supporting native wildlife
Our farms participate in conservation schemes to ensure that we maintain and encourage diverse habitats. We regularly review the schemes to continually improve our environmental practices.
As farmers the main biodiversity issue we face is the legacy of government driven post-war farming practices when there were severe food shortages and production was paramount. In this period the diversity of cropping decreased and many landscape features such as hedges were removed. In subsequent years this had a big impact on UK wildlife, causing a major decline in farmland birds such as grey partridges, skylarks, yellow hammers, linnets, tree sparrows and the finches.
For over twenty years The Co-operative Farms has managed the fields to help support our native wildlife, well before these actions became legislative.
We ceased cutting our hedges on an annual basis many years ago and only cut them every second or third year, as the berries that offer the birds a winter food source only grow on second year growth. The hedges are also cut in late winter to allow the birds to harvest the berries before the hedge trimmer removes them. A large well-grown hedge also offers the birds greater opportunities to find secluded nesting sites and provide homes for hundreds of other small creatures. We have reinstated many hedges and do a lot of hedge laying too, an ancient craft which ensures that the hedges grow thick right from the bottom.
Over the last 5 years, The Co-operative Farms has planted a number of new areas of native, deciduous trees on our farms. These woodland areas are designed to create new habitats for local wildlife and to encourage biodiversity on our land.
2006 saw the establishment of a significant number of grass field margins on The Co-operative Farms as part of our commitment to the Entry Level Stewardship scheme. These strips consist of tussocky grasses that provide an ideal habitat for ground nesting birds and small mammals such as mice and voles. Barn owls and Kestrels will in turn benefit from the hunting areas provided by the margins. They also provide a winter home for insects and spiders that are beneficial to crops.
Alongside the common features listed above, each farm has its own unique features and habitats such as ponds, reservoirs, waterways, meadows and beetle banks. We encourage our farmers to seek out opportunities to improve the wildlife value of these areas.