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Wildlife-friendly farming ensures all can profit

Stewardship payments fully compensate

Growing wildlife friendly crops is more profitable than growing wheat, a new study has concluded.

The RSPB and rural property advisers Smiths Gore have joined forces to investigate the profitability of managing farmland for wildlife in England and the results show growing seed crops for birds or nectar crops for insects makes sound financial sense for farmers.

Researchers at Smiths Gore have done the sums on a raft of environmental management measures used on the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire to tackle farmland bird declines. The final balance sheet shows that environmental payments in the form of Entry Level Stewardship payments fully compensate for the income lost when a farm moves from crop production to environmental management. And smart use of these options can turn around a tidy profit.“Our aim at Hope Farm has always been to show that including wildlife friendly environmental measures on farmland does not mean waving goodbye to profits,” said RSPB’s farm manager, Chris Bailey. “There are many birds and other wild animals which depend on farmland, so it’s essential that agriculture remains a financially viable business. We want to work with farmers to help protect wildlife habitats on their land, but we definitely don’t want them to go bankrupt in the process. This study by the RSPB and Smiths Gore will provide reassurance for many farmers who have heard about our work here but are worried about how these measures will affect their bottom line.”

The two organisations will be presenting the figures in a series of leaflets for farmers at Cereals 09 in Cambridgeshire on June 10 and 11, the biggest agricultural show for arable farmers in the UK. There will be an opportunity for farmers to calculate figures for their environmental work using a calculator on the Smiths Gore website: http://ww.smithsgore.co.uk/publications.The Farmland Bird Indicator on Hope Farm has increased by 119% since 2000 by simply boosting the availability of seeds and insects, the two key elements of the diet of declining species.

Chris Bailey added: “Many farmers have gone into ELS with hedges and buffer strips, which have high value for some wildlife, but we have found that diversifying the mix of options with ones that specifically deliver seeds and insects make all the difference. Skylark plots in our winter wheat have certainly helped double our skylark population since 2000, and now ELS payments give us a better gross margin too.”

Simon Blandford, Head of Farm Management at Smiths Gore said: “Our research has shown that ELS payments for environmental management measures really can outweigh any income lost by moving away from commercial crop production. With an ever increasing need for farm businesses to watch the bottom line, it is reassuring that by doing the right thing for wildlife, farmers can make a profit - it’s a true win-win for farmers and the environment.”

4th July 2014