Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) agricultural team visit demonstration farm at Balgonie in Fife
Recently our PARTRIDGE demonstration farm at Balgonie in Fife, was visited by a number of Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) agricultural team, keen to see first hand our habitat work and to discuss post-Brexit agri-environment options. SNH is the statutory conservation body in Scotland that advises Government and implements policy, and is heavily involved in designing agri-environment prescriptions. The PARTRIDGE project is part-funded by the EU’s Interreg North Sea Region programme. It aims to show practitioners and policy makers across northern Europe how farmland might be managed to benefit farmland wildlife, based on the extensive knowledge built up over many years of research regarding Grey Partridge requirements. This is a quintessential species of open, farmed landscapes and as such is proven to be an ‘umbrella species’: meaning what is good for Grey Partridge is likely to also be good for a range of other species sharing that habitat.
The visitors, hosted by Alan Johnson of Kings Crops, one of our local project partners, and Fiona Torrance the PARTRIDGE project officer in Scotland, were given a brief introduction to the project aims followed by a tour. This took in some of the larger habitat blocks on the farm that have been introduced to provide both foraging habitat for chicks during the breeding season as well as safe nesting cover for breeding birds and escape cover and seed-food in winter. This is achieved by careful management, via a simple regime of cutting half of each plot annually (and resowing if needed) in rotation to maintain vegetation of different structures within the same block. In this way important resources needed by the birds at different life-stages and times of year, are present in close proximity, making them easy to exploit. Next, the SNH group visited our small-plot area where Kings Crops have set up a number of small plots demonstrating different crop mixtures to suit different requirements. These included the mix they had seen in the larger habitat blocks, as well as alternative seed-producing mixes and pollen and nectar mixes, all designed to provide resources for wildlife under different circumstances. Scotland’s Pollinator Strategy emphasises the importance of flower-rich habitats and seed mixes which are clearly pollinator-friendly create a vital foraging resource and can help address connectivity challenges.
With Brexit on the horizon, naturally there was much discussion about what environmental measures farmers might receive Government support for in the future. Obviously there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this area at present, but many organisations, including SNH, are busy exploring different options and opportunities to be ready when the dust, eventually, settles.
Whilst Brexit carries on, the PARTRIDGE project have also been busy preparing a survey to distribute to North Sea Region farmers to find out what they think about agri-environment schemes and how they could be improved in the future. Further details of this survey will be provided in early 2020. Although this survey will probably be too late to influence the next CAP period, it is hoped that our findings will influence future policy and make things better for both farmers and wildlife.
Dr Dave Parish
Head of Scottish Lowland Research Project