The untold story of working conservationists

UNTOLD STORY RI Farm

THE latest State of Nature report rightly grabs the headlines with a vital assessment of the loss of British wildlife, but there is an “untold story” of private land managers’ spectacular success in reversing biodiversity declines at a local level.

Their stories are important because 75 per cent of the country is farmed and so farmers represent potentially the largest conservation force in the country. Now is the time to mobilise that force with the right support and encouragement.

A new collection of case studies published by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust shows why private land managers are uniquely placed to provide a solution to biodiversity loss in the UK.

These unsung “working conser-vationists” are bucking the national trends. For example, in Suffolk red-listed turtle doves are thriving on Graham Denny’s 200-acre family farm and thanks to his dedication to feeding all year round he has ringed an incredible 32,000 songbirds on the farm, many of which are threatened species.

Along with many other woodland birds, lesser redpoll have declined nationally by 80 per cent, but in the Ceredigion they are among 144 species of bird spotted by Terry Mills on the farm where he has planted 10 miles of hedges and 160,000 trees and shrubs. And in Aberdeenshire as well as looking after his Highland cattle John Riley attracts ospreys to his lakes and red squirrels to his bird table with a mix of pond-digging and winter feeding.

Credit is due to Government for funding agri-environment schemes which underpin almost all these case studies, but if more farmers are to be persuaded to follow their lead it’s time for a much more positive approach that sees land managers not as the problem but as the solution: an untapped resource with practical expertise and a profound understanding of their land.

Television presenter and farmer

Adam Henson, who wrote the foreword to the collection, said:

“These uplifting stories of in-creasing wildlife remind us of the real opportunity for British farmers to lead the world in producing the food and environmental goods we urgently need.”

GWCT chief executive Teresa Dent, CBE, added: “Given the right kind of funding, advice and encouragement and by working together in farmer clusters, private land managers have proved they can boost biodiversity in the wider working countryside. It’s time for this untold story of conservation success to become a central narrative of British wildlife restoration.”

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