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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

Friends Open Day

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Are you a Friend of the CRT? If so, then we would like to invite you to attend a special Friends only Open Day at Pierrepont Farm, Surrey on Sunday 22nd October.

The day will start at 11am and will run until 3pm. Please bring suitable clothing and footwear as Pierrepont is a working farm and the weather is certainly on the turn! If using a satnav, the address for Pierrepont is ‘Pierrepont Farm, The Reeds Road, Frensham, Surrey, GU10 3BP.

If you have booked a place on the coach, it will be departing from Barton Recreation ground at 9am.

Pierrepont Farm was kindly gifted to the Countryside Restoration Trust in 2006 by Jo Baker and we are currently undertaking an extensive programme of restoration to the buildings whilst conserving the meadows, farmland and woodland areas and we would like to share this with you. Come and have a tour of the robotic milking machines in the dairy, listen to various talks about the CRT and Pierrepont Farm, accompany our wildlife experts on some tours of the meadows and then mingle with fellow friends over some refreshments.

Friends will also be invited behind the scenes of the Pierrepont Project and will learn about how we are managing the conversion of a collection of redundant farm buildings to create a mix of food, office studio and craft units. Pierrepont already has an exceptional reputation for supporting craft, food and drink entrepreneurs with Tenant Farmer Mike supplying rawmilk from a robotic dairy and Frensham Brewary reviving local craft beer production with an award winning micro-brewary, which will of course be open and serving beer to thirsty punters!

We will soon be writing to each of our Friends to personally invite them and a guest to attend this special event at one of the jewels in the CRT crown. Friends will be asked to RSVP, so that we can effectively manage the event and ensure everyone is catered for. If you cannot wait to receive your invitation, please register your interest here:

Friends Open Day - Register your Interest

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    We will email you updates about the event and any relevant CRT news.
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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Lark Rise Discovery Day

Discovering Lark Rise

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On Friday 4th August the CRT opened the gates to our Flagship Farm, Lark Rise and invited Friends, families, volunteers and anybody wanting to embrace the outdoors to come along and discover the very essence of the British countryside on our wildlife-friendly farm.

After a damp and windy run up to the event, staff and volunteers managed to secure the marquees and gazebos which had gone airborne and try to ensure the car park didn’t turn in to a quagmire! Thankfully, once the tireless gusts had finished their assault on our tents, they worked in our favour, sweeping the bad weather away and drying the ground underfoot.

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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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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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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.

Green Farm Fire

Fire Damage at Green Farm

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Fire crews were called to woodland at CRT’s Green Farm, Churt, Surrey, on the evening of Sunday 9th July, as a fire tore through 0.2 hectares of wood and heathland. They were able to bring the fire under control.

An investigation by Surrey Fire & Rescue Service is now underway to understand how the fire started. At this stage it is difficult to comment on the cause, but we speculate that it could have been due to a cigarette or discarded glass, which acts like a magnifying glass, catching fire when someone drops it or discards it on the forest floor.
 
The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) would like to warn people that due to the particularly prolonged period of dry and hot weather, with limited rainfall over the last few months, the woodland is unnaturally dry at the moment.
 
Whilst the CRT have a woodland management plan in place, we need to look at more inclusive and integrated whole-site fire prevention approaches and we will be working closely with Surrey Fire and Rescue Service to safeguard the site for the future.
It is particularly important that people are aware that barbecues and fires being started at the woodlands at Green Farm are expressly prohibited.  Following recent occurrences of fly tipping we are asking neighbours and the local community to remain vigilant and to report any issues or suspicious activity to the local police.
 
Please contact the Countryside Restoration Trust head office on 01223 262999 for any further information