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Badger

Bovine TB – It’s not all black and white

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In 2016, there were 4,499 recorded new outbreaks of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) throughout Britain, 9.8 million cattle were tested for the disease and in the same year, 29,228 cows were slaughtered, despite tests on some being inconclusive.

In a bid to control the disease the government has spent in excess of £500 million over the past ten years, yet we seem to be no closer to a solution. With research varying on each side of the debate, there are still a multitude of questions to be answered.

Is a mass badger cull the answer?

As an organisation we represent people from many different rural walks of life; farmers, naturalists, wildlife experts and scientists. However, without further scientific evidence and local knowledge, we cannot currently say that culling is the most effective solution.

As a landowner, with tenanted properties across the country, we are fully aware of the implications of farms being put under a bTB restriction. This experience can be financially, as well as emotionally catastrophic for a farmer in an already difficult industry. This is why we would like to see more research carried out surrounding the implications of modern farming systems and their role in the bTB crisis (one area worthy of further research would appear to be the claimed link between the increased growing and feeding of maize to dairy cattle and their being more prone to disease challenge, such as bTB; and indeed intensive farming practices in general, with the emphasis placed on productivity per animal, rather than breeding for resilience) as well as vaccination programmes and their efficacy. Vaccination will only be effective for those badgers which have not already been infected. If we can identify those which are infected in a cost effective way, then a humane method of culling would potentially be a solution rather than relying on mass cull zones, which scientists have shown can exacerbate disease spread via the “perturbation effect”. (http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/274/1626/2769.short)

We are currently in consultation with all of our tenant farmers on the subject.

Does the CRT cull badgers on any of our properties?

The Countryside Restoration Trust does not have a badger control programme across any of its farms. Our tenant farmers have the responsibility to comply with all industry standards and regulations, including the guidelines provided by DEFRA and Natural England surrounding the control of disease, which includes promoting good biosecurity and cattle management practices. CRT tenant farmers are also required to adhere to DEFRA’s policy of Protecting our Water, Soil and Air: A Code of Good Agricultural Practice for farmers, growers and land managers.

Monitoring impacts on wildlife; what’s happening on CRT farms?

Badgers are classified as middle-order predators, or mesocarnivores; others in this order include Fox, Otter, Stoat, Polecat, American Mink and Pine Marten. Some of these species are protected by law, whilst others are identified as ‘vermin’ and can be lethally controlled by certain approved legal methods. The absence of larger carnivores has allowed this group of mesocarnivores to increase, which has had a negative impact on many smaller species.

Dr Vince Lea, the CRT’s Head of Wildlife Monitoring says:

Despite the presence of foxes, crows and badgers on The Countryside Restoration Trust farms, numbers of many species of declining wildlife have increased, as a result of improved habitat. If food supplies and safe cover are available, ground nesting birds like Grey Partridges and Skylarks can increase in the presence of Badgers, Foxes and Crows. This has not yet been sufficient for Hedgehogs to increase, but other examples of more extreme habitat restoration have shown this to be a possibility. If the predators can find sufficient easy prey they do not seek out the rarer or harder items. If the prey species can find sufficient food quickly and then retreat to safe locations, they can avoid being eaten. A bigger problem in the countryside is the lack of suitable food such as insects and worms. A badger will happily fill up on earthworms if there are plenty of them, each one being an easy morsel of protein. Studies of nest predation have shown increases in badger predation when conditions have been cold, dry and unsuitable for earthworms; wet mild nights meant the badgers filled up on worms and did not spend time looking for nests (Tony Davis [pers comm] – Wood Warblers). It would be beneficial if the current Badger cull zone was properly studied for the impact it has on other wildlife as well as bTB; and for Defra to publish this data before extending it.

The CRT actively opposes the trend towards intensified farming systems. Could such systems play a part in the spread of bTB?

