We are very pleased to share the findings of the DEFRA Test and Trials work carried out by Dr Rob Hawkes at the University of East Anglia (UEA). The practical work drew to a close with meetings of each farmer mini-cluster where Rob shared the output of his innovative analytical tools in the form of key locations for cultivated margins (AB11). The dataset used comprised 916,889 records including over 53,000 target species records, and modelling used a set of environmental predictors to show the areas which are most likely to be suitable for 77 key target species. The full report is available here and includes an Executive Summary which succinctly details the project.
The value of cultivated margins
The recent Breckland Biodiversity Audit suggested that most of the 629 rare, scarce or threatened invertebrate species in the Brecks need physical disturbance of the soil. (https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02174.x)
This cultivation also benefits important vertebrate species such as Woodlark, Stone Curlew and Turtle Dove. Many rare and threatened arable plants thrive on cultivated margins, providing a food source for invertebrates, small mammals and farmland birds and there are well-being benefits generated by the beautiful appearance of margins in the countryside.
Linkage and core margins
333 km of linkage margins were identified in the best locations for connectivity between 57 dry open priority habitat sites in the Brecks and 562 km of core margins which represented the best 20% of locations on each participating farm for the priority species. Bespoke maps were provided for all participating members.
What did participating farmers think?
Over 80% thought that the information was enough to show them where the best locations for cultivated margins were on their farm, and 100% of respondents thought they were more likely to engage in landscape scale plans following the Test and Trial. A collaboration bonus within the next agri-environment scheme was a popular suggestion to encourage participation.
A tool for other targeted agri-environmental scheme options
The same analytical approach using a biodiversity audit followed by priority species distribution modelling could be used at relatively low cost to better inform landscape scale conservation across the UK.
Key note: low cost delivery of cultivated margins across the Brecks
To deliver the landscape scale plan of all linkage and core margins across the current membership it is estimated that the total cost would be less than £500,000 at rates which would be needed to incentivise all farmers and land managers to take up this AES option. 75% of the margins identified in the research are under the management of members or the Forestry Commission.
Hopefully another DEFRA Test with a series of workshops for farmers to inform the future Environmental Land Management Scheme and continuing our longstanding relationship with the UEA. Further work could extend the analytical tool to embrace a wider suite of Breckland priority species and inform the fine-scale placement of other key agri-environment options. This would allow targeting of the full ‘farm wildlife package’. Watch this space!