Interesting comments from RSPB – “One of the latest experiments is planting wildflower strips and alleys of trees within fields. Research has already shown that planting wildflower strips helps bring beneficial insects into the fields, which is good for pollination and pest control. But this ten-year trial hopes to show the strips with trees can help in other ways too, such as:
A wildlife boom – from earthworms underground to the birds in the treetops to everything in between, we hope the strips will increase beneficial wildlife including beneficial pollinators and natural pest controllers. The trial will also look to see if the trees have a negative impact on any species.
Carbon catching trees – we know trees store carbon – but we want to find out accurate figures for how much carbon our trees can capture to help inform future work.
Make some money – apple and cobnut trees within the alleys can provide another source of income. We’ll be keeping a close eye on whether these trees bring home the bucks as well as the bugs.”
This week is National Hedgerow Week. Hedgerows can be an excellent space where biodiversity thrives – both in terms of the range of plants that can be found there, and in terms of the number of birds, insects and small mammals that benefit from its ecosystem. Hedges can also serve as wild life corridors linking areas of rich biodiversity. Sadly many hedgers have been lost as increasing industrialisation of farming has led to the use of larger pieces of machinery (ploughs, sprayers, harvesters) which can only be used in large fields – ie combined smaller fields where the hedges have been removed.
Since gardens too can be home to hedges, I was particularly attracted to the idea of creating a hedge using home grown plants – a long term project which will see a hedge replace a row of raspberries reaching the end of their fruitful lifespan. And the National Hedgrewo Week website provides just the information for doing this – https://treegrowersguide.org.uk/
I have recently spent a few days away in Settle in North Yorkshire. Settle is a small and active town, located on the Settle to Carlisle railway so easily accessible by train. Whilst here we have enjoyed exploring the local area follow some of the numerous footpaths. The Yorkshire Dales are traditionally appreciated as vast expanses of open moorland, green fields crisscrossed with dry stone walls, and sheep! And that is certainly what you find here. Being spring, the fields are full of lambs – gambling about in pairs but still keeping in close proximity to mum.
But it hasn’t always been so. In the past farming was more diverse and included beef and dairy cattle, poultry, and arable crops, as well as the cultivation of trees such as willows for basket making. Diversity in farming lends itself to diversity in the environment. One writer commenting on current biodiversity in the Yorkshire Dales, noted that more diversity is to be found along the roadsides and verges than in the fields. From my observation that is true – on a roadside I might count as many as a dozen plants (I am no expert) in few meters, whereas in the fields I was seeing just the occasional dandelion and celandine amidst the short cropped grass. Sheep do eat everything! Even more rewarding where the sections of footpath, river and railway banks where all grazing animals had been excluded. Here there were bluebells, primroses, cowslips, violets, lady’s smock, buttercups, daisies, and wood anemones – and in large number!
Sheep farming has become a monoculture form of agriculture and it is to the detriment of biodiversity. In some areas, tree planting is happening which benefits biodiversity. Over the couple of days we were walking we saw only one pair of buzzards and they were circling above a copse (which may have been coincidental). Elsewhere we came across a notice telling us that trees had been planted on the banks of the Ribble to shade the water to mitigate the effects of rising temperatures. If water temperatures rise above 22C for a week or more fish die! The Ribble is currently still home trout and salmon.
Without sheep the landscape would return to a mix of grass and woodland – and would therefore also be a greater storer of carbon. Such a landscape would be as attractive for walkers. Walkers and tourism is an important part of the local economy, but can it bring in enough money to support a rich and diverse local economy? One of the things that sadden me as we walked, were the disused barns and farm houses. The smaller farms may have ceased to be economic some while ago, and equally with a shift from mixed farming to sheep farming with bought-in animal feed, many of these buildings are surplus to requirement and inconveniently placed vis a vis roads and services. Could they become homes for people who prefer to work remotely? This is apparently one way in which remote islands are gaining an influx of younger people. Or should we accept their decline as part of the natural cycle and see them as potential new habitats in the same way that dead trees support an ongoing stream of life as they decay into their locality?
Should we, as tax payers, pay farmers to become nature wardens? They could enable the rewilding of greater parts of the landscape, repair the dry stone walls – which are as a valid part of our heritage as ancient castles – maintain pathways and mark them at regular intervals to encourage people to use not just the well-known routes but the lesser used ones too. In essence such people would be employed to maintain the health of our environment and be as important as those in the NHS who maintain people’s health.
My husband is a railway enthusiast so we took the train to see the Ribblehead viaduct. Now embedded into its moorland environment, where the grasses and mosses have covered over any remaining marks of the building site that enabled its construction, it is a thing of beauty. It is an industrial artefact that has come to lend grandeur to an otherwise commonplace wild landscape. It is probably as much photographed as the nearby Three Peaks. I wonder if this windswept area could also absorb into its identity silvery white turbine blades. Wind farms could generate energy to support the local economy – and maybe too, an electrified railway line.
Government and the farming industry is part of a system that needs to change if we are to adapt to climate change and forestall a worsening of the current climate crisis. Nevertheless individuals can also be part of the process of change. We can buy less meat and dairy products and more – and more varied – plant based foods – ideally those that are locally grown and organic. We can support through donations and volunteering, habitat restoration and re-wilding schemes.
The WWF reports that “The UK Government has a black hole in its plan to cut GHG emissions from farming and to absorb more carbon in forests and peatlands…
Analysis of new numbers released in a Freedom of Information request (FOI) from WWF against current government policy suggests that only around 40% of the cuts that the Net Zero Strategy says are needed by 2030 from farming and land are being delivered. Current policies for cutting emissions from land are far from on track, with peatland restoration rates and tree-planting falling well short of targets.
This means the UK Government and devolved nations need to double the ambition of their plans for reducing emissions from UK land and farming if they are going to be on track for hitting climate targets in 2030 and beyond.”
Chemical residues from pesticides and herbicides can affect human health. When applying these chemicals it important to follow the appropriate protective protocols. Residues can contaminate fruit and vegetables and thus put those who handle and eat the food at risk. Glyphosate for example is now considered as carcinogenic and its use is currently being phased out in Luxemborg, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France and Germany. The EU (as opposed to individual countries) has, disappointingly, postponed its decision over whether to renew the licence for glyphosate from this December to 2023. Under post-Brexit government policy this could see the weedkiller approved for use in Britain until at least July 2026. https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/farm-policy/eu-delays-glyphosate-renewal-decision-until-2023
PAN (Pesticide Action Network) UK is calling for a rapid phase-out of glyphosate in agriculture and support to help farmers adopt safer approaches to managing weeds. We can add consumer-based weight by asking UK producers – eg producers of oil seed rape who routinely use glyphosate to kill the ripe plants as this makes harvesting easier – why they still use glyphosate.