TB mycobacterium is prevalent throughout the environment, ready to infect vulnerable, susceptible species with weakened immune systems. The huge growth in the cropping of maize as cattle feed (maize silage) and game cover is of concern. Maize is known to be low in key nutrients/trace elements such as selenium, iodine, magnesium and Vitamin E. Often farmers provide Maize-fed cattle with additional minerals to supplement what has been referred to as a diet of ‘cotton wool’. Badgers are opportunistic foragers and will gorge on maize to the exclusion of all else, leaving them also deficient in the aforementioned key nutrients. Unlike dairy cattle, badgers generally aren’t given supplementary minerals to compensate for nutrient deficiencies and are therefore in poorer health and susceptible to disease through exposure. Maize started being grown in the South West in the early 1980s & spread up through the country. The first of the new outbreaks of bTB since the 70s eradication programmes occurred in 1985.

In 2011, farmer Dick Roper came to the forefront of the Maize/bTB debate when he shared that he noticed the cattle on his farm which contracted bTB were maize-fed, on ending that feeding regime he was able to clear bTB infections in his livestock. Knowing that badgers gorged on maize cobs where available (as they were on surrounding land) he decided to provide the badgers on his farm with additional supplements as well as his cattle, to ensure they were as healthy as possible and so reduce their susceptibility to bTB and so passing it onto his cattle.  This ‘farmer’s experiment’ was supported and overseen by his vet.

“Everything I read pointed to the trace element selenium being the solution so I decided to make cakes of molasses with the highest dose of selenium permitted. I got Ministry permission and started leaving my cakes outside the setts in the woods. This has worked for nearly a decade in a TB hot spot but I can’t understand why Defra [Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has not done more research into my theory…I don’t believe badgers have to be shot.” (http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/262162/I-give-my-badgers-vitamins-to-stop-TB)

This is an interesting route, pioneered by a practical, commercial farmer that the CRT believes merits more investigation and we would welcome further research.  We are not aware of Defra or any other official body following up Dick Roper’s potentially positive alternative approach with any serious research effort.

To further discuss the CRT’s stance on the badger cull, please contact us here and title your email ‘badger cull’.

David Shepherd CBE

A tribute to David Shepherd CBE

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Not only is the death of David Shepherd a huge loss to the conservation world as a whole, it is also a great loss to the Countryside Restoration Trust and he is remembered with both tears and happy memories.

David followed his good friend Gordon Beningfield as Patron of the CRT in 1998. He was both a huge supporter and a constant source of help and advice. Many will remember him speaking in St Peter’s Church – the local church to Lark Rise Farm – and also a wonderful visit to his home and studio when Friends were welcomed by David and Avril, his wife.

Lulu and I were privileged to go to Tresco with him, almost exactly two years ago, together with Dame Judi Dench and David Mills to see the red squirrels the CRT had helped to introduce to the island. He might be famous for his paintings of elephants and tigers – but both he and Avril loved the “reds” and the work being done by the CRT and the British Wildlife Centre to help with their survival.

David was a man of huge talent, wit and modesty – it is a privilege to have known him and to count him as a friend. For the CRT, his Patronage has been a great honour and a pleasure; he will be sorely missed.

Our thoughts are with Avril and her family at this sad time.

Robin Page – Chairman

The Hedge Cutting Debate

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There are rules on when to cut a hedge. Hedge cutting is legally banned in the UK from 1st March to 31st August, in order to protect nesting birds on farms. In 2016, Defra made the decision to extend the hedge cutting ban to include the month of August.

This was based on analysis of bird nesting records provided by volunteers to the British Ornithology Trust. They identified buntings, Bullfinches and Linnets as likely to be active in nests until the end of August. In a call to repeal the August ban, a campaign supported by Farmers Weekly, the NFU and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), is questioning the “evidence” used to justify the non-cutting period.

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Pierrepont development

Pierrepont Project

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Pierrepont is a 200 acre heathland farm near Frensham in rural Surrey, approximately one hour from central London. At its heart is a working dairy farm and an extraordinary collection of historic Grade II listed farm buildings, surrounded by idyllic countryside and wonderful wildlife.

The farm was kindly gifted to the Countryside Restoration Trust in 2006 by Jo Baker. The Trust are undertaking an extensive programme of restoration to the buildings whilst conserving the meadows, farmland and woodland areas.

