Wildlife Farms and Estates Symposium at Holkham

A guest article by Lucy Downing, Head of Marketing at Holkham Estate, who summarises an event that paved the way for responsible land management
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Jake Fiennes, Holkham’s General Manager of Conservation, introducing his session

Holkham has been at the forefront of pioneering land management for centuries, so it was fitting that it should host this year’s Wildlife Farms and Estates England (WFEE) Symposium. Attendees travelled from estates, farms and advisory bodies spanning the length and breadth of the country, to be informed and inspired by speakers at the forefront of their land-related specialisms.

A warm welcome was enjoyed in the Marble Hall of Holkham Hall before everyone took their seats in the Saloon for an informative morning. The welcome from the Earl of Leicester, Chairman of WFEE, outlined the history and objectives of the organisation. Wildlife Estates was an initiative generated in Brussels by the European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) as a means to prove to legislators that private land ownership and management are often more effective at managing biodiversity than conservation NGOs. The newly branded Wildlife Farms and Estates is gaining a respectable reputation in England and Wales for leading the way in the accreditation of landowners and managers who put responsible land management at the heart of their operations.

Talks commenced with Thierry de l’Escaille, Founder and Director General of the ELO, sharing the European perspective. He focused on his belief that the principles of land management are the same everywhere and that all landowners have a long-term vision to take care of the land. He focused on the organisation’s key role as a research centre and lobbying tool striving for better legislation. As he explained, “We open doors to future opportunities and change the narrative to make our vision comprehensible to everyone – from the public to politicians. We promote best practices, improve perceptions and make people aware of the possibilities. We improve connections and give legitimate reasons for the delivery of change and a new perspective for business purpose.”

Mark Tufnell, CLA President, followed with their position on WFEE, and what he perceives to be the future opportunities. Passionate about the organisation’s inclusion of farms alongside estates, and the launch of the new and robust accreditation questionnaire, he stressed the importance of WFEE working together with government and advisory bodies in the shaping of new and laudable legislation. His three key takeouts were: 1. WFEE can help the government to reach its 30 by 30 target; 2. The significance of Countryside Stewardship Plus and; 3. The role of WFEE as a collaborative knowledge exchange where best practice is shared. Mr Tufnell concluded, “Environmental income should be treated as business income.”

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Attendees visiting bold forestry replanting projects at key sites across the Holkham estate

Scottish learnings, challenges and successes were then shared by Dee Ward and Caroline Pringle of Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES). Since its inception, WES has accredited over 500,000ha, and with more than 200,000ha in their accreditation pipeline they are on course to reach their one-million-hectare target by 2025. Their core focus, again, is on changing the narrative and cementing the realisation that landowners are part of the solution for reversing climate change and biodiversity decline. Now established as a credible and trusted organisation, WES is gaining support from Nature Scot and the Scottish government led by the SNP, and has a diverse advisory board and technical committee to ensure the delivery of evidence-based solutions.

Following a short break, the audience was treated to a talk from author and Holkham’s General Manager of Conservation, Jake Fiennes. With eight years on the steering committee of WFEE, he spoke about the value of harnessing citizen-based science, digital technology for tracking and measuring natural capital uplift, and the importance of the WFEE as an accreditation label in the coming years. Roger Plowden, followed with an insight of the application and accreditation process that he took Plowden Estate in Shropshire through, before Tim Hopkin gave an overview of how The LandApp can help landowners access funding opportunities and design land management plans with ease. Jonathan Whitehead then entertained the attendees with an assessor’s perspective and what applicants can expect. Jonathan is the Head Assessor for both WFEE and WES.

The morning concluded with a focus on the benefits of WFEE. Jonty Rawcliffe outlined the reason for Strutt & Parker’s involvement and support – namely that the business fully comprehends how integral WFEE is to the wider picture of cultivating natural capital. Dr Tim Coles OBE, CEO of rePlanet and founder of the Institute of Environmental Management (IEMA – a body that Holkham is championing with training programmes for employees), explored green funding and the generation of carbon and biodiversity credits. Focused on projects delivering natural capital uplift per hectare over a five-year period, he stressed the importance of scientific and academic rigour in formalising and agreeing the future methodology of measuring and crediting biodiversity uplift.

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James Beamish, General Manager of the Holkham Farming Company, showcasing regenerative farming in action

Jonathan Baker (who spent a number of years working for the CLA) followed. As a Deputy Director at DEFRA, he is responsible for accelerating change towards environmental land management. Interested in bottom-up change for the long-term, he is confident that WFEE has the potential for farms to be strategic and that it seems well set-up to successfully implement a toolkit to recognise and drive change. He also shared his vision that, at some point in the future, labels and accreditations like WFEE label could potentially attract a higher payment and/or fast-tracking of applications for future government stewardship support or, at the very least, Trusted Operator Status.

Rhodri Thomas, Head of Rural at Strutt & Parker, concluded the morning by highlighting the need for a more constructive discourse around biodiversity. “If we are to get better at conservation, we have to get better at conversation.” Lunch followed, together with much conversation and knowledge sharing, before everyone headed out onto the wider Holkham estate for a tour with General Manager of Farming, James Beamish, and Head Forester, Harry Wakefield.

To conclude, there is no doubt that WFEE continues to strengthen its position as a highly regarded accreditation body destined to recognise and instigate leading land management practice, lobby for legislative change and put wildlife, conservation and stewardship at the beating heart of UK farms and estates.

Following the symposium, seven estates said they would be applying for, or re-applying for, Level 2 status this year, whilst 21 estates are signing up to Level 1 membership.