Thursday 9 February 2012

Fewer flowers, where are the bees?

This photo shows one of the field-scale projects that I have supplied
seed for.  This 15 hectare field was sown with wild flower and
grass seed in 2004. Although the soil was in a very poor state after
having been 'mined' for arable crops for 30 years, the flowers
eventually 'took off' after about 5 years and are spreading every
year. It is topped in late summer and sheep-grazed in autumn, but
now would benefit from some summer cattle-grazing.
Before it was ploughed up in the 1970s this field grew very
good suckler beef. It could once more..

Sarah Raven's excellent new series, Bees, Butterflies and Blooms began transmitting yesterday on the BBC. The first programme featured what's happened to the countryside in past decades, whether village greens or farms, and showcased some positive stories of a farmer and rural community restoring wild flowers around an arable field and on the village green. Yours truly had a minor role, sweating it out on the hottest day in 2010 (you won't see the sweat, carefully edited out) in a Sussex wild flower meadow. Sarah and I agree that our wild flowers are in serious trouble in the countryside. Both of us and others, continue to play our part in getting some of them put back, but the truth is that much of the countryside, whether grassland  or arable land, is wildlife-poor desert devoid of most of the wild flowers which were abundant 50 years ago. Like Sarah says, we can't turn the clock back, but things could be a lot better (sometimes with little effort or cost).

The wild flower restoration charity, Flora locale, with which I am still associated as Technical Adviser, offers really good days out, showcasing methods for restoring wild flowers and their habitats across the UK. This year there are many rural-based events but also some on wildlife gardening and improving wildlife in towns. So, if anyone other than me reads this blog and wants to learn more, then why not visit the website and see what events are on offer this year?

Monday 30 January 2012

More climate lies

Yesterday, David Rose, writing in the Mail on Sunday said 'Forget global warming'. Rose said new data from the Met Office showed that "the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years". He also said the figures "suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age" and that they also confirm that "the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997". Unsurprisingly the Met Office has issued a press statement confirming that Rose's assertions are no more than a pack of lies. Although 'pack' and 'lies' are two words not actually used in the MO statement, the word 'belief' is. 

Unsurprisingly this figure from the Met Office was
not published, if it had it would have clearly
shown that Rose's assertions were pure fabrication
on his part.
Undoubtedly Rose is a climate sceptic wishing to use his privledged position, as a journalist writing for one of Britain's most-read Sunday newspapers, to push his belief on to others who do not have the time or mental capacity to understand the complexities of global warming. This makes it ever more harder to convince ordinary people that climate change is real, a threat to the future of their children and grandchildren and that they have a part to play in doing something about it.

The Mail on Sunday does not have a good track record in telling the truth about climate change having published other features that encourage its readers to believe it isn't happening. This is not the only newspaper that regularly fails to tell the truth, or 'massages' storylines to peddle some kind of belief that fails to acknowledge evidence. So I was quite interested to find the Angry Mob website. Unsurprisingly, much of this excellent blog is aimed at the appalling catalogue of journalistic misinformation churned out by the Daily Mail and its sister newspaper. 

Back to Rose's assertions and the truth - the Met Office says it  "is absolutely clear is that we have continued to see a trend of warming, with the decade of 2000-2009 being clearly the warmest in the instrumental record going back to 1850". Don't bother to get the sledges out then, buy the suntan cream, collect rainwater and don't live in a place that is less than 10 metres below sea level.

Monday 23 January 2012

Hedgerow management

So, are farmers are all doing a good job in looking after our countryside? Well, the answer to that is some are, but some are not. Unfortunately, it is the case that the way many hedges are managed is both bad and prehistoric, both in action and attitude. The outcome is bad for the landscape, bad for wildlife and bad PR for the farming community at large . The picture on the left, taken this winter, says it all. This is part of a Devon roadside hedge and is just one example of how many hedges are still flailed annually within an inch of their lives.

Another 'hedge' being flailed into oblivion,
near Great Shefford, West Berks
We knew about how to manage hedgerows well decades ago - using chamfered cuts, allowing the hedge to grow taller and by cutting less-frequently. Over that time, successive government agencies and others have given thousands of talks, walks and advice on the matter. So those who continue to manage their hedges in such a crap way  can't claim ignorance. You would also think that whoever pays to have the hedgerow cut, would work out for themselves that their bottom line could be a tad healthier if their hedges were less-regularly cut. My only conclusion is that those who are responsible for "managing" hedges like the illustrated examples must be severely lacking in brain cells or they just don't care.

Of course such hedgerow mismanagement is terrible PR for the farming industry at large and an indictment of the Common Agricultural Policy, particularly the Cross Compliance requirements which do nothing to prevent inappropriate hedgerow management, while the Entry Level Stewardship scheme just allows farmers pretty well to carry on with what they have done before, whether good or bad.

The good news is, that, by restoring good hedge-management some of the farmland birds currently continuing to decline will return - such as Yellowhammer and Bullfinch, especially if at the same time farmers maintain and restore good-sized areas of flower-rich habitat.

Good hedge management isn't rocket science but those who continue to do the opposite should be outed and, under CAP reforms, such individuals and businesses should (in my view) lose their eligibility to receive any taxpayers' money to keep them in farming. There are plenty of others willing to take their place who would love to farm and manage our countryside in ways that are in harmony with the landscape and nature.

Link to hedgelink