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  • Harriet Bell

Notes from the discussion on the public good theme of Thriving Plants and Wildlife

Defra have outlined that ELMs will finance farmers primarily through the delivery of 6 public goods. These are:

  • Clean air

  • Clean and plentiful water

  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards

  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change

  • Thriving plants and wildlife

  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

As part of the Dartmoor ELMs Test and Trial our volunteer farmer Advisory Team are discussion each theme and what they think it should entail as part of a Land Management Plan. The Land Management Plan should have the with potential application to cover home farms, commons and possibly home farms and commons together. The Team met virtually on the 22nd of June to discuss "Thriving Plants and Wildlife".


Summary:

General consensus seemed to be reached that the best approach was one based on accessing outcomes, giving farmers full power to determine how best to deliver those outcomes.


General discussion:

  • It’s not just about introducing shiny new species we need to be able to demonstrably look after what we have.

  • Frustration at the idea of having to dress up farm businesses as something other than farm businesses.

  • Use of anthelmintics is an example of where farmers can make a small tweak to their farming system to deliver big changes for biodiversity.

  • There are lots of Dartmoor features we manage particularly well, such as Rhos pasture.

  • The Dartmoor National Park Management type agreement model worked really well.

  • Lack of bird surveys – we know there’s poor evidence records for snipe and curlew etc.having an old style management agreement made the best use of each farm. If there are two or three of us with the same interest then we can work together.

  • Are we trying to fix something that isn’t broken?

  • We need our core businesses for us to survive.

  • HLS worked to a degree.

  • If we do our own monitoring then we can set our own targets.

  • We have done well but that doesn’t mean we’ve done well enough, biodiversity shouldn’t be hanging on it should be thriving.

  • We should be looking at changing our whole farm approach. There are changes we can make to our farm businesses which deliver both thriving plants and wildlife but also improve business efficiency and address costs. This is a public good we can really excel at.

  • We need to address tenancy and grazing license to deliver landscape scale.

  • If we’re paid enough money then we can be a very nice rewilded estate and live off subsidy but we don’t get enough. [For accuracy should possibly be read slightly sardonically.]

  • Over wintering golden plovers, wheatears key species – focus on keeping common species common.

  • Flexibility of choice to deliver what’s right for the species we feel drawn to supporting.

  • We need to be able to manage problematic species e.g. grey squirrels, in the interests of wider biodiversity.

  • I would be happy to take up a results based payment around biodiversity because I would have ownership of it. I’ve learnt a lot in 30 years and I know what delivers for wildlife. If I could manage it well then I’d be happy to do monitoring to show it was working, I would rather do monitoring than keep records e.g. I’d rather record the number of birds then exactly how many sheep went to each field for how long.

  • We need to work out what’s gone wrong in the past for biodiversity before we can work out how to move forward.

  • A lot of the existing landscape designations aren’t being kept up with so what’s the point?

  • Landscape scale delivery scares the life out of me – so many different agreements, different parcels of land, who will monitor it, do we need to have a different agreement for every landscape type?

  • One of the most significant influences on Dartmoor biodiversity is people and dogs, we need to be careful we as farmers aren’t being blamed for loss of wildlife that actually results from increased people and increased numbers of dogs disturbing birds.

  • Water quality can provide a good baseline for overall health.

  • We need to do things that are replicable, simple and meaningful.

  • It strikes me that what we’re talking about is payments by results approach.

  • Is the wildlife decline on Dartmoor associated with the livestock decline?

Advice

  • Specific to each site, enable adaptation season by season and year by year.

Monitoring

  • Local interpretation and monitoring.

  • To date there’s a lack of money available to collate our raw biodiversity data.

  • FEPs worked well, redoing them enables us to see improvement.

  • Tagging and counting.

  • Mapping nesting sites.

  • Photographic evidence.

  • Using phones for recording systems, with sporadic external assessments.

  • We need a good recording template and a robust system to feed the information into so that people are getting feedback. The whole system needs to be designed to work together well.

  • In Farming Futures we get allocated a month so we take it in turns to do our quadrants and I feel that would be better than ad hoc monitoring. We need an incentive and a date.

  • Use of a plant app helped identify rare species on the farm doorstep.

  • Monitoring has to happen at various times of year so it’s not judged on one snap shot.

Collaboration

  • Enable people with shared passions to work on specific species e.g. wheatears

  • Dartmoor as a farm cluster group, we can offer a massive scale of delivery.


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