Welcome to Kings' December e-newsletter. This edition shares details of a recent meeting on the future of Countryside Stewardship, invites growers to join a farmland bird ID day before February’s Big Farmland Bird Count, shares a grower’s experience of supplementary feeding, encourages consideration of the Capital Grants Scheme and tells readers more about Kings central technical advisor, Meehal Grint.
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The future of Countryside Stewardship
Last month I attended a ‘Countryside Stewardship – Lessons Learnt’ workshop hosted by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in Leicestershire. Representatives from DEFRA, Natural England and the RPA were present as well as various members of organisations who deal with stewardship applications such as FWAG, the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and independent agents and advisors.
The event gave attendees a platform to feed into the future development of the schemes and highlight both the concerns and positive feedback voiced by growers across the country.
The day was characterised by open dialogue and constructive criticism on areas for scheme improvement. Recurring themes included the complexity of the application process, the absence of certain options from the Mid Tier strand, in particular species rich grassland options, the level of record keeping and evidence requirements to meet scheme rules, and the RPA’s inspection regime.
It is now crucial that the involved organisations react to the concerns and suggested improvements in a timely fashion as we all want to see the schemes flourish and deliver good outcomes for the farmed environment. I will be keeping a keen eye open for press releases and announcements on scheme developments and trust that DEFRA, Natural England and the RPA have really been listening.
Big Farmland Bird Count ID days
In advance of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Big Farmland Bird Count in February 2017, farmland bird identification training days are taking place across the country. Held between 11th January and 3rd February, these days provide a fantastic opportunity to brush up on your bird identification skills, from the ‘little brown ones’ like corn bunting to the more exotic looking yellowhammers.
The sessions aim to help growers identify the 20 bird species most likely to be encountered on farmland, with a colour ID guide for those that attend. I will be attending one of the events as a trainer at Pencombe in Herefordshire on 3rd February to help participants pick out the features which can help with identification.
Participants will also receive special offer vouchers for seed mixes provided by Kings, Syngenta, BASF and Limagrain. The ID days cost just £10 per person and places sold out very quickly last year. Full details of events can be found at www.gwct.org.uk/bfbcdays.
In 2016, over 970 growers took part in the Big Farmland Bird Count, covering 900,000 acres and recording an incredible 130 bird species. The 2017 Big Farmland Bird Count takes place from 3rd to 12th February.
Supplementary feeding kicks in as cold weather bites
With the onset of hard frosts in early December across much of the country and the depleting seed resources in many wild bird seed mixes, supplementary winter feeding throws a lifeline to struggling farmland birds.
Philip Mann, who farms in the Cotswolds, says of the supplementary feeding option: “I think this is the option which gives me the most satisfaction of all the stewardship options I do. Seeing the birds lined up, waiting for me to arrive, gives me great enjoyment as I know I am providing them with something essential to see them through the winter. I always take my binoculars with me in case something more unusual is waiting and before now I’ve seen bramblings, reed bunting and corn bunting amongst the more usual chaffinch, yellowhammer and linnets.”
If you have an existing stewardship agreement that is delivering winter seed food provision and summer nectar provision, but you have no supplementary winter feeding, consider asking Natural England to add this vital option to your agreement and help birds to survive the ‘hungry gap’.
Countryside Stewardship Capital Grants opportunities
The next Countryside Stewardship Capital Grants Scheme application window was recently confirmed as 3rd January to 31st March 2017. As the scheme was about £1m undersubscribed last year and Natural England is keen to see an improved uptake, growers are encouraged to consider how this work could fit with business needs.
The scheme provides a great opportunity to carry out boundary restoration without committing to further environmental management under Mid Tier or Higher Tier. Standalone funding is available to benefit environments and landscapes by improving hedgerows and boundaries, with grants for hedgerow laying, coppicing and gapping up, planting hedgerow trees, stone-faced bank repairs and restoration, and stone wall and earth bank restoration.
Capital Grants Schemes run for two years and the maximum grant per farm business (SBI) is £5000.
Like the Higher Tier and Mid Tier strands of Countryside Stewardship, the Capital Grants Scheme is competitive and subject to budget availability, but this is a great opportunity to access funding to carry out restoration work on your farm. Speak to your local Kings advisor for advice on making a successful application and supply of hedgerow and tree species.
Meet Meehal Grint
This month, Kings central technical advisor, Meehal Grint, tells us more about himself.
“After growing up on a large sporting estate in Lincolnshire, I've been involved in all aspects of countryside sports. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather preparing the boss's guns and watching the day unfold from afar with the picking up team until I was old enough to go beating and picking up myself. I feel lucky to follow in his footsteps, regularly going loading and I'm looking forward to introducing the newest generation to countryside life, although at four months old, sleeping is my daughter’s biggest priority at the moment!
After a varied initial career, I followed my passion for the countryside and all aspects of conservation and returned to education in 2004 to complete my Conservation Biology and Animal Behaviour degree. I joined Kings in 2008 and now work with a wide variety of growers across central England and North Norfolk to improve their business and meet their goals, from fulfilling stewardship requirements and providing effective forage for livestock to creating profitable game cover plots and improving soil vitality with green cover crops.
I’ve helped on various shoots rearing game, running the beating line and hosting days and help to run a local syndicate by planning game cover crops, managing vermin control and everything in between. I get out as much as I can loading, beating and picking up with my dogs, Buzz and Fly and I enjoy rifle shooting too, so am lucky to help several estates to manage their deer populations. I also enjoy fishing and have a healthy rivalry with our southern advisor, Marc Bull!”
Season’s greetings and thank you
Thank you all for your continued support during 2016. Everyone at Kings wishes you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We look forward to working with you in 2017.
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