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By Rosewood Farm, Aug 21 2018 12:57AM

Overgrazing is one of those words I’m hearing more & more as time goes on, and it’s begun to make me cringe every time I hear it. It’s a popular criticism of livestock farming but it’s overuse seems to have changed the meaning of the word towards any land management that is less than optimal for wildlife. In recent months I’ve seen ‘overgrazing’ used to refer to everything from severely undergrazed pastures to land that wasn’t grazed at all.


Of course the obvious solution would appear to be to graze fewer and fewer animals on the land. While this may achieve some objectives, such as succession to scrub and then eventually woodland, it doesn’t necessarily help us to conserve a variety of habitats, like the species-rich grasslands of the Yorkshire Ings, in good condition. In fact it creates the need for increased human involvement with tractors and pesticides replacing the animals to create a poor imitation of the grazed landscape that many wild plants, birds and mammals have come to depend upon.



'Sheepwrecked'; undergrazing by sheep resulted in growth suppression
'Sheepwrecked'; undergrazing by sheep resulted in growth suppression

When I say that we need more animals grazing the Ings to better manage the grasslands it often invokes lengthy justification of why animals are destroying the planet, starting with the notion of ‘overgrazing’. Usually it is not over-grazing so much as inappropriate-grazing management that cause problems. Focussing on numbers or stocking-rates really takes the onus off the management of those animals, making it possible to describe grazing practises in an easy, formulaic, but ultimately counterproductive, way.


Reducing grazing to a simple numbers-game ignores the many different variables relating to the land, seasons, climate and the animals themselves. The scientific method is useful in so much as it informs and influences our decisions, but on a day-to-day basis there are many thousands of tiny observations being made regarding the effect grazing animals are having upon the land, vegetation and wildlife that using science in isolation becomes cumbersome and overly focussed on certain aspects, such as numbers of livestock.


Naturally, as a grazier I would say that though, it’s in my best interests to keep animals on the land and not have my job outsourced to a central database. In truth, riding around the Ings in a tractor cab, out of the elements with a ‘machine’ that can be turned off at the end of the day and put away overnight/for winter is actually very appealing. Given the current trends in income from livestock farming there is little financial incentive left in grazing livestock at all, hence the declines seen in recent years.


However, it wasn’t always this way, 160 years ago the Ings were described as;

By contrast, the thin, chalky soils of the nearby Yorkshire Wolds were considered too poor for continuous cropping and sheep were employed to build fertility on an ‘outfield’ pasture for 5 - 7 years before being ploughed to plant a crop under the pre-enclosure open field farming system. Meanwhile the manure from domestic stock was used to fertilise & farm more intensively on the ‘infield’. Hay meadows in the Wolds were in short supply so some of the excess hay crop of the Ings would have found it’s way to the Wolds for feeding the beast that pulled the ploughs.


Today those fortunes appear to have reversed with vast tracts of the Wolds never seeing livestock but coming under the plough continuously. At the same time the fertile Ings lay under used and under appreciated by many modern farmers. So what’s changed?


Without doubt the most notable change has been the transition from Oxen, via Horses, to Tractors, which had a two-fold effect. Firstly, relying upon animals to till the land, meadows literally powered cultivation. By harvesting energy from the sun, grasslands were essential to turn solar power into traction to pull the plough but the move to tractors released many acres of meadow for other uses.



Ploughing on the Yorkshire Wolds
Ploughing on the Yorkshire Wolds

Photo credit


Secondly, the outfields of the Wolds built fertility with livestock until such time as it was worth going to the effort of planting a crop. Turning over the earth is a high energy ordeal and demands a high-output to justify it. Lacking the fertility provided by flooding, these were the original marginal lands but with the advent of synthetic fertilisers Wold farmers could regularly and predictably make it worth cropping the chalky hills.


These two factors seriously reduced the amount of grazing land required and increased the croppable area too. The transition of the Wolds largely from pasture to cultivation also had a devastating effect upon it’s wildlife. Birds and mammals that had previously enjoyed up to six years of undisturbed pasture found themselves competing with crops on an annual basis.


