Conservation Agriculture as part of Integrated Farm Management

Anthony Pope

Anthony Pope, Conservation Agriculture Consultant

Conservation Agriculture is a practical concept, which when used as part of Integrated Farm Management (IFM) can improve productivity, profits, and food security whilst preserving and benefiting the environment. Anthony Pope, Conservation Agriculture Consultant, has been involved in farming on an international level for more than 40 years and here, he tells us about the benefits of Conservation Agriculture that he has seen first-hand.


The UK is seeing increased soil erosion and degradation due to the increased intensity of rainfall

During my years of involvement in agriculture in many different countries around the world, my overriding concern has been to improve food security and agricultural sustainability.  Crop yields have been falling and will continue to do so unless steps are taken to reverse soil erosion, soil degradation and the decline in soil fertility. Indeed, here in the UK, generally low organic matter levels in the soil are being shown up by increased crop stress and wilting during the long dry spells that we have been experiencing, leading to poor crop performance.  At the other end of the scale, we are seeing considerably more erosion and soil degradation with the increased intensity of rainfall that we are experiencing.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) represents a potential solution to this downward trend – improving soil health and achieving better soil-crop-nutrient-water management, leading to ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture.

CA is characterised by three linked and core principles, namely:

  1. No or minimal soil disturbance – through the use of no-till seeding to enhance populations and activity of soil macro-biota such as earthworms and reduce soil compaction
  2. Permanent soil cover – from crop residues, planted catch and cover crops, and relay planting of main crops
  3. Diversified cropping systems – rotations, sequences and associations

Conservation Agriculture complements IFM practices

CA facilitates good agronomy and improves overall land husbandry for rain-fed and irrigated production and is complemented by other practices promoted in LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, etc.  It opens increased options for integration of production sectors, such as crop-livestock integration and the integration of trees and pastures into agricultural landscapes.

I recently visited a farmer in Lincolnshire who has adopted CA, and employed a no-till regime since 2003 on his three farms totalling 1,250 hectares.  He has found that CA crop production costs are around £130/ha compared with £266/ha for conventionally tilled crops.  Some of this saving is due to lower fuel bills as diesel consumption has fallen from 92 l/ha to 42 l/ha simply by adopting no-till; in addition, soil organic matter levels have increased as shown by soil organic carbon (SOC) which was 2.1% in 2003, 4.6% in 2007 and is now 6.3%.

Nick August, who also adopts CA at his 400ha farm in Oxfordshire, and has reduced his crop establishment costs by £70/ha through converting to no-till.  The switch from min-till to no-till has reduced diesel use from nearly 18 litres/ha to 4.7 litres/ha, and the time taken to drill has fallen from 54min/ha to 26min/ha.

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Zero tillage is a key part of Conservation Agriculture

The transition phase for conversion to CA usually takes about two to three years; however, the full benefits of the system often become visible only after five years.  Mechanical tillage is replaced by biological tillage (crop roots and soil fauna) and soil fertility (nutrients and water) is essentially managed through no-tillage, soil-cover management, crop rotations and weed management.  Some weeds and pests create specific challenges but the health and diversity of soil biota help reduce the incidence of weeds and maintain a reserve of natural predators. Improved soil life and cover has a dramatic effect on birds and other wild animals.

I firmly believe that radical changes to farming practices are necessary in this country and elsewhere, to ensure a balanced system with improved soil organic matter and soil biota levels which ultimately enhance the sustainability of soils and increase crop yields. I believe that Conservation Agriculture as part of Integrated Farm Management, by facilitating good agronomy, improved timeliness of operations and reduced variable and fixed costs, is the solution for the future.

First steps to losing 25 for 25

Cedric Porter, LEAF Trustee and supply chain expert

CedricWhen ideas for celebrating LEAF’s 25th anniversary, a year dedicated to Delivering Healthy Food and Farming – fit for the future were sought at a board meeting in a quiet moment I rashly said that I could be sponsored to lose 25 pounds with donations going to LEAF.

