Joined-up conservation protects bird habitats in UK

RSPB Martin Harper

A cluster of 14 Cambridgeshire farms are working with RSPB, the UK’s leading birdlife charity, to establish a 3,782 hectare bird-friendly habitat. It is the first project of its kind to integrate separately-managed farmland on this scale in the UK.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper presented the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone to delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this week. “All 14 farmers in the Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone are balancing the optimal needs of farmland birds and other wildlife with those of their farm businesses,” he explained.

Current UK government environmental stewardship schemes support farmers who undertake measures to make their holdings wildlife-friendly. Management options include: leaving unharvested zones to feed birds over the winter; adding nectar-rich plots to supply insect-rich areas; leaving fallows and skylark plots.

The project is located in some of the UK’s top arable land. For Harper, the farmers involved are demonstrating that wildlife has a place in modern agriculture: “Farming in the heart of what is considered to be one of our most productive arable areas, they act as a great example of how it’s possible to marry the needs of food production with environmental delivery.”

Farmers’ support for the project is strong: Gary Cade of SKG Farms Ltd., is actively promoting it to other farmers and the local community. “The Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone has the ability to bring the public and farming together to demonstrate how modern productive agriculture can go hand in hand with protecting and enhancing farm wildlife,” he told journalists.

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Peter Crosskey is based in the UK.