Monday, 31 December 2012

Did King Canute ever fill in a Soil Protection Review?

I wonder if King Canute ever thought about filling in a Soil Protection Review (SPR) down on the beach in 1028 AD. His problem, apart from trying to convince his courtiers that he was not as powerful as God/Nature, was the tide eroding his sand and shingle beach. No matter what mitigation he may have wanted to put in place to reduce the erosion, the sea and tide kept coming.

King Canute? No Farmer Phil trying to get the water away!

Skip forward nearly a thousand years and 2012 feels a bit the same. You can fill in the SPR, you can reduce cultivations, use low ground pressure tyres, cultivate across certain slopes and use Environmental Stewardship to buffer watercourses.....  but if it just rains and rains like the last 9 months then flooding, soil slump and erosion become massive issues.

At the Allerton Project we have spent many years looking at soil and water issues, it would be easy to do dismiss the SPR as a useless and bureaucratic process. This year, the process of filling in three separate reviews has concentrated my mind on further improvements that we need to transfer from 'form to field'.
Water flowing through 'paired ponds'
Automatic water samplers working overtime

As I walked around the farm over the last few days looking at the problems in front of me........

Broken Drains
Sediment settles on a buffer strip
My list of actions grew........
  1. Ditches -  Silt and debris cleared from key points around the farm
  2. Drains - No doubt we have done some serious damage with our combine this year, so we have drains to repair. Could be interesting deciding whether its a drain or a spring !!!
  3. Tracks on the combine and review of tyres on all machines especially those of our straw contractors
  4. Reduce our cultivations further.
  5. More straw and organic matter into our soils
  6. More mole ploughing over gravelled drains
We are lucky, we are at the top of the catchment...... if your farm and fields are under water then my thoughts are with you.

And finally.... if you want a simple guide to what's what in Soil Management, this isn't a bad starting place. (Click on picture below)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Supplementary Feeding at Loddington

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has been a keen advocate of winter supplementary feeding for farmland birds. Evidence to support the Environmental Stewardship options (EF23 in ELS and HF24 in HLS), has come from research at our Allerton Project farm at Loddington in Leicestershire. Dr Alastair Leake, our project director, explained: “Our research shows that for some species you can get more breeding birds in spring simply by providing extra food from late winter to early spring. This new option is a fantastic move and will help support over-winter survival of farmland birds. Farmers are already doing a great deal for wildlife and this is another important way that they can successfully help the recovery of bird numbers.”
The options are aimed at seed-eating birds - such as finches, buntings and sparrows - to help them survive over the winter and the so-called ‘hungry gap’; the period between mid-winter and spring when naturally available seed food can be in short supply in the countryside.

Earlier today as the rain rattled against the window again and arable work had come to a standstill, I took the opportunity to talk to Richard Barnes from Kings Game Cover and Conservation Crops about supplementary feeding and management.

Phil Jarvis; (GWCT Allerton Project) I have included our supplementary feeding in HLS, what seed mixes are recommended and how do they differ from ELS?
Richard Barnes; (Kings) The HLS option requires a mixture of wheat and oilseed rape (maximum 65%) and a selection of the following seeds: mustard, safflower, oats, niger, hemp, sunflower hearts, red millet, white millet, canary seed and black sunflowers. The ELS mixture is more basic with a simple mix of 75% wheat and oilseed rape, 25% mix of red millet, white millet and canary seed.

Phil; What are the financial implications of these two feeding options?
Richard; The ELS option attracts 630 points (£630) per tonne of seed used.  It uses 75% wheat and oilseed rape and 25% other seed mix and will cost between £450-550/tonne. The HLS option offers a payment of £822/tonne of seed used, seed costs will range from £550-650/tonne. These prices will vary, depending on own home saved wheat and oilseed rape values.
Clearly on both ELS and HLS, you need to factor in the labour cost and any extra feeders, especially for feeding small seeds, associated with the supplementary feeding.
Phil; Yes... I can see some head scratching over the value(£) of bird feed, but ultimately these feeding regimes should be great for farmland birds

Phil; I am concerned that some of these seeds may contaminate our arable crops if they are not spread or fed in the right areas, how should I address this?
Richard; The seed should be spread on wild bird seed plots, overwintered stubbles, tracks or hard standing which should help to reduce any ongoing problems. All the seeds are annuals so shouldn’t cause long term problems. There could, however be a significant risk of introducing problematic weed species if low grade and poorly cleaned seed is used across wild bird seed plots. At Kings we work hard to source the highest quality seed for planting, we take the same approach for seed that will be spread in the supplementary feeding options. In our opinion this is vital, as low quality seed can cause problems with crop management if the likes of rogue millets (Barnyard/Cockspur Grass and Foxtail millet) get established.
When spreading make sure you keep the seed mixed up! Bouncing around the farm with a spreader will see the seed settle very quickly and you could end up with the first area of the farm covered in millet and your last stop covered in sunflower seed!
If you are using hoppers as well, you should restrict the impact of vermin by either moving them regularly or using cages and guards.
Phil; We have been using a thick gauge mesh guard around hoppers to discourage non-target species, it may also provide some protection to the smaller birds from sparrow hawks that might target feeding sites.