So the moment of truth has arrived. I’ve been to the doctors for a health update and weigh in. At six foot one and at 220lbs I have a BMI of 28.6 and am officially overweight. I should have a BMI of less than 25 and be between 10 stones and 13 stones 8 pounds so perhaps I should be a little more ambitious and lose even more than 25lbs, but let’s take things one step at a time.

I was not given any specific advice on what I should do to lose weight, but the main message appears to be: eat smaller portions, cut out most of the naughties and exercise more. I work from home which has plenty of advantages as well as dangers for anyone looking to lose weight. As Boris Johnson said: “We all know that working from home is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again.”

So losing weCP scales picture 16.04.21ight will take planning and discipline, not my strongest points. My basic plan is to eat porridge oats for breakfast, plenty of fruit and veg (as much of it LEAF Marque as possible, which hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult knowing that 33% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF Marque accredited) plus some protein at lunch and then a relatively ‘normal’ meal in the evening and certainly cut down on the booze – hide those large wineglasses!

I live in a town (Tunbridge Wells) which is pretty green and pleasant so there should be no excuse not to get out and walk or even run especially now the evenings are light. Technology is helping in the form of a phone app counting my steps and calories burnt. As I edge beyond 8,000 steps I can be seen walking the streets late at night trying to reach the magic 10,000 mark.

Losing more than 10% of my bodyweight is not going to be easy, but it is not going to be impossible. If you have any words of advice or encouragement please let me have them as they will be gratefully received. I must go as the fridge is calling, but rest assured I have the willpower to let its cries go unheeded.

If you would like to support my efforts then please feel free to donate via the LEAF JustGiving page #25FOR25 @LEAF_Farming

Integrated Farm Management: looking back and stepping forward


Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive

On the 19th May, LEAF will hold its first Integrated Farm Management Conference in Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire. Titled, IFM: A Framework for the Future, the conference will examine the development of IFM, consider its strengths (as well as weaknesses) and crucially, as LEAF embarks on its next 25 years, its role in addressing future challenges.  For more information and to book on, please click here. Ahead of this, we ask Caroline Drummond our Chief Executive to reflect on where IFM all began, its development over the last twenty-five years and what is important moving forward.

Looking back to farming in 1991, the industry had successfully met many of the challenges that had been set to grow production capability. However, the realisation that some of these farming practices were having a big impact on the environment was beginning to dawn. This brought about a sharp realisation by many farmers who wanted to achieve a balance between production and environmental protection, by using the right practices and being much more focussed on the value of nature and habitats. Thus began an industry movement with farmers looking for whole farm approaches through Integrated Crop Management (ICM). Added to this, the wider industry was realising the potential damage caused by pesticides and fertilisers in the working place and this brought about more selective and better use of pesticides, improved products and better information on the environmental impact of fertilisers.

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For LEAF, ICM developed on the back of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies where crop health was the focus alongside the recognition that farmers do not make decisions on single issues but on a number of different factors, such as the weather, thresholds, land area and many more. Taking a concept developing in Germany, LEAF’s first five years was focused around the development and promotion of ICM.  For us, the selection of some of the best farmers in the UK as LEAF Demonstration Farmers allowed us to focus on the development of ICM, embracing traditional methods and modern techniques that enabled farmers to strike the balance between running profitable businesses at the same time as enhancing and protecting the environment. As we developed ICM, it became apparent that the integration of livestock was critical. Since 1996, LEAF has focussed on Integrated Farm Management (see Figure 1).


LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

This broader focus was all the more important as the farmers/practice interface for research projects was evolving in projects like the LIFE project at Long Ashton Research Station, the focus on farming practice at Stoughton and work at High Mowthorpe as well as government priorities at MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods). This research identified the financial benefits of more IFM systems. Since that time, we have seen a tremendous amount of change in practices and priorities for farm businesses, volatilities in the market place and a decline in long term farm systems based research.

We have continued to expand our Demonstration Farm network as well as work with our Innovation Centres who have highlighted and developed specific areas of research that have fed into the development of IFM. These have been pioneered by our LEAF Demonstration Farmers and are being increasingly adopted by our farmer members. Furthermore, with the growth of the LEAF Marque assurance system, we have seen radical changes in the market place which have supported and accelerated these innovations and changes.