The common thread running through this agricultural revolution was Oil. The discovery of fossil fuels had kick started an increase in demand for food with industrial towns growing on the back of coal but fossil fuels were slow to power similar increases in the supply of food. It wasn’t until we worked out how to use Oil & Natural Gas that we could power the advance of agriculture to become (almost) completely non-dependent upon livestock.


This was achieved after German chemists Fritz Haber & Carl Bosch developed the high-energy Haber-Bosch Process in the early 20th century to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air into a form useable as fertiliser. While this replaced animal manures & legumes as a source of fertility the development of the internal combustion engine and mass production of tractors by both Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson paved the way for the modern farming as we know it today. Together these two innovations, along with a multitude of others, have speeded up the pace of agriculture, allowing us to ‘borrow’ fertility from the past, via the carbon stores locked up millions of year ago in oil & gas to increase output over such a short space of time. This has mirrored the decline of both grazing and wildlife in the UK, as each has lost their value in a world that grows too fast.



The Yorkshire Ings - flooded with fertility
The Yorkshire Ings - flooded with fertility

Photo credit


The irony of the notion that we overgraze in a bid to produce more food is that it results in the exact opposite. A heavily grazed pasture lacks the means for a productive crop - even if you do fertilise it, it lacks the leaf area to harvest the sun’s energy and the organic matter to preserve precious water. Undergrazing is no more productive either as the pasture reaches a point where the taller, untrodden grasses shade out any chances of fresh, new growth.


Many people say that we can’t possibly ‘feed the world’ with meat from grazing animals, but right now I’m just trying to feed my family and preserve some of the last & best remaining floodplain meadow habitat in the country. Grazing more cows on these grasslands isn’t competing for prime farmland so it can only help to feed the world if more of us eat grassfed beef from the Ings. It also feeds a wealth of wildflowers and birds too, which looks (and sounds) pretty awesome to me!



By Rosewood Farm, Jul 16 2018 12:11AM

‘How do we make #farmingwithnature sexy?’ was the question posed by Beki & David of The Horned Beef Company on the ‘Farmers of the UK’ Twitter account last week. It’s not a new question, it has been rumbling around the farming world for some time now as we face the growing dual problems of a difficulty in finding farm staff and the average age of farmers steadily creeping upwards.


The farming press is doing it’s best to paper over the cracks with regular features of smiling young farmers now appearing in the Farmers Guardian with quotes such as ‘it’s hard work but it’s worth it’, but the truth is that it increasingly isn’t worth it. Farming isn’t sexy, it’s not even vaguely attractive to most young (and many older) people today.


There are some material problems in farming and the rural community that stand in the way for both new entrants to the industry and established farmers, but more about those later. First I want to discuss a much bigger issue - that farming has an image problem. No, I’m not talking about the rosy picture painted by supermarkets in their marketing making it looks better than it is, nor am I talking about the critics of farming painting a much darker picture. The problem comes from within the farming industry itself.




Farmers often see themselves as resilient and independant but the industry has more than it’s fair share of depression and suicide. Under increasing pressure to do more for less, market volatility and buyers contracts make it harder than ever for farmers to make a living, but few feel secure enough to be able to speak up. Of course farmers will talk to each other about the weather and the workload, but when they do it’s usually just an opportunity to demonstrate how well you are coping with the situation, not a genuine desire to talk about how you’re feeling. Even when we do come together we’re self-isolating within the social context and as a result mental health problems are rife in the countryside. Farming also comes out tops on rates of physical injury and death, doubling up to be the riskiest business to be in both mentally and physically.


For workers the hours are becoming less unsociable and more unworkable, particularly in the dairy sector. As herd sizes grow roles become harder to fill when staff are expected to start earlier and finish late. This puts further pressure on the available workforce with very few young families able to commit to such roles even with a desire to be working in farming. It’s almost Victorian.


So far so bad, it’s not sounding very sexy!


Often technology is blamed for our society becoming less social but the beauty of social media, and particularly Twitter, within farming is that it sparks conversations between people who may never meet in real life but who share the same interests, be that Curlews or combines. Of course there are no guarantees, as you can still hide behind a computer or a phone screen and pretend, but at the same time talking to someone in a similar situation who you know less well is often easier than talking to those closest to you.




