Author Archives: Kathryn Mitchell

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).

Dave blog 2

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.

Dave blog 1

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

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.

Yellow Hammer 8

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.

sheep in the peak district

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

LEAF – basking in yellow and red!

LEAF has been truly awash with yellow and red recently.  Not post-election fallout but from the beautiful, vibrant colours of tomatoes and peppers grown on our two latest LEAF Demonstration Farms – Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd who were officially launched yesterday and become LEAF’s first Demonstration Farms in the glasshouse sector.

Eric Wall Ltd Launch as a LEAF Demonstration Farm 13 May 15

Eric Wall Ltd is officially launched as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Pictured left to right: Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman; Chris Wall, Managing Director of Eric Wall Ltd; Mary Bosley; Richard Kooijman Production Manager at Eric Wall Ltd; Tracey Hughes General Manager at Eric Wall Ltd and Kathryn Mitchell, IFM Development Manager, LEAF.

Both businesses are world leaders in growing top quality tomatoes and peppers to the very highest standards of environmental care, through Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and join over 40 other LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the UK, set up to demonstrate the principles and practices of IFM.

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LEAF Demonstration Farms demonstrate the nine sections of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

The addition of Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd to the LEAF Demonstration Farm network will bring a hugely valuable insight into the practical application of IFM to commercial glasshouse growing. IFM is all about attention to detail, continuous improvement and optimising resources.


Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd welcomed as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. Pictured left to right: Mark Knight, Technical Crops Manager at Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd; Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive; Pippa Greenwood, gardening broadcaster; Andrew Burgess, LEAF Trustee and Gerard Vonk, General Manager, Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd.

Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd are industry leaders in growing top quality produce through cutting edge technology, commitment to environmental sustainability and extensive programmes of research and development. The principles of IFM underpin both businesses – helping to guide decisions on ways to drive efficiency, reduce waste, manage water use and working with nature to optimise the unique ecosystem of the glasshouse environment.

LEAF Demonstration Farms are at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. Eric Wall Ltd and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries will play a critical role in inspiring others in the food and farming industry as well as raising awareness amongst the public about how their food is grown to high standards of environmental care, recognised in store by the LEAF Marque.

7 Eric Wall Ltd LEAF Marque Tomatoes

LEAF Demonstration Farms play a critical role in raising awareness amongst the public about how their food is grown to high standards of environmental care, recognised in store by the LEAF Marque.

The official launch of both sites took place on Wednesday 13th May. Eric Wall Ltd was launched by Mary Bosley, Chair of the Horticulture Innovation Partnership and gardening broadcaster, Pippa Greenwood launched Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd.

Further information about Eric Wall Ltd is available here and Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd here.  If you are interested in visiting Eric Wall Ltd or Tangmere Airfield Nurseries Ltd or another LEAF Demonstration Farm, to learn more about Integrated Farm Management in practice, please click here or email:

The Big Farmland Bird Count: evaluating the impact of your conservation efforts

The GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count has officially started!  Running from the 7th to the 15th February, it will see thousands of farmers and gamekeepers get out their binoculars and note pads and get twitching!  I will certainly be out and about on my local farm later this week trying to put into practice my new-found Bird Identification Skills.

Last year, I joined in the first GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. We had a very enjoyable half hour observing a range of birds on an area of wild bird seed mix surrounded by hedgerows with some hedgerow trees. However, to me personally, many of the birds, whilst slightly different in size, were all LBJs (Little Brown Jobs!).  I was delighted therefore to attend one of the 12 GWCT Farmland Bird ID Days. The wealth of knowledge by the farmland bird experts as well as the collective knowledge of the attendees was truly inspiring.

Tree Sparrow - one of hundreds of farmland birds to be counted this week during the Big Farmland Bird Count Image © Peter Thompson, GWCT

Tree Sparrow – one of hundreds of farmland birds to be counted this week during the Big Farmland Bird Count Image © Peter Thompson, GWCT

Many farmers across the UK, and worldwide, invest a large amount of time and resource to provide for wildlife on their farms. For birds, the needs can be summarised into 3 areas – ‘The Big Three’:

– Provision of nesting sites

– Provision of insect-rich habitats in the summer

– Provision of seed-rich habitats in winter and spring

Whilst different species require slightly different habitats to provide these resources, the aim is to provide year-round food supply as well as shelter.

