The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) Allerton Project at Loddington, Leicestershire, remains a valuable platform for knowledge transfer across a wide range of farmland issues. With more than 200 events held, over 3000 visitors and farmland bird numbers continuing to rise in 2016, there is no doubt that this is a pioneering project.The 2016 count showed songbird numbers are now 90% higher than they were in 1992, while numbers in the wider countryside remain relatively constant.
Kings works closely with the project to support the delivery of best practice to land managers, advisors and industry stakeholders across the farming, stewardship and sporting sectors. As well as providing seed and technical support, Kings collaborates with several of the Trust’s partners to help deliver specific initiatives.
One of these is the Waitrose Farming Partnership (WFP), which works alongside farmers, growers and other suppliers to ensure the best standards in quality, safety, environment and animal welfare across its supply chain. This includes Waitrose’s own inspections and farm assurance schemes.
With a dedicated range of suppliers for eggs, milk, meat and poultry, Waitrose ensures each supply chain has a sustainable farming system that considers and delivers for the farmed environment. To progress this commitment, agricultural manager for Waitrose, Duncan Sinclair approached Jim Egan, head of training and development at the Allerton Project, to explore how growers could be supported to develop their on-farm habitats.
“We were conscious that there was potential for farmers to contribute to the National Pollinator Strategy when it was released,” Duncan explains. “We thought the best way to do that was to approach the experts at GWCT, who also put us in touch with Kings.”
As part of the project, Kings developed a simple range of seed mixtures to deliver for farmland birds and pollinators and help growers to protect soil and water on their farms. Knowing that seed alone does not deliver success, the team also provides training and ongoing support to a forum of growers who have taken up the various mixtures.
One stop shop
“Working together has provided WFP growers a one stop shop in terms of products and advice on establishing and growing the crops,” Duncan continues. “Workshops and open days have given growers the opportunity to go and see the options for themselves and to share their knowledge and experience with other farmers. Kings technical advice at these workshops and on-farm sessions has been valuable and their regional advisors act as a local point of contact which has really helped in terms of national coverage too.
“Creating a range of options for both conventional and organic farms that fit Basic Payment Scheme and greening requirements is kind of a two for one, a win-win,” he concludes. “It’s all voluntary, but over time, more and more farmers will see the benefits and put these measures in place.”
Bill Playford is Waitrose supply chain fieldsman for Dalehead Foods in Suffolk. In 2016, several farmers became involved in the project after being encouraged to allocate areas of unproductive land to on-farm habitat.
“The nectar flower mixture has been popular and has encouraged a lot of bees in particular,” explains Bill. “As well as becoming more attractive to wildlife, the initiative has made a striking visual difference; nice purple areas of phacelia for example add a lot of colour to our pig fields.
“We’ll be progressing things further this year with plans for more pollinator crops and wild bird seed mixtures too. The Kings advisors are very helpful and we look forward to our farmers becoming even more involved in 2017.”
Making a difference
Kings’ Richard Barnes comments, “It has been a pleasure working with the WFP and GWCT on this initiative. The Allerton Project has a great range of habitats already in place that make it the perfect hub for demonstrating best practice and I believe growers recognise and appreciate the challenges the team has at Loddington as it’s an ‘everyday’ farm. We always say that if a visitor can leave with one valuable take home message, we’ve made a positive difference.”
“Working with Kings and Waitrose has been really interesting,” Jim agrees. “It’s great to work with a supply chain that has a positive attitude and really appreciates how productive farming and good environmental management go hand in hand.”