Research shows biodiversity on UK farms has fallen to around 30% of 1970 levels. Intensive farming and the loss of hedgerows and wild spaces are all contributing factors. Farmland accounts for 71% of our countryside, so getting biodiversity right is an essential part of addressing the climate, nature and food security crises.
Q: So Stuart, could you talk us through the composition of your land?
Sure, I've got about 200 acres in Leicestershire that I mainly farm through a contractor. We’re predominantly arable - pretty much all combinable crops – with some ridge and furrow. We also have about 40 acres of woodland that we manage in-house.
Q: Is soil degradation an issue on your farm?
Soil degradation and erosion is a huge challenge. Along with compaction, it’s estimated to result in losses of about £1.2 billion a year across the UK. Within the agriculture sector I think we all know that if you can get your soil right it has huge benefits for the overall land health and farm business. In previous years we took it for granted that we needed to use a certain amount of fertiliser, pesticides or herbicides. But as regenerative agriculture is gaining traction, it’s really changed our approach. We test the nutrient levels every four years now so we can be sure we're only adding fertiliser where it’s required. We’ve made some savings from a financial perspective too, which is welcome given the volatility of fertiliser prices.
Q: What’s your approach to water run-off?
A large part of our land is in grass strips and margins to accommodate semi-regular flooding. We have a number of silt capture ponds, which help capture the soil particles from the water before it flows off the farm -- we’ve recently planted trees near the ponds to improve drainage and support the soil structure. We also have some leaky dams which slow the flow of water during flash flooding.
Q: Do you have any advice on improving biodiversity?
One of the biggest opportunities for improving biodiversity is tree planting, because of the diverse range of species trees support. MOREwoods is a great introduction to tree planting because there’s much less paperwork involved compared with other schemes and you’re able to start with a smaller area. Whether that’s designing shelterbelts to protect crops and livestock from extreme weather or providing an alternative food source in the form of tree browse, to the provision of habitats for wildlife, including beneficial insects.
Our new planting has been used to soak up excess water and bind the soil around the edges of the ponds – but each farm is different, and it’s important to tailor a solution to fit the individual land and develop a holistic sustainability strategy.
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