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The Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP), Integrated Farm Management project is driving the development of innovation and testing of new approaches within IFM

Whilst farmer based research has not always been a priority across Europe, things are starting to change. We are delighted that the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP), Integrated Farm Management project is driving the development of innovation and testing of new approaches within IFM. Beyond this, it is initiatives such as the Agricology website that provides a fantastic platform for exchange of ideas and gives farmers the confidence to adopt novel approaches. This is why LEAF is pleased and proud to be a partner. The challenges facing the farming industry will continue but partnership approaches to find appropriate solutions are absolutely critical. This partnership approach will be seen in action at our IFM Conference on the 19th May when we will welcome a range of farmers and others in the industry to hear and discuss some of the most forward-thinking research and development from our Innovation Centres and its adoption by some of our LEAF Demonstration Farmers.

We would be very pleased if you could join us there. For more information and to book on please click here.


Putting research into action


Melanie Wright, Grants and KEC Support Officer, at North Wyke

Knowledge exchange is key to delivering more sustainable farming.   Here Melanie Wright, Grants and KEC Support Officer, at the North Wyke site of Rothamsted Research, our latest Innovation Centre, tells us more about how they are communicating research and new technologies to farmers.

The highly successful NFU ‘Grasslands in Profile’ event hosted here at Rothamsted Research North Wyke last month provided the ideal occasion at which to launch North Wyke as the newest member of LEAF’s network of Innovation Centres.

North Wyke

Driving forward more sustainable farming: on farm events at North Wyke enable researchers, technicians and students to present their research

Focussing on grassland soils, this joint event formed part of the NFU’s programme of activities for the international Year of Soils. Attracting over 70 attendees, the event was an excellent opportunity for researchers, technicians and students here at North Wyke to present their research and introduce visitors to the North Wyke Farm Platform Capability, the world’s most highly instrumented grassland livestock farm.

Despite torrential downpours throughout the morning, the Devon weather was on our side in the afternoon and visitors were treated to a tour of the farm platform with the sun streaming over Dartmoor in the distance. Robert Orr, Manager of the Farm Platform, was stationed in a windy spot at the top of the site from where he provided visitors with an overview of the farm platform and the three grassland systems being trialled on it.

Andy Retter, Instrument Technician on the Farm Platform, guided groups around through the working of one of the 15 flume labs located on the Platform which measure run off from the fields as well as a range of chemical and physical measures of water quality.

For the last stop on the tour Dr Rob Dunn introduced visitors to the research undertaken on the platform to measure greenhouse gas emissions from grasslands. Using state of the art LICOR chambers, researchers at North Wyke are measuring greenhouse gas emissions during grazing and following ploughing and re-seeding events to quantify the true impact of grassland livestock production on greenhouse gas emissions.


The BBSRC supported Farm Platform National Capability at North Wyke is at the cutting edge of research into sustainable grazing livestock systems

The BBSRC supported Farm Platform National Capability at North Wyke is at the cutting edge of research into sustainable grazing livestock systems. However, we recognise that impact will only be achieved through the dissemination of this research to the farming community. The enrolement of the North Wyke site as a LEAF Innovation Centre and events such as ‘Grasslands in profile’ are part of our growing activities to aid the transfer of knowledge to our stakeholders to put research into action.

North Wyke launched as LIC

As a LEAF Innovation Centre, North Wyke will play a key role in showcasing sustainable farming methods, particularly in the area of grassland systems.

Looking to the future North Wyke will undertake an active programme of events that will promote the principles of sustainable agriculture and Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and promote the research undertaken here to identify the most sustainable means of rearing pasture-based livestock.

In 2016, North Wyke will be working closely with the newly appointment farming representatives on its Research Advisory Group to ensure that the research undertaken at North Wyke will deliver the maximum impact for the farming sector. We will be running a number of farm tours and working with partners including LEAF to host events to further share the research and knowledge coming out of our work at North Wyke.