With so many farmers doing this, LEAF is pleased to be working with the GWCT and BASF to support the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count. It is a great collective opportunity to take the time to try and identify the impacts for farmland birds of your work to conserve and enhance habitats as well as communicate these facts to our wider communities. These are both important parts of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management.

I still cannot claim to be anywhere near proficient with Farmland Bird Identification, however, there is reassurance from the fact that noting down a bird’s ‘jizz’ can help identify it later. If you are not yet an expert, get out there and look nonetheless and be sure to record the following attributes to allow for later identification of your LBJs.:

A birds jizz can include:

  • Any distinctive features
  • Size – approx. the size of a sparrow? A blackbird? A partridge? Etc.
  • Location – did you see it in the field? In the hedge?
  • Flight – was the flight pattern slow? Fast? Lilting? Smooth?
  • Did it walk or hop?
  • How many – was the bird along or in a flock?
  • Calls

We look forward to seeing the collective responses from all your Big Farmland Bird Counts.

Sustainability in practice: improving performance

I was recently reading some fascinating work by a leading management lecturer at Harvard University about why we measure performance.  He stressed that different purposes require different measures, but the process of review to inform improvement is present in nearly every sector of life. Why is this seen as such a critical process in so many walks of life? Within this work, Robert Behn highlights 8 managerial purposes for assessing business performance:

  1. Evaluate – how well am I/is my business doing?
  2. Control – how can I ensure that I (and my staff) are doing the right thing?
  3. Budget – am I spending money wisely and when can costs be saved?
  4. Motivate – how can I motivate myself and everyone I work with to improve on what we’re already doing?
  5. Promote – how can I demonstrate to everyone I do business with that I am doing a good job?
  6. Celebrate – when I and my team get things right – I want to celebrate success
  7. Learn – what’s working or not working?
  8. Improve- what exactly should we do differently to improve performance?

It seemed to me that these 8 key principles lie at the very heart of why LEAF first developed the LEAF Audit back in 1994.  To help farmers take stock of what they are doing, consider why and use this information to drive forward continual improvement in their businesses from economic, environment and social points of view.

By a process of annual review through the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review, farmers can get overall picture of their business’ performance

Today, after 20 years of doing just this, the LEAF Audit has come to the end of its own journey.  It is to be replaced by the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review.  Although different in look, feel, ease of navigation and with fewer questions, the general ethos of the LEAF Audits big sister remains very much the same: an on-line, self-assessment management tool to review current farming practices and identify areas for future improvement.

Just like the LEAF Audit, the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will be the bedrock to helping LEAF farmers implement Integrated Farm Management (IFM).  It covers the 9 sections of IFM from Crop Health and Protection, Water and Soil Management, Animal Husbandry through to Community Engagement and Organisation and Planning. Together these sections cover economic performance, environmental quality and social health. We have worked closely with farmers, heard what matters to them, listened to what they want and hope that the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will make a real, practical difference to more sustainable farming.

IFM Wheel - words - large
The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review will be the bedrock to helping LEAF farmers implement Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

There is no one magic performance measure that farmers can use for all of the Behn’s  eight managerial purposes, but by a process of annual review through the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review farmers can get overall picture of their business’ performance. As demand increases in order to feed a growing population sustainably, it is essential for all farms to be working to their optimum, and the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review encourages and enables farmers to continually improve to do just that.

The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review is available to LEAF members through MyLEAF from 1st December.   If you have any questions, please contact the LEAF office tel: +44 (0)2476 413911.

Frogmary Green Farm Joins Network of LEAF Demonstration Farms

We are delighted to welcome Frogmary Green Farm as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. LEAF’s nationwide network of over 40 LEAF Demonstration Farms showcase the very best of sustainable farming practices.

