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Good Hedges make Good Neighbours

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Last Wednesday saw @CRT Barton headed by Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring join forces with both Cambridge Past Present and Future( https://www.cambridgeppf.org)  staff and volunteers at the nearby Coton Countryside Reserve.

We were working together to teach them about hedgelaying and they in turn have been helping us with our volunteer work parties. “Good Hedges make Good Neighbours”!? Their site is less than a mile from Lark Rise and we now have a good working relationship.

  1. Volunteers are taught how to cut and lay the stems of the hedge at the start of the day, while in the background someone is sharpening the stakes that are hammered in to hold the laid hedge in place.

2. Some of the laid hedge which has been staked and bound last time we visited. The hedge is the angled stems, the stakes are the verticals and the binders are flexible willow from Lark Rise Farm which make up the top horizontal twist which holds it all together. Sorry about the sunspots !

 

3. This shows us nearing the end of the hedge when one CPPF staff member has just cut through a stem and the volunteer in blue is steering it down into the new hedge line. Our expert hedge layer is watching on.

We hope to go back in a couple of weeks to finish off the last couple of bits of hedge – we ran out of energy at 4pm after 6 hours hard work!

 

Vince Lea – Head of Wildlife Monitoring

February 2018

 

Pierrepont Herd

Food, Farming and Folly

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I received an invitation the other day to speak at a meeting of 300 Norfolk farmers – I accepted because I like Norfolk and I have several good friends who are Norfolk farmers. But as in all things there are always good and bad – so I know Norfolk farmers – Prince Charles is one, who give both conservation and farming high priorities, but there are others where the bank balance appears to be of far greater importance than the health of the birds and bees that share the land with us, and then of course there is the health of the soil itself to consider – it is the soil that allows our crops to grow and keep healthy.

Norfolk has had some quite remarkable farmer-naturalists. The late Henry Williamson was one who farmed for several years at Stiffkey. Who can forget his wonderful story of Tarka the Otter? More recently there was Philip Wayre, the man who turned his farm into a wildlife centre which became the headquarters of the Otter Trust. Through Philip’s wonderful work the captive breeding of otters and release saved the English otter. Largely thanks to his pioneering work otters are again breeding in every single English county.

Another pioneer is my good friend Chris Knights. He is the man primarily responsible for saving the Stone Curlew – a remarkable bird –a summer visitor and breeder. His work was then taken on by the RSPB – which is good – but the initial, urgent work was led by Chris, yet already his input appears to have been almost forgotten. Instead he should have received an honour. I think MBE is too small – he should be Lord Knights of Norfolk.

Another real Norfolk star is Bill Makins – a man of great wisdom and experience fighting for the turtle dove. Bill has no biological qualifications but because of his experience he is a great field naturalist. The boffins should spend less time chasing research grants and more time talking to people like Bill.

I hope the Norfolk farmers listened to me. I urged them to revolt against “Open Farm Sunday” due to be held on June 10th. I am completely in favour of getting people onto farms, but not in June the busiest and most important month of the year for breeding farmland wildlife.  Do we really want skylark nests flattened in the car park; the mother hare kept away from her leverets (young) and orchids trampled. No June is the wrong month for mass visits to farms and shows that those who selected the date appear to be detached from the reality and needs of farmland conservation.

Please, in future years have Open Farm Sunday in the second half of July.

Robin Page – February 2018

A Hedge full of Brambles

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Jill Barklem, was the brilliant writer and artist of the Brambly Hedge Books – books that are given the label “children’s books”, but I love them. Tragically Jill died last November . Her passing came so soon after that of David Shepherd, that it was a double blow for the CRT and for me personally. David had been our much loved Patron; Jill was one or our keenest supporters and a “founder trustee”.

When did I first meet her? It was many years ago on a rare holiday in Italy that I met Jill and her older sister Sue – Jill lively, funny and already a gifted artist – later, on visits to London I saw her at her art college and already her talent and her interests were shining through – could Jill become the new Beatrix Potter?