Sharing information, ideas and insights at the LEAF Network Event


Dave Rabbich, LEAF Intern

Bristol Port Company at Portbury, a Warburton’s factory and the Humble by Nature prototype aquaponics greenhouse provided a wealth of inspiration and a thought-provoking backdrop to our LEAF Network Event last week.  Dave Rabbich, LEAF Intern went along and tells us more… 

The two day event was designed to stimulate the exchange of knowledge and discussion between LEAF Demonstration Farmers and LEAF Innovation Centre representatives, based around the principles of Integrated Farm Management (IFM).

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The LEAF Network Event is a key part of continuous improvement

Events like these are a key part of continuous improvement. In addition to providing an opportunity for these volunteers to engage with each other, and share their expertise about farming, it allowed us to explore how businesses in the food sector working under different situations and scales, operate and strive to achieve their own sustainability goals.

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Exploring how the Bristol Port Company are addressing sustainability targets

The Bristol Port Company handles a range of products for import and export. As we toured the site, they were preparing to load 60,000 tonnes of grain onto a ship – around 2,000 lorry loads!  The scale of the operation was very impressive, and it was interesting to see how the combination of modern technology and long-standing methods is used to achieve their targets.

The Warburton’s bakery in Bristol manufactures 800g loaves, 400g loaves as well as wraps and thins. Their approach to quality control, attention to detail and flexibility has allowed them to gain 26% market share.

Our evening discussions revolved around how farms and zoos could cooperate to enhance biodiversity conservation and how consumers perceive the value of farming.

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Understanding different growing methods at Humble By Nature’s prototype aquaponics solar greenhouse

Humble by Nature is home to a prototype aquaponics solar greenhouse which was created to investigate the mutualistic relationship that can be formed between fish and plants. This pioneering project is making inroads into understanding these growing methods further.

Each operation we visited faces different challenges and each had an ingenious way of overcoming them. It was really interesting to find out more about these different businesses and from the many discussions that followed, it was evident that all of the farmers that joined us gained useful insights into how sustainability targets are being delivered in other sectors.

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LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management – delivering more sustainable farming

The range of businesses we visited revealed a breadth of solutions the food sector has used to overcome a number of issues. It also became apparent that to overcome future concerns, it will require the cooperation of all stages of the supply chain to continue to provide nutritious food as well as maintaining a healthy natural environment in a sustainable way. LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management, LEAF Marque and LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday will all have a large part to play in this.

To find out more about LEAF, LEAF Demonstration Farmers and LEAF Innovation Centres, please visit

Bottoms-Up: Innovative Farmers and Speak Out


Alice Midmer, LEAF Projects Coordinator

Promoting and enabling farmers that are Innovative and Communicative are two big details that form part of LEAF’s ‘bottom-up’ approach to delivering more sustainable farming.  LEAF’s Projects Coordinator, Alice Midmer explains more …  

If you have heard Caroline Drummond speak you may well have a) seen the photo below (it’s her favourite) and b) will hopefully remember it as a visual representation that, here at LEAF, we love a bottom-up approach! But what does this really mean?

Bottoms up

LEAF’s ‘bottoms up’ approach to delivering sustainable farming

In theory, and according to all-knowing Google, the definition of a bottom-up approach is as follows: ‘The bottom-up of an approach to a problem is one that begins with details and works up to the highest conceptual level.’

If we take ‘more sustainable farming’ as our ‘highest conceptual level’ then two of the most recent projects I have been working on are fantastic examples of ‘the details’.

The first is our involvement with Innovative Farmers. We are really pleased to be partners in the new and exciting Innovative Farmers programme. Many of the best ideas come from farmers who trial, test and analyse on their own farms. We know that LEAF farmers are often at the very cutting edge of this technical development and we are keen that these results are captured and harnessed to enable others to benefit and the industry as a whole to move forward.