Nick and Claire Bragg run Frogmary Green Farm, a 500 acre poultry and arable farm, based on the edge of South Petherton in Somerset.  The farm also grows potatoes for supermarkets and maize and grass for fodder.  Frogmary Green Farm joined LEAF in 2008, became LEAF Marque certified in 2013 and regularly hosts both Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm Schools Days.

Frogmary LDF Launch

From Left to Right: Lord Cameron of Dillington (Dillington Farms), Nick Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) , Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member), Claire Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) and Caroline Drummond (LEAF Chief Executive)

Speaking at a lovely LEAF Demonstration Farm Launch event yesterday, Nick explained, “LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach is all about striving to achieve balance across the whole farm. We’re working hard in lots of practical ways to conserve and enhance the natural environment by planting trees, creating wetland areas and cutting our carbon footprint.  All of us on the farm care deeply about our precious environment and want to do all we can to enhance it whilst producing food to the highest welfare and environmental standards.  “We are also passionate about bringing people onto the farm, to share what we are doing and help to break down some of the barriers that exist between producers and consumers.”

Frogmary Green Farm was officially welcomed to the network during yesterday’s event which included the planting of a large leaved lime tree by Lord Cameron of Dillington who spoke of the great work Nick and Claire are doing.

A short tour of the farm included a visit to one of the chicken houses, where one of Frogmary Green Farm’s main ‘crops’ can be seen through a viewing gallery. Nick and Claire were the first to install a biomass woodchip boiler for heating chicken houses, utilising locally sourced timber. Other discussions included potato production and more about their ongoing commitment to environmental enhancement such as through the planting of some 4 kilometres of hedgerows and over 500 trees since 2002. Pollen and nectar margins to provide extra habitat for bumblebees and other insects have also been established.  This has resulted in a huge variety of wildlife making its home at Frogmary Green Farm including cuckoo, linnet, song thrush, swift and whitethroat.

Nick and Claire Bragg Frogmary Green Farm, LEAF's latest demonstration farm

Nick and Claire Bragg,  Frogmary Green Farm, the latest LEAF Demonstration Farm

As a LEAF Demonstration Farm, Frogmary Green Farm will act as a ‘living classroom’ demonstrating and promoting the principles of Integrated Farm Management to opinion formers, educationalists, politicians, consumers and conservation groups as well as to community groups and local schools.

LEAF Demonstration Farms play a hugely vital role in sharing best practice amongst farmers as well as being a great way to help educate the public about how modern food production can co-exist with protecting nature and the countryside.  Frogmary Green Farm is an excellent example of sustainable farming in action and represents what Integrated Farm Management is all about.

If you are interested in visiting Frogmary Green Farm, or another LEAF Demonstration Farm, to learn more about Integrated Farm Management in practice, please get in touch with the LEAF office:

EISA Farm Visit to Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Paul Hayward - Cold Harbour farm (credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward – Cold Harbour farm
(credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward, farms Cold Harbour Farm, at Bishop Burton, East Yorkshire and was one of the first LEAF Demonstration Farms, engaging people with Integrated Farm Management since 1993, soon after LEAF was founded. Paul recently took part in an EISA (European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture) visit to Germany and here he tells us more about what he saw and learnt.

Last month, I was privileged to join the EISA visit to Germany as an observer for LEAF along with Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member) and Nick Tilt (LEAF Demonstration Farmer). The whole event was perfectly organised by Andreas Frangenberg and Anton Kraus from EISA.

We attended the DLG field day, an event targeted at crop production professionals, of note it was targeted at the top 20% of farmers. The following link gives a very accurate resume of the visit.

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Credit Helena Elmquist

It was a fascinating visit with some excellent and very informative presentations and I left wanting to explore the issues much further. Representatives from the agrochemical companies seemed to position the farmers as requiring a complete production package including biodiversity rather than recognising them as land managers with good knowledge. We were privileged to be joined by Professor Olaf Christen (agronomy and organic farming) of Halle University, obviously a talented academic with a good practical understanding of European crop production.

