What The Wildlife Trusts do
We carry out environmental land management on 100,000 hectares of our land
We give advice to around 5,000 farmers and landowners each year
We work to improve agriculture policy for wildlife
We manage 26 working farms where we demonstrate wildlife-friendly farming
Farming and wildlife
Over 70% of the UK’s land is farmed in some way – so how this land is managed has a big impact on wildlife. Agriculture policy therefore shapes our countryside. For decades this has often been at the expense of wildlife and natural habitats, and The Wildlife Trusts are working with farmers and government to change this. The recovery of wildlife in the UK depends on a farming policy which enables farmers to create and restore a thriving natural environment alongside domestic food production.
The Agriculture Act
On 11th November 2020, the Agriculture Act became law. Several years in the making, The Wildlife Trust and many other organisations worked tirelessly to secure the best outcomes for wildlife and the environment. Whilst some successes were secured, there is still much to do.
What it means
One genuine success of the Agriculture Act was the principle of public money paying farmers and land managers to deliver public goods. These are things that society is considered to need, but that are not commodities that can be sold on the marketplace, such as flood alleviation or more wildlife. This is a big change in the way farmers are supported by the state; and can be considered world-leading in its ambition.
Another important area is that of standards (from environmental standards to animal welfare standards) – and the related risk associated with lowering these in trade deals with other countries. To ensure these do not slip, it is important that the upcoming Trade and Environment Bills dovetail with this one – so that one Act doesn’t undo the good work of the other.
Now that the Agriculture Act is in place, the next few years will be important – as it is now that the real work takes place, finalising the programmes of work that will deliver the policy. A big part of this, that The Wildlife Trusts are actively involved in is the development of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), which will provide the payments to land managers. How much funding is available, what it pays for and what the scale of ambition is are all crucial details that need establishing before we can measure the true impact of the Act on our environment and natural world.
Safeguarding our standards
We stand together with other environmental NGOs, farming organisations and civil society groups to urge the Government to safeguard our standards and trade regulations. Alongside organisations such as the NFU, National Trust, RSPB, Sustainable Food Trust and Greenpeace, we wrote to the Prime Minister in early 2020, with our concern around the lowering of environmental, animal welfare and safety standards of UK food production when the UK leaves the EU.
To assist the development of ELMs, The Wildlife Trusts produced a report with RSPB and National Trust to estimate how much funding environmental land management needs to truly meet the costs.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust also analysed how ELM could be applied in practice in the River Aire catchment in Yorkshire, to provide a real-life example.
Finally, you can read our response to Defra’s ELM consultation in July 2020
More about what we do
Managing our own land and farms
The Wildlife Trusts manage almost 100,000 hectares of land, and own 26 working farms from lowland arable to upland hill farms which we manage for wildlife. We use these to demonstrate wildlife-friendly farming methods and several are managed in partnership with local farmers.
On our nature reserves we practice sustainable environmental land management using techniques such as conservation grazing. The Wildlife Trusts collectively own more than 7,500 grazing animals, including traditional and rare breed sheep and cattle, native ponies, red deer and even water buffalo. We also use local farmers to help manage wildlife sites. Grazing is the most natural form of management for certain habitats. Livestock can access areas that machinery can’t, and the impacts of grazing are slower than other methods, such as burning or cutting, which means that less-mobile wildlife can thrive.
The Wildlife Trusts believe that by working together we can change the natural world, for the better
Advising farmers and land managers
We help wildlife to thrive on farms by providing advice and guidance to around 5,000 landowners each year. This often involves helping farmers to access grants and can also involve helping groups of farmers to restore and link habitats at a landscape-scale.
Wildlife Trusts facilitate groups of farmers through the government’s Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund. This experience supports the evidence that good quality and trusted advice is essential to achieving and maximising the outcomes of environmental land management. For example farmers and growers in Worcestershire have received funding for a five year Facilitation Fund project to develop habitats and nesting sites for native pollinators. The group are working together to establish viable populations of wild pollinators (bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies etc). The project, which is coordinated by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust audits land-holdings using a Wild Pollinator Health Check and suggests management changes to complement the farming practises of participants. Lessons learnt and good ideas are shared with the whole group through study days, site visits and training events.
Local Wildlife Sites
There are around 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites in England covering more than 700,000 hectares of land. Two thirds are in private ownership. Local Wildlife Sites provide refuges for a range of wildlife and act as stepping stones to link nationally important ecological areas.
As Local Wildlife Sites are often privately owned, they rely on the commitment of the landowners, farmers and volunteers who are prepared to carry out sensitive habitat management. Wildlife Trust advisors work with landowners and farmers responsible for Local Wildlife Sites to help them do this. Without such care and effort, a site will gradually decline and lose its diversity and abundance of species. The Wildlife Trusts latest survey (2018) revealed that of more than 6,500 local wildlife sites surveyed, 16% had been damaged or lost over five years, the majority of which relates to poor maintenance.
Wildlife Trusts across England are working with water companies to help improve water quality which is impacted by farming. For example, Severn Trent Water employs Wildlife Trust farm advisors across the Severn and Trent river catchments to advise farmers on how to reduce their use of metaldehyde. This is the powerful ingredient in slug pellets which is extremely difficult and expensive for water companies to treat as well as harming wildlife.