Innovative Farmers is a not-for-profit network that matches farmer groups with some of the UK’s best research teams. It provides professional support, a web portal where groups share their learning, and access to a dedicated research fund. At the heart of the network are ‘field labs’, where farmers meet in small groups to test and develop new ways of tackling a shared problem or opportunity. Until 15th December, there is an early bird discount to join and following this, all LEAF members will continue to receive a discounted membership. Click here to register as a LEAF member.

Innovative FarmersInnovative Farmers is an exciting network and a great opportunity to join-up and optimise the output from research happening all over the country. Farmer led research and learning is not new however, and has been at the heart of LEAF since its inception, through the LEAF Demonstration Farm network. As well as innovation and Integrated Farm Management, good communication skills are crucial to the LEAF Demonstration Farm network. In this vein, LEAF developed the Speak Out communications training package a number of years ago to help develop and enhance farmers’ communication skills.

This autumn, Speak Out was back. The sessions saw both new and established LEAF Demonstration Farmers gather in the sunny cart shed at LEAF Demonstration Farm, Crowmarsh Battle Farms for a refresher training day with the ever enthusiastic Susie Emmett of Green Shoots Productions Ltd.

Good communication is imperative and innovative farmers need to have all the tools in the box to spread their messages to other farmers, the industry and consumers alike.

Speak Out

LEAF’s Speak Out training: developing and enhancing farmers communication skills

Farmers and representatives from nine different LEAF Demonstration Farms took part in a fantastic day that ranged from ‘planning a presentation that packs a punch’ to ‘movie making with messages that matter’. ‘Making the most of your online presence’, ‘harnessing the power of social media’ and ‘taking farm visits to the next level’ were also covered in a jam packed day.

Attendees included established LEAF Demonstration Farmers, keen to refresh their skills, pick up tips from other farmers as well as learn more about newer and increasingly important avenues of communication. Newer recruits at larger LEAF Demonstration Farms also attended to develop skills to help them better communicate their farm’s message to the wider community.

All appreciated the importance of staying engaged and up-to date with different communication methods and how and why to make best use of them. From my point of view, any opportunity of getting LEAF Demonstration Farmers together always makes for an inspiring day and this was no exception.

With this in mind, part of LEAF’s contribution to the Innovative Farmers programme will be Speak Out training. The partners recognise that effective communication from the coordinators and researchers will be an important component of the success of Innovative Farmers. Ready communication from the farmers involved along with a willingness to share challenges and problems will ensure the programme contributes to the progress of the industry as a whole.

So there you have it: Promoting and enabling farmers that are Innovative and Communicative are two big details that form part of LEAF’s bottom-up approach to delivering more sustainable farming.

Creating Sustainable Diets and Food Systems

‘When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.  When diet is correct, medicine is of no need’ Ayurvedic Proverb


Caroline Drummond MBE, LEAF Chief Executive

Caroline Drummond MBE, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) carried out a Nuffield Scholarship during 2014 exploring ‘What farmers can learn from science to improve the nutritional value of our food?’ Here she explains more about the role of sustainable food systems in improving health and nutrition.

The agricultural systems that have been built up over the past few decades have contributed greatly to alleviating hunger and raising living standards; they have served the purpose, but only up to a point.

In the UK, the traditional public health challenges of under nutrition and unsafe food and water have been largely replaced by the risks of poor diet. As a nation, young and old, we over consume foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and do not eat enough fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish. This type of diet underlies many of the chronic diseases that cause substantial suffering, ill health and premature death.


Our current food system is largely driven by economic demand and production, not nutritional goals

Our current food system is largely driven by economic demand and production, not nutritional goals.  Thus, to be successful in the future, we will require agriculture systems that focus as much attention on addressing economic demand and production, as they do on meeting nutritional goals. This will help address the growth in dietary related diseases across the globe by improving the nutritional value of food and providing new opportunities for farmers to benefit, both in the field and in the market place.

There are a wealth of new developments in the food we eat and while attempting to manage obesity drains the NHS budgets, the health food market grows with quick solutions to undo our excesses, high protein drinks, new diets, the list goes on.  Indeed, Coca-Cola have recently launched their ‘Fairlife’ high value, high protein milk and globally, some $68 billion is spent annually on vitamin tablets alone!