The following day we were given a guided tour of the BASF Biodiversity Farm at Quellenhof by Dr Markius Gerber. A project started in 2012 on the 10, 600 hectare farm which had lost much of its natural habitats in the East German era. Work on a range of measures had started with some impressive results. However, with fields of 250 hectares, there is much still to do.


The group enjoyed a wide range of discussions, benefitting from the diversity of the area and the interests of individuals within the group.

For more information on EISA, please visit

Counting Farmland Birds – getting involved in the Big Farmland Bird Count

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF's IFM Development Manager

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF’s IFM Development Manager

LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Development Manager, Kathryn Mitchell, spent Tuesday morning spotting birds in a local field. It was all part of the first annual Big Farmland Bird Count, ending on 7th February. In this post, Kathryn gives an account of her experiences and some results she collected!

There is much talk of the decline in farmland birds across the UK, yet the fields don’t seem devoid of birdlife and many farmers do lots of good work to encourage wildlife, including birds. The Big Farmland Bird Count is a great chance to champion that and see what’s about on some fields near where I live.

Tuesday morning seemed one of the best mornings amongst a week of fairly wet weather. The dark cloud lifted to a beautiful sunny, if cold, morning and we set off with paper, pen, binoculars, camera and much appreciated provisions: tea and bacon sandwiches!

Big Farmland Bird Count

The Big Farmland Bird Count

Some less productive areas of the farm are now exclusively managed for wildlife purposes with fallow, wild bird cover, grass margins surrounded by hedges with some trees. The wildlife is always there, but our vehicle isn’t, so we took up our post early and paused for a while. A wonderful time to sit and watch the surroundings change with the light. So, onto the counting part: 30 minutes overlooking 2ha of wonderful Gloucestershire countryside.

Whilst some of the species were easily identifiable by sight, backed up by their calls, we soon realised that whilst we could count, bird identification at a distance wasn’t our strong point! In addition to the pheasants, rooks, crows, pigeons (as well as hare and deer), we scribbled notes of descriptions and tried to remember the sounds.

It was a great to start to the morning!  Back in the LEAF office, following a short while with some farmland bird reference books, internet searches and phone calls, we’re much more confident that our ‘little brown birds’ are correctly identified as reed bunting, dunnock and many linnets.

Find out more about the Big Farmland Bird Count here >

2012 – not the wettest year?

Dave RobertsGuest post from Dr. David Roberts, Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, Scotland – SRUC Dairy Research Centre, a LEAF Innovation Centre.

Crichton Royal Farm is a 252ha farm which, as the SRUC Dairy Research Centre, aims to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. Some of the key objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems’ effects on the environment.

Although 2012 was a very wet year with 1358mm of rain, there was actually more rain in 2011 (1433mm). Figure 1 shows the annual rainfall for the last 9 years. The average rainfall for the 33 years (1954 – 1986) was 1041mm, the average for the last 9 years has been 14% higher at 1189mm.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It is not just the monthly average which is important but the rainfall in any one day. The five highest rainfall days for 2012 were:

  • 11th October 34.7mm
  • 20th December 33.7mm
  • 24th September 30.6mm
  • 15th June 30.2mm
  • 24th December 29.9mm

There were another 9 days with over 20mm of rain. These are a long way short of the wettest day on record when almost 100mm of rain was recorded on 30th October 1977.

Comparing 2012 with 2011 (Figure 2) June onwards was wetter in 2012 but 2011 had a very wet January, February and May.

Figure 2

Figure 2

These variable weather patterns provide challenges for managing agricultural businesses. How will 2013 compare?

Mother Nature has always been unpredictable – whilst we can’t control her disposition or the effects thereof, there are certainly important lessons to be learnt from tracking weather patterns. The key thing is to ensure farmers are armed with the right tools to address these challenges through smarter, more integrated, management practices. Integrated Farm Management helps us do just this.

[Note: for an alternative viewpoint at Loddington, Leicestershire, please see Phil Jarvis’ blog here – Met Office v Loddington