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