As so often happens with busy lives I did not see Jill for several years until one day she arrived at Bird’s Farm with her husband David.  She was pleased with what had happened in her life and had published books. “How many have you sold” I asked in ignorance “Two million” she answered with a smile – the Brambly Hedge books had arrived in style and were immensely popular – sales are now at over seven million.

From her home next to Epping Forest Jill had constructed the world of Brambly Hedge in her mind as she commuted to art college. What a world – a good world of happiness and contentment among the mice of Brambly hedge and their neighbours.

When the Countryside Restoration Trust was launched 25 years ago, Jill, husband David and children Peter and Lizzie all helped to plant a real Brambly Hedge at Lark Rise Farm, a very long hedge – and now a very beautiful hedge of some fourteen species. I hope that the Trustees will agree to name the hedge Brambly Hedge in memory of Jill and her happy planting days.

Sadly Jill’s writing and painting were cut short prematurely by illness and she was unable to work for many years – what a tragic loss – she died aged 66.

Yes she wrote children’s books about mice – but her beautiful words are suitable for non-mice too, as this short extract from The Secret Staircase shows.

When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,

The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,

The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,

The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,

Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest

And dress in your richest and finest and best,

For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,

And now it will give you the promise of SPRING.

Robin Page – February 2018

The Man Who Loved Elephants

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Four years ago in the Cambridge News I wrote about the tragic death of Satao, a fantastic “tusker” elephant poached in Kenya. Now I am struggling to write about the man who persuaded me to become interested in the fight against the ivory trade – Esmond Bradley Martin. Esmond and his wife Chryssee live close to friends of Lulu and I in the Nairobi suburb of Langata; they too have become close friends. Esmond has spent years investigating the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade; Chryssee does many hours of voluntary work each week at the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.

Just over a week ago when I was in Nairobi, a phone call from Esmond asked me to visit. He said: “You must come and see me – the Chinese ivory ban is full of loopholes and the ban on the sale of antique ivory in England will not save a single elephant”. Esmond had just come back from Asia and he was quite clear: “The ivory trade is out of control in Laos, Vietnam and Burma”, he said, “ and it is controlled by Chinese criminal gangs involved in drugs and gambling. The financial turnovers in several boom gambling towns is far larger than Les Vegas. Thousands of Chinese cross the borders with absolutely no border checks on the Chinese side”.

In addition, although elephant poaching is almost under control in Kenya, it is still out of control in Mozambique and ivory is on open sale in Nigeria, Sudan and Angola – surely a case for pushing Nigeria out of the Commonwealth.

Esmond was desperate for the world to know the reality of the ivory trade, and now he has paid the price. Kenya police claim that the whole thing was a botched robbery – at 77 years old Esmond was not a particularly fit man and I do not buy the police version. George Orwell wrote “The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those that speak it”. Certainly the crooks involved in the ivory trade would have no time for Esmond. As far as I am concerned he was more than a friend – he is/was, a conservation hero.

I hope people will now listen to the substance of his messsage.

In the autumn of 2017 Save the Elephants published “The Ivory Trade of Laos: Now the Fastest Growing in the World” by Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin.

Robin Page – February 2018

Silver Jubilee Patron Announced

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The Countryside Restoration Trust is delighted to announce that Dame Judi Dench has agreed to become its Silver Jubilee Patron for 2018.

Dame Judi says: “It was such an honour to be asked to be involved in this very special year. The CRT was the pioneering charity in wildlife friendly farming and the biggest tribute to its success is the fact that so many other organisations have followed in its footsteps. I have been privileged to visit several of the Trust’s farms and the work being done is tremendous. In this Jubilee Year we remember not only those who set the Trust in motion but we look to the future as farming, the countryside and Britain’s wildlife needs the pioneering work of the CRT more than ever before”.

 Robin Page, the CRT’s Chairman says:” It is such an honour to have Dame Judi involved. She has a deep love for nature as anybody who saw her recent BBC documentary ‘My Passion for Trees’ will understand. We have several celebratory events throughout 2018 and hope Dame Judi can join us whenever her heavy work-load allows”.

2018 National Hedge Laying Championships at Lark Rise Farm

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The 2018 National Hedge Laying Championship are 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 hedge-laying 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 hedge-laying 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 into 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”.

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

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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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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