What does farmland biodiversity mean to me?
Weather can often be an issue in Scotland but it is important to make the most of it when you can 😊 (photo: Liz Fitzpatrick, GWCT)
As I mentioned, my job means that I get to experience farmland biodiversity every day. If you had told me what I would be doing in 2022 back when I was a student studying zoology, I’m not sure I would have believed you. As a research assistant at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, I’m fortunate enough to work on farmland biodiversity every day, whether that be working on maps and data entry in the office, or dragging myself out of bed at 3am to do the 20th bird survey of the season. The great thing about this sector is the variety, with no 2 days being the same. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do something that I truly love for my job, but that also makes a visible difference to many farmland species.
Doing a sea turtle nest excavation back in my uni days (photo: Iona McLaughlan)
That leads me to the next meaning, an indicator of the problems biodiversity is facing, not just in farmland habitats, but all over the world. As humans have expanded and become more efficient, biodiversity has been on the losing end. It’s not difficult to find evidence of what’s happening, with statistics such as a 91% decrease in grey partridges and a 63% decrease in skylark numbers since the 1960s, and there is barely a month that goes by without some publication announcing yet another insect population has dropped since the commercialisation of intensive farming. I speak to many farmers who reminisce about their childhoods when they saw partridges under every hedge and were surrounded by various butterflies and bees. However, schemes like the PARTRIDGE project show that there is hope. The great thing about being a demo site manager is that you get to see what’s happening on the ground. Any time I see a flock of birds in a wild bird seed crop or can hear the buzzing of bees in our pollinator mix, it’s really inspiring and shows me that what we’re doing is working.
It also provides me with a great opportunity to learn. Although I could tell you what a yellowhammer song sounds like or what colour a fox’s eyes are when they catch the light of a lamp during hare surveys (yellowish by the way), spending time in nature is always a school day. Whether it’s observing a new behaviour, spotting a new plant or hearing an unusual call (chances are it’s a chaffinch 😉), there’s always something to pick up. It’s also a great resource for my students to learn about nature and I find it particularly rewarding seeing how they pick things up during the year that they spend with me.
Is it a linnet, is it reed bunting? No, it’s another chaffinch… (photo: Graham Rankine)
Perhaps most interestingly for us humans, biodiversity actually has many benefits to ourselves as well. Apart from getting some exercise and providing a location where you can go for a chat with a friend, biodiversity provides the food we eat, regulates diseases and is the source of many pharmaceutical products. It has also been shown that spending time with nature improves our mental health, and ‘green prescriptions’ were launched in the UK a few years ago.
If I had written this a year ago, I probably would have finished the blog here. However, one thing that farmland biodiversity has provided to me especially over the last 12 months is an escape. In September last year my mum passed away at the age of 63. Losing a parent is hard for any child to go through but as she raised my sisters and I on her own, it felt particularly tough.
Mum and I (aged 2) (photo: my family)
The first few days after are a blur but one thing that I do remember was that my boyfriend encouraged me to go for short walks. These walks were nothing special in normal circumstances, we didn’t spend an hour driving to a beauty spot or go to a special place with walking trails. We didn’t even need to walk more than 20m to get there as I was fortunate enough to live behind a canal and had a gate at the bottom of the garden.
This gate was nothing remarkable, it needed painted, had some weeds behind it and a rusty lock, but it was my escape route to a different world where skylarks were singing, deer would jump across a field, where you could hear the leaves rustling in the trees and smell the rain that was about to fall. Although I experience this world in my day-to-day life with my job, it took on a new significance. Looking back now I believe these walks were instrumental in the grieving process, helping to ease some of the weight of the world that I felt on my shoulders. Everyone deals with grief differently but for me, having the ‘gate at the bottom of the garden’ was like a portal to a more peaceful world where things weren’t so bad for a little bit.
I hope you’ll agree, biodiversity has a lot to offer us. In return, I think it’s important that we do what we can not only to keep it, but to help it thrive. However, time is not on our side. Many measures take 5-10 years or even longer to establish, so it’s critical that meaningful action is taken now. Projects like PARTRIDGE show that by working together, we can achieve these goals and I hope to spend many more years working towards these aims.
Partridges make up a large part of my life (photo: Katherine Thorne, GWCT)
Finally, I wanted to give a special thanks to my GWCT and PARTRIDGE colleagues who supported me after my mum’s death. My mum would think it was completely ridiculous if I dedicated this to her, so instead, I’ll dedicate it to her amazing baking.
Mum’s baking always went down well (photo: Fiona Torrance, GWCT)
Written by Fiona Torrance, Scottish Grey Partridge Recovery Project Research Assistant and demo site manager for the PARTRIDGE project in Scotland.
Check the other blogs in our WHY BIODIVERSITY MATTERS series