Phil; I see from the rules that I have to keep a diary of the feeding from January until 30th April. What other requirements are there?
Richard; You need to record mixture components, amount fed and locations used. Also keep your invoices for any additional purchased seeds – don’t forget to record your own internal transfers of wheat. Just remember you can't use low grade tailings from the grain store.

Phil; A number of farmers will have missed the registration deadline this year (Dec 15th 2012), but it will be worth checking with Natural England asap because start dates etc are quite complicated.                                 
Is there anything else farmers should do?
Richard; Yes farmers can support a voluntary feeding approach supported by Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) and because its voluntary, you can spread some of this year’s tailings. 
Oh.... and don't forget to take a pair of binoculars with you when you are out feeding, the benefit of your hard work should be some great birds on view!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

FWAG Launch and Graham Dixon wins Silver Lapwing Award

We had a grand day at Loddington on Thurdsday, although the weather was cold, it was dry and great to see the FWAG advisors out in force.
 FWAG and Silver Lapwing event supporters

Delivering advice, the importance of partnerships, good science and visual demonstrations were the order of the day. Sir James Paice was the keynote speaker at the launch of the FWAG Association at GWCT Allerton Project. Representatives from many of the FWAG regions, LEAF, GWCT, NFU, RSPB and Environment Agency were present.

The coveted Silver Lapwing award, sponsored by Waitrose, was won by Graham Dixon from Northumberland. Graham farms 1000 acres on land which rises to 1,200 feet.
Judge Charles Beaumont said: "In a field of finalists, Alwinton Farm was outstanding in its commitment to wildlife conservation in difficult farming conditions.
"Graham Dixon is a shining example of someone who has taken expert advice and implemented it without detriment to the profitability of his business."

The runner-up was Edward Cross of Abbey Farm, Flitcham, King's Lynn, Norfolk.

Click on the images below for more coverage
Bye for now
Farmer Phil

Farmers Weekly Interactive
by Johann Tasker
by Michael Pollitt

by Chris Short


Farmers Guardian
by Olivia Midgeley

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How we built the sustainable Visitors Centre

The GWCT Allerton Project is not just a place of work, its also an important hub for our local community. Click on the image below to see how we constructed the new Visitors Centre

Click on image to view construction article

Pro Con Sustainable Development Winner 2012

Visit the Visitors Centre

Although research lies at the heart of all we do, we could not have predicted the number of people who would wish to visit the Allerton Project. In 1996 we invested £60,000 and converted a cattle shed into a small visitor centre. As time moved on, our research agenda has broadened from game management to biodiversity, soil management and water quality, renewable energy and waste recycling, and with it has grown interest in the Project. Increasingly people want to come and see the Project for themselves and this coupled with school visits and the introduction of training courses, has meant we have outgrown our existing visitor facilities.

In keeping with our ecological approach to land management we sought to design a building which stood on a brown field site, was constructed using 'green' materials (straw ball walls, sheeps wool insulation and a car park membrane made from recycled farm plastics) and was as environmentally benign as we could make it to operate (a bio mass boiler using wood chippings from our own farmland, rainwater harvesting for flushing the toilets and solar panels providing electricity). Thanks to the amazing assistance from the charity Pro-Help, we secured some expert help and submitted plans for a new building around three times bigger than the previous one. This incorporates a new toilet block, boiler house, kitchen, laboratory and store room, three meeting rooms with retractable screens, and a new entrance and car park.

After planning consent was granted, we applied to the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) and in December 2010 were offered a 60% grant towards the constructioCar Parkn of the building. Work started at the end of last summer and as with all projects, particularly those involving non-standard features such as straw bale wall insulation, we have encountered our problems, but the fair weather allowed us to make up time and we were able to go ahead with a summer opening as planned.

This took place on the 26th June with a major open day in partnership with Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the generous and lasting bequest of Lord and Lady Allerton, known as the Allerton Project.

Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013

This project is supported by:

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Saturday, 1 December 2012

BBC Farming Today visit Loddington

BBC Farming Today visited the Allerton Project to record some extracts for their programme on the recent floods. Presenter Charlotte Smith interviewed Alastair Leake and Phil Jarvis on a cold and frosty morning at Loddington.

Dr Alastair Leake with Farming Today producer Ruth Sanderson
Listen here to Saturday's programme

Allerton Project's 'bunded ponds' described in the broadcast

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Allerton Visitors Centre Wins Pro Con Award

On Thursday 15th Nov at the Leicestershire Pro Con awards the Allerton Project's Visitors Centre won the sustainable building of the year award.

More than 600 people from property, construction and other businesses gathered for the tenth annual ProCon Leicestershire Awards, hosted by Tigers legend Peter Wheeler and a special guest, broadcaster Simon Fanshawe

Sustainable Development of the Year, sponsored by De Montfort University, went to the £405,000 Allerton Project Visitor Centre, at Manor Farm, in Loddington, near Market Harborough.

The scheme, submitted by architect Parkinson Dodson & Cheung, saw a brick animal shed given a new lease of life by a team of volunteers from companies involved in Leicestershire & Rutland ProHelp.

The conversion used materials sourced from the fields of the Allerton Estate, including straw and sheep fleece for insulation . Wood chips from the estate are fuel for the biomass boiler.

Architect Sylvester Cheung said: "The work was certainly a challenge. An educational vision which leads to an architectural project, through professional and community involvement to sourcing of materials – all show investment in our countryside should not be neglected and sustainable rural developments are achievable."

The Allerton Project staff with the team who assisted with the Visitors Centre
Alastair Leake on stage receiving the award from Simon Fanshawe
The 'Allerton Table', amongst 600 guests at the award ceremony

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Visitors Centre shortlisted for 'Sustainable Development' Award

The new visitors centre at Loddington has been shortlisted in the Sustainable Development category at the  Leicestershire Property and Construction Awards. Its environmental features include
  • rainwater harvesting
  • sheep wool (therma fleece) roof insulation 
  • solar panels
  • wood chip boiler
  • straw bales wall insulation
  • grasscrete carpark
  • recycled plastic fencing
Read more about the enrty here

The winner will be announced at the ProCon annual dinner on Thursday 15th November at the King Power Stadium, Leicester. ProCon is an organisation open to all those involved in the property and construction industries in the Leicestershire area.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cover Crop Update

The catchy weather is proving challenging for the farm crops but the cover crops seem to be thriving. Below are a few photographs showing how they are progressing. Richard Barnes from Kings and Loddington keeper James Watchorn have overseen an interesting mixture of crops which have responded well to their management.
Maize alongside Chicory and Phacelia


Millet next to 2nd year Kale

Mustard, Kale and Fodder Raddish

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The slug skirmish! Combining cultural and chemical approaches

 This season continues to be a challenging one and here is our approach in the battle against slugs. Rolling consolidates the ground and gives the slugs less room to move around, this slows down slug damage to our sown wheat seed. Rolling also helps seed/soil contact which assists germination and pushes large stones out of harms way.  Where possible we have drilled wheat seed slightly deeper than normal at 40mm. We have used metaldehyde for our first 'in field' application with ferric phosphate on the outside 6m. We are limited in the amount of metaldehyde we can use in the autumn and will switch to ferric phosphate as weather deteriorates.
before rolling......

after rolling!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Game cover and conservation crops coming on well

Despite the weather doing its very best to thwart the establishment of the game cover and conservation crops, the various plots around the farm are on the whole looking very good indeed. James Watchorn (our gamekeeper) has been working hard all through the summer (with technical support from Richard Barnes of Kings Game Cover and Conservation Crops) to ensure there is sufficient food and cover to support a host of game and farmland bird species through the coming winter.

Wild bird seed mixtures such as Moir Mix and Campaign Mix have replaced much of the maize area (some maize has been retained) providing a more diverse range of seed and cover as well as meeting our needs for the correct area of enhanced wild bird seed required by our HLS scheme. 
Areas of Kings kale blend have flourished with the recent warmer weather and the rainfall last week will keep the late sown catch crops growing through the autumn.

The plots were a useful backdrop for a GWCT Part Time Gamekeepers course held recently on the farm, which was attended by 14 enthusiastic game managers.

A selection of autumn sown nectar flower, wild bird seed and brood rearing crops are being planted this week to increase the range of habitats provided.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Its been emotional !!

