Field Note: Fraser Hugill on biodiversity

March 8, 2024

When I enthusiastically accepted the offer from the Royal Countryside Fund (RCF) to deliver a biodiversity workshop in Northumberland, I underestimated the challenge of condensing 'biodiversity' into a three hour session!

As bookings came in the challenge seemed to grow.  A group of really knowledgeable farmers were attending and the objectives identified on the booking forms illustrated the range of biodiversity across Northumberland.

This galvanised my approach to make the event about the people and what success for biodiversity means to them in the county and on their own farms.  This mirrors my approach to farm conservation, looking at the environmental, social and economic aspects and how we integrate all three to deliver positive environmental change.

The first part of the workshop looked at what is important to the individual and what is going to encourage positive measures that maintain and enhance biodiversity in the long term. I highlighted that we can deliver a lot with simple actions and an understanding of basic principles such as thinking about how we provide flowers throughout the growing season, be that hawthorn in April or herbal leys in September.

A herbal ley on a rotational grazing system providing flowers for insects later in the season.

To deliver this we have to break down what sometimes feels like a conflict between food production and nature. This may be using schemes such as the Sustainable Farming  Incentive (SFI) or thinking about how integrating more biodiversity can actually improve farm productivity. For example, recognising the value of shade and shelter provided by trees, the cost savings from integrating legumes into grass leys or arable rotations reducing fertiliser use and imported protein.

So, the conclusion:  no one size fits all. To deliver the ‘bio’ we need diversity, be that within farming systems or the farmers doing things slightly differently, rather than a homogeneous approach to land management.  

It was so exciting to have a room full of enthusiastic, well-informed farmers up for the challenge when provided with the right support. It was a real pleasure to deliver this event and thanks go to Tom Burston who facilitated the workshop, RCF and our sponsors at Barbour.

Read more about The Royal Countryside Fund’s biodiversity workshop with Barbour here.