(photo credit: Lucy Hatcher) We were very lucky to host a visit from Natural England (NE) to demonstrate the work and potential of BFWN in the Brecks, and especially in the Breckland Farmers Landscape Recovery pilot project. This is funded within the government funded Environmental Land Management schemes with the aim of delivering species recovery and improving biodiversity in the Brecks. The current two year development phase is intended to produce a plan for implementation over the subsequent 25 years. It was clear that Natural England are extremely supportive of the pilot project and will be working hard to ensure that the project succeeds, providing reassurance that difficulties and concerns will be approached with a positive attitude towards resolution.
Rob Howells is closely involved with BFWN as our Project Liaison Officer at NE, and the BFWN team are familiar with him from weekly online meetings, but this was an opportunity for him to experience in real life the scope of the Brecks landscape. At the Euston Estate he was able to hear from the horse’s mouth how deer management, historic parkland restoration, irrigation and cultivated margins are carried out on the estate with Andrew Blenkiron, Estate Director. On a contrasting family run arable and vegetable farm at Hockwold with Tim Young, time was spared from onion harvesting to discuss wide-ranging issues in farming and conservation. Both Andrew and Tim are BFWN Directors, members of the Steering Group, and participants in the Landscape Recovery pilot project. The BFWN team are really fortunate to have the involvement of a very engaged and proactive Project Liaison Officer in Rob and it feels that he is very much part of the team! The following day Rob and the team were joined by his NE colleagues, the Chair, Tony Juniper, Head of Landscape Recovery, Chris Davis, and from the local NE team, Hannah Wallace, Suffolk Manager and Joanna Wright, Brecks Team Leader. All were all able to come an enjoy the natural wonders of the area and discuss with farmers the issues in delivery of biodiversity improvement, led by BFWN Lead Farmer Richard Evans, and Lucy Hatcher, Project Manager and Group Adviser.
(photo credit: Richard Evans) All met at the new BFWN office at Stonehouse Farm, West Harling, with grateful thanks to the Evans family. Richard introduced the day with a potted history of BFWN, and Lucy presented how the Landscape Recovery project fits within the network, demonstrating the ambitions of the project with a hypothetical case study to illustrate how it could work within the landscape.
Out into the field Ben Chandler’s farm was the first stop. Ben is a BFWN member and LR participant and, working with the network, has been joining up cultivated margins across the landscape and experimenting with cultivated area creation around pig fields. Outdoor pigs can provide an ideal opportunity for cultivated areas as small areas are often unused directly for pig production. Stone curlew, Eurasian curlew and Oystercatcher all nest in the area and this sparked conversations around the value of arable land among semi-natural habitats and how the Landscape Recovery ambitions can further enhance this.
At Brettenham, BFWN Director and Steering Group member Peter Wright has been reverting arable land to Brecks grassland, and this provided a useful demonstration of how quickly land in the Brecks can respond to changes in management as the field had been sugar beet only one year before. Fields or part field like this which are challenging to farm can provide immense environmental opportunities. Joined by Andrew and Ben, interesting and important questions were raised around the possible blockers to Landscape Recovery which need to be addressed by Natural England and DEFRA to achieve successful implementation phase of the project and maximise participation. There were some exciting diversions from the conversation provided by the various spiders and other invertebrates crawling over the party which was a great natural demonstration of the value of the habitat! This was the same field where, a few weeks earlier, onlookers would have spotted Richard, Peter and John Secker (keen naturalist and BFWN member) following a digger wasp around with its caterpillar prey for the best part of 20 minutes!
(photo credit: Lucy Hatcher) After an excellent lunch including home-reared meat at Stonehouse Farm conversations continued while walking around the highlights of the farm, including extensively grazed scrub, many pingos, cultivated areas and annual knawel (an endangered Breckland plant).
BFWN were thrilled to be able to host such a positive meeting and look forward to progressing the Landscape Recovery project with very constructive support from NE, as well as continuing conversations with the NE local area team and working together to recover nature in the Brecks.