Some $68 billion is spent annually on vitamin tablets alone

Furthermore the ‘health by stealth’ approach to fresh and processed foods is growing.  This will offer short term solutions, but in the long term, the farming industry needs to get smart and takes centre stage in more integrated discussions across government departments including the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,  the Department of Health and the Department of Education.


New opportunities through enriched diets for livestock

Whether it be new breeding approaches in crops to enhance nutritional features or enriched diets for livestock to increase Omega 3 content, there are certainly new opportunities on the horizon to embed health as a core part of sustainable food and farming. This is where LEAF’s work will become increasingly more important.  In the short term, we need to focus on improving soil health through Integrated Farm Management, engaging consumers in how their food is produced and where it comes farm through Open Farm Sunday as well as supporting farmers in the market place with LEAF Marque.


Engaging consumers in how food is produced is key to improving health and nutrition

Food and nutrition is the bed-rock of society – we need to develop the building blocks that connect health, well-being, nutrition, farming and education, creating sustainable diets and food systems that are underpinned by the need to improve health and nutrition. The investment in reducing the burden of those dietary related diseases will have high returns. Feeding a world without nourishing it at the same time is not sustainable.

The future is not about producing more food. It is about more of the right food where health is embedded as a value when we buy it – after all, in reality, every food we produce on farm is a super food – it is managing our diet around it that we need to challenge.

Click here to download Caroline’s full Nuffield Scholarship report.  She will also be talking about the issues on this week’s Countryfile programme to be aired at 6.15pm on BBC One, Sunday 25th October 2015. 


Bats and Owls at Balruddery

Euan at Potatoes In Practice 1

Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms, Field and Glasshouse Facilities at the James Hutton Institute

The James Hutton Institute is a LEAF Innovation Centre that is committed to promoting and developing Integrated Farm Management at their sites in Scotland. Euan Caldwell is Head of Farms, Field and Glasshouse Facilities and here he tells us a bit more about the bats and owls that have taken up residence at the Balruddery Site near Perth.

Here at Balruddery we installed a number of bat boxes in 2009 as mitigation for the lost bat roosts in the old byre (the old stone steading at Balruddery was knocked down in 2009). Originally 20 boxes were installed – 5 each of four types. We lost one last winter when it was blown down and destroyed. Last year we moved three boxes to the gully near Balruddery Den – these were ones which had never been used in their original locations.


Bat boxes are checked twice a day

The bat boxes are checked twice annually by David Dodd from David Dodds Associated who is licensed to do so. David checks the boxes to try to identify droppings to establish whether the boxes are in use and clear them of any debris: droppings, old birds’ nests etc. so that the boxes remain usable. To date we have found both Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats in the boxes. The byre was also used by a shyer species: Natterer’s Bats and I’m hopeful they may move into the boxes eventually.

Bats at Balruddery

Both Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats have taken up residence at the James Hutton Institute’s Balruddery Site near Perth

The boxes are usually used through the summer by individual male bats, waiting for the autumn breeding season. The females spend the summer in large maternity groups, rearing their young. In the autumn the males set up territories around small roosts and call females, gathering a “harem” of females. We often find these groups in the boxes in autumn. Last autumn there was evidence of a lot of activity in one of the boxes and David suggested it may have been used as a maternity roost, though it’s hard to be sure.

The Tawny Owl is one of bats’ main predators and is capable of taking one in flight in complete darkness. We have had Tawny Owls nesting for the last three years at Balruddery Farm in a nest box we put up ourselves on the eastern fringes of the farm. In years one and two there were two owlets and it was very entertaining to watch them “branch” at dusk, a term used to describe their early attempts at using their wings (jumping from branch to branch) and being fed by the adults who could be seen roosting in a nearby tree during the day.

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This year there was only one owlet who was particularly adventurous!

