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. A thriving natural environment underpins our ability to grow food into the future, but the decline of wildlife in the countryside threatens this. The recovery of wildlife in the UK depends on a farming policy which enables farmers to create and restore natural habitats alongside food production.
The Wildlife Trusts manage our land, our working farms and give advice to farmers to help wildlife, wild places and natural systems to thrive – this means making choices like creating habitat for pollinators, planting trees, using grazers like cows and sheep, and reducing ploughing and use of chemicals.
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
The Agriculture Bill
The Agriculture Bill is currently being considered by Parliament - MPs are discussing the main principles of the Bill over the next few months. This is the UK's first Agriculture Bill for more than 40 years. It has been prompted by the vote to leave the European Union (EU) which has set farming policy in the UK since the UK entered the EU in 1973.
We believe that the Agriculture Bill should ensure:
- Substantial government funds are allocated to the creation of new and expanded habitats for wildlife with appropriate provision of public access;
- Farmers and land managers are rewarded for delivering these and other benefits to society for which the market cannot pay, such as creating habitats for wildlife, conserving soils for future generations and protecting communities against flooding; and
- That regulation of farming prevents damage to wildlife and ecosystems that would not only compromise wildlife now but would limit the ability of future generations to grow food and timber and have access to clean water.
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.
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.
The Wildlife Trusts believe that by working together we can change the natural world, for the better
Agriculture policy shapes our countryside. For decades this has often been at the expense of wildlife and natural habitats, and The Wildlife Trusts have worked with farmers and government to change this.
With the UK’s exit from the European Union drawing closer the UK has a rare chance to design a new farming policy – for the first time in decades.
We should invest in the restoration of our land and wildlife so that it can continue to provide us with all the things we need: sustainable and nutritious food, wildlife habitats, flood and drought management, clean water and air, carbon storage and places for us to enjoy.
We think a future farming policy should be based on rewarding farmers and land managers for delivering benefits they can’t sell but that society needs. These benefits (or ‘public goods’) include maintaining important habitats like woodlands and grasslands and helping reduce the risk of flooding by holding back or storing floodwater – also called natural flood management.
Our proposals for a future sustainable farming and land management policy in England are here. We suggest that in a future scheme, farmers and land managers should be paid to provide eight benefits to the public – including healthy soils, abundant pollinators, thriving wildlife and clean water. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have analysed how such a policy could be applied in practice in the River Aire catchment in Yorkshire and we worked with the RSPB and The National Trust to estimate how much funding environmental land management needs in future.
We also work in coalition with other organisations, for instance through Greener UK - a new coalition of charities which formed to work together for wildlife, post-Brexit, and Wildlife & Countryside Link. You can see a policy document on agricultural policy post Brexit which we contributed to as a part of Wildlife & Countryside Link here.