Nearly finished harvest, 60 acres of spring beans to go. Oilseed rape just about up and away and wheat drilling started on Saturday. So far we have been fortunate with less than 50mm of rain rather than the 125 mm plus in some parts of the country
Just a few pictures to summarise harvest events.
Its been wet !!
Very wet !!

The sun did shine!
I was sure this crop would break a record... it did but not the one I wanted

Off to do battle with slugs on oilseed rape; shield, sword and quad bike required

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Winter Oats (flat but yielding well)

The warm weather this weekend has allowed our oat harvest to progress steadily.
Although heavy rain on Wednesday (12mm in 20 minutes) flatened the oat crop, the yields are good and are a welcome highlight in a difficult season. (Photo Ben Jarvis)

Friday, 17 August 2012

OSR Harvest Finally Finnished

The Oilseed Rape harvest was finally completed on Monday 13th August.
As expected yields are well down on last year and early indications are the crop will yield 3.2 t/ha.
The Oats look more promising and to date approximately 20% of this has been harvested.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Poor weather hampers harvest

Virtually no harvesting was possible over the last 7 days. The combine is parked up ready for action and it looks like warmer sunnier weather later in the week.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Combine starts on oilseed rape

The 2012 harvest finally got underway at Loddington over the weekend.

Fine sunny conditions on Saturday were ideal  for combining, however the weather deteriorated on Sunday with numerous showers. Early indications are that oilseed rape yields are 15-20% lower than last year but with just 10% of the crop harvested only limited yield data is available.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Orchard thrives despite wet weather

The Loddington Diamond Jubilee Orchard is thriving despite the wet weather. The trees although planted in freezing temperature in February enjoyed dry weather in March and damp conditions through the spring and early summer. The pictures show newly erected sheep guards and and a rare sunny Loddington evening!!  
Individual sheep guards allow grazing near to tree base

The Sun has shone !!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Wilkinson Environmental Awards

The Allerton Project's farm Manager Phil Jarvis spent Thursday judging farms in Nottinghamshire for the Wilkinson Environmental Awards. Ably marshaled by Lesly Sharp, Phil and fellow judges Alison Pratt, Chloe Palmer and Steve Marshall set off in heavy rain and it looked as if it could be a wet day. However the weather cleared up and showed the East Midlands countryside at its best in warm sunshine.

The photo below shows a stunning pollen and nectar mix at John Miller's farm near Newark. The competition winners will be announced shortly on the NFU's website.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Open Day Photos

Some of the environmentally friendly features at the new Visitors Centre at Loddington

Solar panels, rainwater harvesting, wool and straw insulation

                                 Grasscrete car park- no tarmac and easy draining

Recycled fencing made from plastic silage wrap

Caroline Drummond (LEAF), Sylvester Cheung (Visitor centre architect), James Keith (Chair of Allerton Steering Committee) and Alastair Leake (Head of Allerton Project).

Jim Paice' Secretary of State for Agriculture' in conversation with Alastair Leake (Allerton Project)

BBC East Midlands Report and 20 year Allerton Publication 'Fields for the Future'

The GWCT and LEAF celebrated over 20 years of successfully influencing Government agricultural and environmental policy and spreading best farming and conservation practice yesterday at the Allerton Project where the new report Fields for the Future was launched.

Click here to view the report on our website:

BBC East Midlands TV was there to report on the launch of the report with Jim Paice MP and Alastair Leake, Head of The Allerton Project:


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Visitors Centre Official Opening

Today saw the grand opening of the new visitors centre at GWCT, Allerton Project. A combined celebration of 20 years of the Project and LEAF's 21st birthday was acknowledged by Jim Paice, the Secretary of State for Agriculture. Farmers, advisors and rural stakeholders were introduced to the ' eco-friendly' building and then toured the farm. Speakers informed the visitors on subjects such as waste recycling, soil and water, farmland biodiversity and community engagement. Thank-you to all those who helped the make event such a success. More news and photos to follow!!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee at Loddington Visitors Centre

                                            On Monday June 4th the village of Loddington celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at the Allerton Project's new visitors centre. Alastair Leake welcomed  the village and Phil Jarvis decribed it as a 'Test Event for the busy weeks ahead'.  The warm sunshine attracted over 50 people to the afternoon's celebrations. Despite the fact that the exterior groundworks are still to be completed, the event was a great success.The solar panels, rain water harvesting and woodchip boiler were given a thorough workout over the weekend. The next two events are on June 12th - GWCT Shoot Walk. June 26th - GWCT Allerton Project & LEAF open day.