Phil Latham; we cannot ignore our financial obligations
Phil Latham; we cannot ignore our financial obligations

So, getting back to the question of how to making farming, particularly farming with nature, sexy? I said at the time;




That response raised a few laughs, but I was serious. I think within that summary I covered all the basic problems of our mental, physical and emotional well being within farming today.


The housing crisis


The Campaign To Protect Rural England says that nearly half of rural households are going to be aged 65 or over by 2039 - we are facing the same problem within rural demographics as we are in the farm workforce. They put this down to a lack of genuinely affordable housing, as I touched upon in a recent blog, housing prices in the Yorkshire Ings have risen sharply whilst wages have remained constant. Many of the houses available locally consist of either smaller properties have been extended or new builds that are too big to start with, putting prices out of range of young people in local employment.




Here at Rosewood we have faced our own issues with housing as there was no farmhouse with the land when we moved here in 2002. A planning policy exists whereby you are allowed to build new properties on farms in the open countryside providing you can satisfy both a functional and a financial test. This involves proving that you a) need to live on site and b) that you have sufficient income to be able to afford to live here, in order to protect the countryside from unsuitable development. The irony is that, in most cases, the only way to meet both these tests is to establish an intensive livestock unit!


In his blog, Miles King recently criticised the Government’s relaxation of the planning laws so that “now you can convert an office into a residential flat without planning permission.” resulting in “Lots of low quality housing”. When our own farm office ticking over the 10 year mark at the end of last year it became eligible to be converted into a dwelling, without a requirement to fulfil the financial need - an absolute lifeline for nature friendly farming. However the planning system could still be significantly improved by recognising the value of non-financial benefits to be gained for allowing appropriate & genuinely affordable rural homes.


It wasn’t until the permission came through from the local council that I realised just how much the lack of a permanent home had affected me over the years. I suddenly felt that a huge pressure had been lifted and I was finally able to talk more about the real reasons that nature friendly farming is starting out on the back foot.


So, I’ve fairly comprehensively picked apart why farming with nature isn’t sexy, but the question was how do we make it so? How do we ensure that young rural folk have a roof over their heads, the money to live and the time to take care of the environment & yet still have enough spare to enjoy both intimacy & family time?


We can waste our time blaming the next generation for not wanting to work hard or for little money, but in doing so we ignore the fact that the goalposts have moved and many young people simply can’t afford to live in the countryside with what’s available to them.


I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful kindred spirit in Natalie who cares passionately for the Ings and it’s wildlife. Nat brought a new perspective and valuable fresh ideas to the area - without her insight we would not have introduced Corncrake Friendly Mowing, nor the identity of what is the Yorkshire Ings itself - a legacy of love and care for this special landscape.



Inspired; Corncrake Friendly Mowing in the Yorkshire Ings
Inspired; Corncrake Friendly Mowing in the Yorkshire Ings

The recent breakdown of my marriage has made me think again about the troubles that farming & wildlife are both facing right now. It’s important that we, working on the front line of conservation, actively engage with and inspire others to care and do something about the declines in both our traditional farming and wildlife. However, our ability to care for nature is not improved by ignoring our own well-being and that of those around us.


Farming & the countryside remains a (relatively) popular for school leavers, with rural colleges expanding, but even 20 years ago, when I was at college, I spoke to an examiner who admitted that we were giving kids false hope as suitable jobs simply weren’t there in the countryside, and it hasn’t got any better today. Many graduates go on to non-countryside related employment, losing the skills we have carefully trained people in.


We cannot rely upon an initial attraction to maintain the long term relationships that are vital for the future of our countryside. It may only take a small amount of investment to keep England’s only natural population of breeding Corncrakes in the Ings, but no amount of money will fill that void when they have gone and to re-establish a breeding population would be both expensive and not guaranteed work. And rural people are no different - we all need suitable habitat maintaining to enable us to stay.


Our problems don’t go away by keeping quiet about them and the public will not support us to do better if we keep insisting that all is well.



As we discuss the future of farm & nature funding we seem to be trying to tackle the symptoms rather than the root cause. The truth is that there are already many passionate young people out there in both conservation and farming who do still think the profession is sexy - they are simply lacking the ability to afford to do it.

