CLA members continue to be among those demonstrating how it is possible for land managers to produce high quality food that feeds the nation and be stewards for the natural environment.
To highlight their commitment to wildlife and biodiversity some landowners are opting for a voluntary accreditation of excellence through the Wildlife Farms Estates (WFE) England and Wales label.
The WFE standard is awarded to large and small farms and estates that provide evidence of holistic and sustainable environmental, economic and social land management practices; recognising the multifunctional role of rural business and land use.
There are two levels of accreditation for WFE. At level one, those seeking accreditation commit to ten fundamental principles in the responsible management of wildlife (the Wildlife Estates Charter) and to compliance with UK/EU legislation.
At this level, land managers join a network of wildlife estates across Europe that uphold good practice in managing wildlife and biodiversity.
The level two accreditation is awarded to farms and estates following a rigorous independent assessment and review process via completion of a detailed questionnaire and visit to the applicant.
CLA member, The Earl of Leicester, who is the current custodian of Holkham Estate, discovered Wildlife Estates whilst visiting Scotland and attending an early Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) Plenary Session in 2010.
Holkham is situated atop the Norfolk coast covering much of the North Norfolk AONB, Ramsar sites, Natura 2000 (SSSI) sites and more. The estate is invested in delivering exceptional food production together with pioneering conservation and first achieved its WFE accreditation in 2012. It was the first English estate to achieve the label.
Lord Leicester initially believed that a European accreditation would hold the estate in good stead within a British context, but now sees it as a means of demonstrating best practice.
He also views the rigorous level two accreditation as an important process in encouraging landowners and managers to understand their natural assets. “Going through the process and scrutiny required for this accreditation provides landowners and managers an opportunity to learn more about the biodiversity and habitat they have on their holding,” says Lord Leicester. “This enables them to make more informed management decisions, leading to improvement of the natural capital in their care.”
Given the estates involvement in WFE it was fitting that it held the WFE Symposium last year. Attendees travelled from estates, farms and advisory bodies from around the country, to be informed and inspired by speakers at the forefront of their land-related specialisms.
Jonathan Baker, Deputy Director at DEFRA, spoke at the symposium and described that he could see how at some point in the future, labels and accreditations like WFE could potentially attract a higher payment and/or fast-tracking of applications for future government stewardship support or, at the very least, achieve Trusted Operator Status.
Following the symposium, seven estates said they would be applying for, or re-applying for, level two status, whilst 21 farms and estates are signing up to level one membership.
Sir Charles Hobhouse of Monkton Farleigh Estate in Wiltshire, first heard about Wildlife Estates whilst visiting the European Landowners Organisation (ELO) Headquarters in Belgium and liked the idea of sharing wildlife and habitat knowledge with landowners from other countries.
Monkton Farleigh Estate is 612 hectares in the West Country, six miles from Bath, with a mix of arable land, permanent pasture and woodland, all of which provide a diversity of habitats. The arable has changed to a “no till” system. Fields not sown with autumn crops are planted with cover crops which grow throughout the winter, benefitting both soil organic matter and wildlife.
The estate’s goal is to run a viable sustainable farming operation in tandem with nature which also provides an attractive environment for the village community and those involved in working on the estate.
Charles says that going through the WFE accreditation taught them some important lessons:
“We had no baseline data to gauge how we would score for our wildlife. A bit of effort was required to find local nature experts in their field who then quickly bought into the project and helped create a proper scientific data base of what we actually had in terms of habitat and wildlife.
“We compiled records of surveys of flora and fauna, woodland, birds, bats, butterflies, moths, hares and roe deer and there is still more work to do,” adds Charles. “This is ongoing and regular visits take place every year. Meeting these nature enthusiasts has improved our own knowledge and we have discovered that, with better communication and discussion, we have a great deal in common with Wildlife Trusts and other well-known nature organisations which can only have a positive effect.
“The second lesson was that restored or increased habitat is the key to improving our nature, which we find both interesting and rewarding. The third lesson was that striving to become a fully accredited member of Wildlife Estates has helped us to revalue what we have and assess our long term aims for the land.”
To discover more about Wildlife Farms and Estates visit www.wildlifeestates.org.uk or contact the secretariat email@example.com
Other Effective Area Based Conservation Methods (OECMs) – Sir Charles Hobhouse
The CLA is currently considering how the internationally agreed OECMs could help the Government achieve the target of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 (30 X 30).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature describes OECMs as areas that are achieving the long term and effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas.
The key to this is whether or not a farm can demonstrate that their viable business can go hand in hand with positive nature outcomes, with the land being managed to sustain and improve diversity.
This land could then count towards the 30 X 30 target without much effort or cost to the Government. The land manager, being a willing participant, would be in control of the land without any interference or designation. The WFE accreditation label fits these criteria perfectly.