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Tim Scott

Lark Rise adopts low-drift policy

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Lark Rise Tenant Farmer, Tim Scott, was featured in this week’s edition of Farmer’s Weekly due to the innovative method he has adopted when spraying his crops.

Lark Rise is the CRT’s flagship wildlife-friendly farm, which Tim manages using environmentally sympathetic methods whilst looking to retain a high yield. Ensuring the sprays he uses are hitting the required targets is an integral part of his management plan.

Tim has trialled various nozzles  to ensure that his technique for applying crop protection products is as bullet proof as possible. Following an autumn of poor blackgrass control, Tim moved away from an Amistar nozzle providing a water rate of 100 litres/ha to a 3D nozzle which improved performance, but increased drift due to the flat fan type nozzle. Many standard nozzles provide a mist made up of fine droplets, which is excellent for pest control on the required crops, but does drift a substantial amount. This is obviously not good for grass margins and the surrounding areas.

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Tim Scott South Cambs Environmental Champion

Tim Scott appointed Environmental Champion

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The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) is pleased to announce that Tim Scott, tenant farmer on our flagship farm, Lark Rise, has been appointed as Environmental Champion for South Cambs.

 

Tim has worked with the CRT for the past 24 years and has been integral in transforming Lark Rise Farm from an intensively farmed wildlife desert into a productive 400 acre arable farm which now teems with wildlife. This has been achieved using sympathetic farming methods such as crop rotations, leaving over-wintering stubble, beetle banks, wildlife strips and creating smaller fields by planting over 4.5 miles of new hedgerows. Tim’s understanding of the relationship between farming and wildlife was recognised when he was awarded the prestigious GWCT Grey Partridge East Anglian Trophy in 2015, for his efforts in fighting the decline of the iconic farmland bird. He was also recognised in 2016 by the Redlist Revival and received an award for being in the top 10% for the Range of Priority Farmland Birds within the Redlist Benchmark.

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Volunteers Planting

The CRT, D-of-E & Me

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Guest blog by Josh Carter – Duke of Edinburgh volunteer at Lark Rise Farm

Working at Lark Rise Farm really has been a pleasure.

Whether it’s cutting back hedges, picking twigs off the ground, lighting a fire or planting trees, I’ve always found it more exciting than working indoors. I also helped with two early morning bird surveys here (but that is part of my Skills section). During my three Voluntary sessions (four hours once per month = one hour per week), we’ve been working primarily on the wildlife garden beside the new Headquarters.

On the first session, I helped start a fire and put dead wood on it. Four of us went on a short walk to the feeding station and put birdseed on the ground, as well as in a cage that only songbirds can get through (or the pigeons and pheasants would eat it all). For the rest of the day, I planted three different species of tree; hawthorn, blackthorn and wayfaring tree – in a line that would soon become a wildlife-rich hedgerow. My gardening skills definitely improved that day!

On the second session, I was joined by my friend Tom. We pulled up the non-native Spanish Bluebells in the wildlife garden to make room for other plants. I then threw some dead wood on a fire, sawed up part of a dead tree and learned how to use a billhook to cut wood. One other member of the group found a Blackbird nest in a nearby bush and I watched the chicks being ringed a few days later (not part of a session).

On the third and final session, we burned lots of dead wood- it is important that we do it this regularly because otherwise it would absolutely cover the ground. We sawed up lots of big logs. There were only six of us but we got a significant amount done- roasted marshmallows was the reward! The session stopped an hour early (I am writing this to make up for the hour missed).

The great thing about doing this kind of work is that every time you plant a tree, sprinkle birdseed on the ground or even pull up non-native weeds, you feel like you’re helping nature just that little bit; like you’re making the world a slightly better place and giving something back to the wildlife.

The CRT currently works with the Duke of Edinburgh programme at Lark Rise farm in Cambridgeshire, but we have yet to roll this out to our other properties. If you would like further information regarding volunteering through the DoE programme please email Kenny MacKay or call the office on 01223 262999.