Conservation shares many of the same problems with work & housing - the whole of the nature friendly sector shouldn’t need to rely upon the drive and passion of low-paid people and volunteers.



Rather than tackling rural funding problems for housing, farming, conservation and social care separately, perhaps it’s time for a more holistic approach. Let’s not subsidise industry, let’s subsidise people and ensure that those who want to provide all those ‘public goods’ that the market is unwilling or unable to support can do so. This is why I am increasingly thinking that the key to a truly sustainable future lies in a Basic Income for all.


Providing a more secure income would not only benefit farmers directly, but would also allow a more sustainable workforce to exist within the countryside. The current benefits system for out of work people actively discourages the taking on of short term and seasonal work, as well as pushing them towards a more urban centres. Finally, more financial security within urban areas could enable more people to seek out and support both nature and better food, further boosting the rural economy - what's not to love?


If we value people more they will work to produce the food and wildlife that we crave. Now that’s what I call sexy; Nature-Friendly Farming!



By Rosewood Farm, Apr 1 2018 10:33PM

Taking home the title of Ethical and Green Business of the Year from the Yorkshire Federation of Small Business Awards last month sure to be a highlight of 2018 for us at Rosewood. Win or lose, events like this provide an excellent opportunity to spread the word that the Yorkshire Ings exist and how important it is that they cared for and, most of all, used in order to maintain their special role in the survival of British and migratory wildlife. It was encouraging to receive so much interest in what we are doing from the Yorkshire business community.



Rosewood became the Yorkshire Ethical & Green Business of the Year 2018
Rosewood became the Yorkshire Ethical & Green Business of the Year 2018

If you’re not familiar with the Ings, they are the series of traditionally farmed floodplain meadows along the lower reaches of the River Derwent. Once common throughout the UK, these seasonally inundated wildflower hay meadows have largely been lost due to drainage and development elsewhere in the country. As a result the Yorkshire Ings are a very special haven for a wide variety of rare and threatened plants & animals which has led to this becoming one of the most protected landscapes in Britain.



What the Ings got to do with business?


The Ings were first designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1971 when they were at risk of being drained for cultivation and cropping. The SSSI area was expanded and added to over the years, as well as attracting other legal protections for it’s habitats and wildlife, including becoming a National Nature Reserve and a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance. However, although protected, the meadows continue to rely upon the annual cutting for hay and grazing with cattle & sheep to maintain their unique wildlife value - a role that depends to this day upon the business of farming.


It’s unlikely that the people who originally fought so hard to protect the Ings from more intensive farming could ever have anticipated the need to encourage farmers back to actively manage the land. At the time cattle numbers in the UK were on the up and these rich, fertile floodplains were in strong demand for hay and grazing alike. The biodiversity of the Ings had been created by farming them the same way for generation after generation - the prospect of abandonment seemed unlikely to say the least.





What changed was the economics of farming - grazing cattle on a floodplain is, by it’s very nature, a seasonal practise. You can’t leave cattle on the Ings year round, so maintaining land and buildings off the floodplain for the cattle to retreat to during winter & spring time is essential, and for this you need a prosperous farming business.


The rise of chicken as the meat of choice among the British public put further pressure on the meadows, and with pasture on the high ground increasingly being ploughed up to grow more crops, the cattle were left with nowhere else to go. Many farmers continued to keep some cattle to graze on the Ings during summer, even if it didn’t entirely make financial sense. Although you should farm as though you’ll live forever, none of us do, and the centuries old practise of grazing cattle on the Ings is now coming to an end.




To work out why cattle are now disappearing from the land we have to understand the three costs associated with business; The first, ‘variable’ costs, change with the level of production ie it will cost you twice as much to feed two cows as it does for one. The second, ‘fixed’ costs, largely remain the same regardless of output, for example, if you’re going to mow a meadow you’ll always need a tractor whether the field is 5 acres or ten. The third and final cost is the one that is often forgotten about (particularly in farming) and that is profit. Without profit you can neither pay yourself (nor your staff) a fair wage or reinvest in the infrastructure required to continue in business long term, and this represents a huge issue. With little, if any, returns above the fixed and variable costs, farming can continue in the short term, but the opportunity to maintain the infrastructure necessary to keep cattle on the Ings, such as fencing, has been lost.


