Working together to achieve more

11 May 2020 - Published by Francis Buner
The Flemish agriculture is, compared to other countries, characterised by a lot of farmers in a small area. Combined with poor spatial planning and high pressure on the remaining open space by industry, households and traffic, the resulting fragmentation creates a big challenge for conserving farmland nature. Many farmers need to be convinced to create enough high-quality habitat for farmland nature. Collaboration between farmers and other rural stakeholders in a certain area is a solution to face these challenges and to produce conservation benefits over a large area. This approach is used at the Flemish demo site Isabellapolder and in PARTRIDGE in general.

A feeling of ownership

Usually, Flemish farmers work on their own and decide individually about which agro-environmental measures they will take on their farm and are not really concerned about what happens on a landscape level and the ecological results this may deliver. In PARTRIDGE we are trying to change this.

During the last three years, the PARTRIDGE project gave our Flemish farmers the opportunity to meet each other on a regular basis. For example, together with our other Flemish PARTRIDGE partners, we organise a seed mix delivery moment in March each year. At this occasion, they receive their spring-sown partridge seed mixes, receive an update about the wildlife monitoring results and get the opportunity to share their experiences from the previous year and to discuss the best ways to manage and to re-sow their PARTRIDGE habitat measures.


Farmers discussing the management of their agri-environmental measures in the area during the annual seed mix delivery moment in the Isabellapolder demo site this year. © Agrobeheercentrum Eco²

Last year for example, we discussed in greater detail the best ways to avoid high weed pressure after the re-sowing of our PARTRIDGE flower blocks, and why each block looks so different in summer. They not only learn from each other, but they also have the chance to ask questions about the project, deliver their input and make agreements to help each other with sowing or ploughing, depending on their time or the machines they have.

“The seed mix delivery is a good opportunity to get an update about the project results and to fine-tune our management.”
Tom Gillis, PARTRIDGE farmer Isabellapolder demo site

Another fine example of teamwork is the partridge spring count. Together with farmers, hunters and volunteers who have an interest in farmland nature, we count the calling cocks during several days in spring starting half an hour after sunset. On this year’s last count on Friday evening the 13th of March, we counted nine partridges, which gave a good feeling to all people present.


Collecting the data from the volunteers after the partridge count. (c) Nick van der Hooft

Over the course of our project, we have noticed that the different farmer meetings and activities lead to new ideas and a better understanding and motivation amongst the farmers to further improve their habitat measures. Motivated farmers also inspire other farmers to join the project. Last year for example, we welcomed a new farmer, willing to establish 4,61 ha innovative measures on his land, after hearing about the experiences of other farmers.

On this new piece of land, we will establish the first lapwing plot in Flanders. With this area-based bottom-up approach, the Flemish partnership try to involve and motivate not only the PARTRIDGE farmers, but every stakeholder in the area and building on their existing knowledge, experience, different opinions and suggestions.

With this way of working, we try to create a feeling of ownership among the participating individuals in PARTRIDGE. We believe that this is the way to provide strong support for what we are doing and to ensure good results in the long term.

European benefits

Policymakers, researchers, advisors, nature organisations, farmers and hunters from seven European countries are taking part in PARTRIDGE. The European partnership has the benefit that we can learn from other countries. For example, in October 2017 we took our Flemish farmers on a field trip to the Dutch demo site Oude Doorn to learn about the best way to implement a beetle bank, a habitat measure invented by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). This field visit convinced some of our Flemish farmers to establish one themselves.


Field visits with the Flemish partners and the farmers to evaluate the experimental measures and to get to know the farmers’ opinion. © Agrobeheercentrum Eco²

“The abroad field visits are an added value for us as a farmer, to learn about how our colleagues in other European countries deal with the different agri-environmental schemes.”
Marc Govaert, PARTRIDGE farmer Isabellapolder demo site

Additionally, in November 2017 and in June 2019, we invited the Flemish PARTRIDGE farmers and other stakeholders to join us on a three-day field trip to England. On the first occasion we visited the GWCT’s flagship Allerton Project demonstration farm at Loddington (one of the ten demonstration sites of PARTRIDGE) and the RSPB’s Hope farm in Cambridgeshire.

The second time, we visited the Norfolk Estate in Arundel and the Rotherfield PARTRIDGE demo site. Well informed farmers are crucial in order to promote best practice in managing high-quality habitat measures. By taking our Flemish partners across the nearest borders to visit and learn from their fellow farmers abroad, we try to inspire them with new ideas and working practices about how to manage their own land to conserve farmland nature. In return, they can inspire other farmers and policymakers in their own region. Also, for the five Flemish project partners, these field trips are very useful.


Flemish farmers and PARTRIDGE farmers visiting the Rotherfield demo area in the UK. Harold Makant of Natural England is explaining the English AES system. © Agrobeheercentrum Eco²

The knowledge transfer on the European level is an added value to solve problems in our Flemish demo sites and to improve year by year our own habitat measures, communication and monitoring.

Demonstrate a good example

This ‘working together’ approach already led to a good spread and density of the different habitat measures at the Isabellapolder demo site. Today, almost 10 % of the Isabellapolder demo site is high-quality habitat, thanks to the efforts of our farmers. Increasingly, farmers, hunters and people from the general public tell us that they already see a lot more, even new species at our the demo area, such as hen harrier, buzzard, barn owls, goldfinches, bramblings. The first monitoring results look promising, but we need to continue the good work in the coming years, to reach the goal of a 30% increase of farmland biodiversity.

By organising farm walks and public events to demonstrate our solutions, writing articles and taking part in policy discussions, the Flemish partnership wants to spread the PARTRIDGE approach and the results across other regions in Flanders.

By working together with different stakeholders for a common goal, we believe we can face the challenges to conserve farmland nature in Flanders and act as an inspiring best example about how to reverse biodiversity across the Flemish farmland.

Written by Korneel Verslyppe (Agrobeheercentrum Eco²) and Nick van der Hooft (VLM)