For all general volunteering enquiries, please click here.

Pierrepont Herd

Speaking up for the cows

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Chairman’s Blog – by Robin Page

 

“Humane Milk is a Myth Don’t buy it. I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies……” so read a Vegan inspired full-page advert in The Times recently with no mention of who the “I” actually was.

My irritation was triggered because I was born on a farm with a small dairy herd (where I still live). The advert presented a scene that was unfamiliar to me. My first memories of the farm are of my father sitting on a three-legged stool, milking by hand. My last recent memory of milking was at The Countryside Restoration Trust’s brilliant Jersey herd at Pierrepont Farm in Surrey where the milking was being performed by two robots, guided by lasers – incredible – my father would have been astonished – as I was. A third robot is due to start next week.

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2017 CRT Events

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Throughout the year the Countryside Restoration Trust are holding numerous events for both Friends and members of the public.

All of the events we hold are a great opportunity to showcase the fantastic work we do on each of our farms and demonstrate how farming with wildlife in mind is not only possible but the way forward. By opening our farms and inviting supporters to learn about the importance of the British Countryside, we aim to give our CRT Friends, supporters and visitors experiences that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and inspirational.

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2018 National Hedge Laying Championships at Lark Rise Farm

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The 2018 National Hedge Laying Championship is to be held at Lark Rise Farm, Cambridgeshire.

The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) and National Hedge Laying Society (NHLS) are extremely happy to announce that the 40th National Hedge Laying Championship in 2018 will take place on the CRT’s flagship farm; Lark Rise, in Cambridgeshire.

The hedgelaying competition is not only a contest between some of the finest hedgelayers in the country, but also a showcase for the different styles that have historically been associated with various regions. The competition is divided into separate classes for the regional styles with some having a separate category for less experienced cutters.

According to Dr. Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring at the CRT, “having a variety of shapes and sizes of hedge will benefit the greatest range of species on a farm, from tightly clipped to overgrown but it’s important to understand the farm’s objectives. Fundamentally hedgerows are ‘managed habitats’ and should be integrated into a farm’s plan. The network of habitat connections provided by hedgerows allow wildlife to move across the landscape; more important than ever as species’ distributions move northwards in response to climate change. Laid hedges are much denser nesting habitat for birds like song thrushes and Bullfinches. Also, because the hedges are not flailed annually but allowed to grow for many years before they are next laid they produce a lot more flowers in the spring and fruit in the Autumn. That’s why it’s so important to protect the farmed countryside, its wildlife and to value the people with the knowledge and skills to look after it”.

The different styles of hedgelaying which are generally localised to specific parts of the UK have been developed over many years to suit the climate of the area, different farming practices and the type of trees and shrubs that grow in the hedge. Each year the National Championship tests the skills of hedgelayers on at least eight of the main styles in current use.

It is a great opportunity to come and see some of the best hedgelayers from around the country display their skills in the highest level of competition” says NHLS Trustee and Championship Co-ordinator, Andrew Crow. “Hedgelaying differs around the country in the way that it is done and the National Championship allows you to watch as the various styles are laid. It is a unique opportunity to see all of these regional variations in one place and talk to experts in all of them. Holding the 2018 Championship at Lark Rise Farm, which over the past 25 years has been transformed from an intensively farmed wildlife desert to a productive, wildlife friendly 400-acre arable farm, is an extremely poignant way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our fantastic competition, as well as the CRT’s silver jubilee”.

The reintroduction of hedgerows on to Lark Rise Farm has been an integral part of the CRT’s farm management plan. The landscape is managed using sympathetic farming practices and the creation of hedgerows has divided the farm in to smaller fields which are planted with a mosaic of crops. The farm is teaming with wildlife and is home to many red-listed birds and threatened wildlife.

As the Tenant of Lark Rise Farm, it is a great privilege to host the National Hedge Laying Championship of 2018” says Tim Scott, “Who would have thought some 20 years ago, when groups of CRT volunteers were planting tiny saplings, whilst struggling with mud up to their knees, that we would now have magnificent hedges suitable for such a prestigious event”.