This year there was only one owlet who was particularly adventurous! Owlets regularly fall / glide out of their trees during the “branching” stage but they usually manage quite easily to clamber back up into the tree and I have seen this happen several times. However, as this year’s baby was an only child, it seemed to have no incentive to return to the same tree it started from and I struggled to keep up with its movements. I became very familiar with the little squeaks that it made as dusk approached and found it in random trees, in a hedge row, crouching on top of a dyke and once on the main road! But I lost track of it before it properly fledged. It was well attended by the parents and was well fed. It grew at a faster rate than the owlets from previous years and I have no doubt that it made it to adult hood

Our Owls are very entertaining to watch but their presence is also a healthy sign that the habitats we have helped to create, our hedge rows, field margins and beetle banks are sustaining a healthy and productive food chain that enables a top predator like a Tawny Owl to make its home at Balruddery.

Farming and a thriving bird population in peaceful coexistence?

Alice Johnston

Alice Johnston, Bayer Crop Science

Bayer CropScience is a LEAF Innovation Centre, proudly investigating and demonstrating Integrated Farm Management (IFM) at their two research farms in South Cambridgeshire. They have been monitoring the farmland wild bird populations for over 12 years and here, Alice Johnston explains a bit more about how birds are monitored on farm and some of the measures put in place to promote them.

We hear a lot about the apparent decline in farmland bird populations, and how intensive agriculture is clearly the reason for their demise. And it is always difficult to determine the effect of anything that you do to improve things on an individual farm since birds can and do fly both in and out of a specific area. Of course, that should not stop farmers and growers from trying and Bayer’s research farms having been trying to make a difference and seeing what happens as a result. Attention to detail is a critical part of Integrated Farm Management and one we take very seriously at Bayer.

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Attention to detail is a key part of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management

At our research farms in South Cambridgeshire we have been monitoring our farmland wild bird populations for over 12 years. Despite national surveys suggesting that farmland bird species are in decline, it is encouraging to see our populations on the rise. Bayer has always taken a proactive role in promoting the biodiversity on our farms and it is reassuring to see that these activities are showing positive results. Last year, for example, we saw an excellent year for owls and our butterfly and moth populations are looking very healthy.

Since 2006 we have been enrolled in the Entry Level Stewardship scheme. In the end, this land is being used for a purpose but, by following the guides promoted in the scheme, we have been able to manage the farms to a high conservation standard in addition to fully utilising them for our research purposes.

Barn Owls at ringing

Owl, butterfly and moth populations are thriving due to extensive measures to promote on-farm biodiversity

Across both sites we have adopted a positive hedgerow management scheme, trimming on rotation in the winter and re-establishing native species. This not only gives protection and a nesting site for many bird species but also a vital food supply throughout much of the year.

Our Shelford site has an extensive network of beetle banks – earth ridges at least 2m wide and 0.5m high. Many of the beetle banks have pollen, nectar and grass strips alongside them, creating an ideal habitat for small mammals and insects. For overwintering birds we have wild bird seed mixtures at different sites around the farms as well as some winter stubble and areas of historical woodland. All these areas provide food sources and shelter for a variety of wildlife.

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Healthy growth in bird populations at Bayer’s two research farms in South Cambridgeshire

These measures have meant a healthy growth in our bird populations. Of the 19 species used to calculate the Farmland Bird Index, we have had 17 of these species across our two sites throughout the 12 years. The most encouraging population increases recorded were: Skylark, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lapwing, Linnet, Reed Bunting and Starling which have all doubled in population since 2002.

Bayer CropScience is one of a number of LEAF Innovation Centres across the UK that research or pioneer new approaches in sustainable land management.

The Woodland Trust working for sustainable farming

Helen Chesshire

Helen Chesshire, Senior Advisor, The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust joined LEAF as a corporate member last year.  Helen Chesshire, Senior Advisor at the Woodland Trust explains more about the Trust, why it supports LEAF and the wider benefits of trees on UK farmland.

Tell us a bit more about The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity.  It looks after more than 1,000 woods covering 190 square kilometres.  The Trust aims to protect, restore and create new native woodland cover across the UK, which is one of the least wooded in the whole of Europe.

