage Centre. Both workshops were well attended with positive feedback about the days received.
Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon)
Five demonstration sites have been sown with legume and herb rich leys to test these mixes against the rigours of day-to-day farm management and demonstrate them to other farmers. These provide a means of linking habitat across areas of intensive grassland, common in the vales of the WPNIA. Methods include over-sowing and complete re-seeding, and sites include part-field, whole-field, organic and conventional land.
Distribution of a small capital grants had been steady over the three years with a few landowners taking up the offer to help improve the wildlife and connectivity on their land. With changes on the grants system around woodland creation there had been less interest from landowners in the last year of the project and some of this funding was re-directed to the restoration of Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats through the WPNIA capital grants.
Towards the end of year 1, some underspend from another project was allocated to a small grants fund (one the original elements in the project which was later removed). This was administered by FWAG SW for small capital projects which were outside the remit of Agri-environment schemes.
One such project was to collate a register of seed donor sites for sward enhancement / heathland restoration projects. This has been developed as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) based donor site register which is available to anyone looking to find a source of seed. Information available includes site size, type of grassland, accessibility, permission requirements, designations and any harvesting constraints, and contact details. The aim is to enable an easy match between donor and recipient sites.
Highlights and challenges
Engagement by farmers with the WPNIA was slow to build, relying on a pro-active approach from the advisory service in the first year, a mix between pro-active and reactive work in year two with interest high the third year in terms of farmers approaching us for advice and capital grants.
Many of the HLS agreements are strategically linking areas such as sections of the Purbeck Ridge that have remained outside of agreement, a key achievement of the WPNIA enabling advisers to pro-actively approach farmers. There are still some sites which could not be brought in to agreement, and more to do.
Support for a new fence and water supply at a key calcareous grassland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was an example of how the WPNIA was able to facilitate the multiple organisations, landowner and capital money to support such projects. This SSSI remains in unfavourable condition in spite of an HLS agreement. The strategically placed fencing will now force cattle on to graze the SSSI.
The WPNIA has started to change the way that farm advisers work together across multiple themes i.e. linking biodiversity more closely to water quality. This needs to continue and will be challenged by the loss of NIA resources to fund this co-ordination and time to work together.
The donor seed site will be maintained by FWAG SW and continue to be promoted to WPNIA partners.
A demonstration event is planned for 2015 on “Legume and Herb Rich Swards” and looking at how sites can be monitored using volunteers.
Partners will continue to explore options to enable volunteer farms surveys to be undertaken. This will provide feedback to farmers on the outcomes of their conservation work. Opportunities will also be examined for Countryside Stewardship to incentivise farmers not in HLS to bring high priority and unfavourable sites into agreements.