If conservation is a battle then farmer Graham Denny from Earl Stonham is a bare knuckle street fighter. I bumped into him when I stopped by his RBAPS field to take a picture. He thought I might be pinching his sunflowers but instead of chucking me off, he treated me to a tour of some of his fields and an explanation of some of his conservation strategies.
Sunflower, Maize, Sorghum, Quinoa, Red Millet, White Millet, Gold-of-Pleasure, Spring Wheat, Mustard, Naked Oats, Fodder Radish, Spring Barley, Fat Hen (Self-seeded) Other self-seeded 'weeds'.
The fields I’d been attracted to were part of the pilot study for the government’s Results-Based Agri-environments Payments Scheme (RBAPS) Planted with a mixture of winter bird food, the results will be measured over three years. Also included in the arable scheme are pollen and nectar plots, and there are pilot plots for grasslands elsewhere in the country as well. Farmers will be paid according to their self-assessed ’score’ on crop performance criteria.
You can read more about the scheme on the DEFRA government website here.
The pilot scheme will be used to assess the effectiveness of the plan and fine tune its operating systems. Graham explained some of the shortcomings from his perspective; one of the main ones being the accessibility of the seed for birds. Greater plant density, for which the farmer will be rewarded, is also a barrier for the birds, particularly as the plants collapse later in the season, prohibiting access to the fallen seed underneath. Paths have to be cut into the plots so some ground access is maintained for the birds.
(I wonder if it would be more effective to plant headlands rather than whole fields; the same acreage could be allocated over a wider area, offering better corridor function and seed accessibility for the birds)
Graham integrates these government schemes with traditional arable crops and shooting. He tweets regularly on his farming, hunting and conservation work and is always ready to engage in combative debate on these subjects and the interaction between them. I’ve no doubt his contribution to the RBAPS pilot scheme will be candid and practical, and consequently invaluable.
Time will tell if, and how, the scheme is rolled out to the wider farming community and if the funding for it remains in place once the pilot scheme is completed. I can’t find any information on how widespread or ambitious the scheme may eventually be, but any initiative which takes land out of food production will, of course, be a movement towards less intensive agriculture; good for wildlife but arguably increasing our reliance on imported food. That conflict is the subject for more detailed consideration another day!
You can follow Graham’s work @suffolk_squeak on instagram or @GrahamDenny9 on twitter.