Why has The Woodland Trust joined LEAF

The Trust wishes to create healthy, resilient and wildlife-rich wooded landscapes and with 70% of the land in the UK managed for agricultural production it means that the farming sector is key to helping us achieve this. As the leading organisation promoting sustainable farming and food, LEAF was an obvious partner.   We are hoping to work with LEAF to help raise awareness of the role of trees on UK farmland as well as to demonstrate best practice and encourage farmers to value, preserve and protect their trees and woodlands for conservation benefits.

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The farming sector is key to helping The Woodland Trust create healthy, resilient and wildlife-rich woodland

We have worked with David Rose, LEAF Marque farmer in Nottinghamshire to create a silvoarable scheme in a bid to nourish his soils, improve crop yield, attract pollinators, encourage local wildlife and create an additional source of produce.  We would welcome an opportunity to work with other LEAF farmers who are interested in increasing tree cover on their farms.

What does Integrated Farm Management [sustainable farming] mean to the Woodland Trust?

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The nine sections of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

As a whole farm business approach IFM delivers more sustainable farming systems which in turn can help create a more resilient landscape.  Trees are a cost effective tool that can deliver a wide range of services on farms to help achieve this whilst also delivering important services for the wider environment.  For example, a shelter belt can improve crop water efficiency which has been proven to increase wheat yields by 3.5% – more in dry years.  It can also provide shelter in cold, wet and windy weather reducing the incidence of neonatal lamb losses. They can also help provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife and aid movement of species as they seek to adapt to the changing climate.

Similarly, narrow strips of trees along contours or waterways can protect soils from erosion by increasing the water infiltration rates of the soil, reducing surface water runoff and damage from poaching.  But they can also help improve water quality by trapping agricultural pollutants before they enter water courses.  Planting up unproductive areas or awkward corners can improve the management of the farm; provide a sustainable source of on-farm firewood as well as a valuable wildlife habitat.

Windbreak - geograph - credit to Mr Hugh Venables

Trees are a cost effective tool that can deliver a wide range of services on farms
Image kind permission of Huge Venebles

Why trees are good for your farming business

The last few years have proved very difficult for farmers with unprecedented challenges from both drought and floods.  Climate change models predict that extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, so finding ways to mitigate the effects is becoming increasingly urgent.  Research shows that managing existing trees and planting additional trees in the right place can help farms become more resilient, and more cost effective.  From simple hedgerow plantings to fully integrated agroforestry systems, trees can help address a range of issues affecting sustainable production by contributing to shade, shelter, water and pollution management, reducing soil erosion, pollination, Integrated Pest Management and product diversification.

How can initiatives like Open Farm Sunday help in raising public awareness of the importance of trees and woodland?

The Woodland Trust aims to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. All our woods are freely open to the public and we run a wide range of free events including community tree planting days, guided walks, bush craft and much more.    We know from experience that the simple act of planting a tree can stay with a child forever opening their eyes to the importance of nature.  So we know that initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday are very effective in helping people to understand and value the food our farmers produce and the environment that supports it.  Trees conjure up an image of beauty, power and longevity; highlighting the role they play in sustainable farming systems can only help to ensure future generations appreciate the balance required between an increasing global demand for food and recognition that the natural (farmed) environment is fundamental in supporting ecosystem services such as clean and plentiful water as well as food production.

Walk - OFS175 - Jeremy Padfield talk under oak tree

Open Farm Sunday helps people understand and value the food our farmers produce

Tell us a bit more about how The Woodland Trust supports farmers to increase the number of trees on their farms?

The Woodland Trust is working in partnership with farmers across the country to study the effects of strategic tree planting on farms.  This includes help to plant shelter belts, riparian strips, pasture trees and small areas of woodland or to develop silvorable/pastoral schemes.

Our Woodland Creation Advisors can provide free advice and support providing a whole farm tree planting assessment, design of planting scheme and identification of potential funding support.   In return, we ask that you maintain the trees and allow us to monitor the effects on your farm for an agreed period of time.  The results will help us develop more UK based evidence and an opportunity to influence future agricultural policy.

For more information contact the WT on 0330 3335303, email at or visit