Many local farmhouses and barns have subsequently been sold to non-farming residents, as older farmers retire with family unable to continue in the family business. The next generation of potential cattle farmers are faced with a severe lack of suitable housing, both for the animals and the themselves! This became apparent when I realised that local farms were paying the same rate, £10 per hour, as they were sixteen years ago when I quit working to concentrate on Rosewood full-time. I checked with the Land Registry to check what house prices in the region had done over the same period and was shocked to find that they’d risen a massive 259% - no wonder farmers are struggling to recruit staff with young people being forced to leave the area in order to survive.




House Prices v Farm Wages in East Yorkshire 2002 - 18
House Prices v Farm Wages in East Yorkshire 2002 - 18

Source


The focus on preserving a place in the landscape for rare birds to nest is absolutely necessary but in doing so we completely forget to ensure suitable habitat for humans and livestock - both vital components for the future of the Ings. Awards are fantastic, but in order to continue maintaining the land in the traditional manner the rewards must be there.


The business of farming has served us well here for generation upon generation, producing food and a landscape bursting with wildlife, but perhaps it is time to accept that we can no longer rely upon legal protections and farm profits. In the time since the Ings were first designated a special area, once-common wildlife has declined nationally by 50%. Farmers do receive much of the blame for these declines, but it’s important to remember that farming is a business, and it’s entirely influenced what what we all choose to buy and eat.



Snipe; one species of breeding waders that benefit from our cattle grazing
Snipe; one species of breeding waders that benefit from our cattle grazing

The good news is that next month we’re heading down to London for the prestigious national finals of the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2018. With us we’ll be taking the story of the Yorkshire Ings and maybe, just maybe, with the best small business brains in Britain all in one room, we can come up with a new way to keep cattle farming, and the rich diversity of wildlife that it supports, on the floodplain meadows of the greatest landscape you’ve never heard of!



Edited to add;


In case you were wondering London went well, very well, returning home with both a lot more people knowing about the Yorkshire Ings & the title of Ethical & Green Business 2018! Now we've just got to keep farming...



Collecting the award for Ethical & Green Business of the Year 2018!
Collecting the award for Ethical & Green Business of the Year 2018!



By Rosewood Farm, Aug 28 2017 03:00PM


The Corncrake (Crex crex) was once a common species in the UK and it’s hard to deny that modern farming methods are responsible for pushing the species to the north western fringes of our islands. They spend only the summer months in Western Europe, breeding here before returning to winter in sub-Saharan Africa. They are one of three globally-threatened species identified by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.


Corncrake (Crex crex); on the verge of extinction by the late 1960's
Corncrake (Crex crex); on the verge of extinction by the late 1960's

A secretive bird, the corncrake is more often heard than it is seen, preferring to creep and hide in long vegetation to avoid danger rather than flying away or crossing open ground. This is particularly the case when nesting or with young chicks that are unable to fly. This characteristic behaviour is the major reason why corncrakes have been so vulnerable to modern farming practises. Traditional hay cutting by scythe would start at one side of the field and continue to the opposite side. This, along with the time taken to mow a meadow, allowed the birds to escape through the uncut crop. Unfortunately the introduction of mechanical mowing, first by horses or oxen, and later the tractor, changed the way meadows were cut with continuous initial mowing around the outside creating open ground and cutting off their escape route.


Further changes included the cutting of meadows creeping forward into June or earlier, particularly as the technology developed to make silage, which requires less continuous dry weather, rather than hay. Although, as their name suggest, corncrakes were once associated with cornfields too, feeding on the seeds & insects in weedy crops, the advent of pesticides completely removed this habitat.


In 1992 a reintroduction programme was started by the RSPB on its reserve in Cambridgeshire. Along with conservation efforts in the Western Isles of Scotland, the numbers rose but their range remains limited. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Ings was the only place in England that managed to hold on to its natural breeding population, despite almost becoming extinct here in the late 1960’s, this has continued to the present day through legal protection of the habitat in the Lower Derwent Valley SPA.


Photo credit: David Hopley
Photo credit: David Hopley

- The photo shows method 1 in the centre with conventional mowing in the two fields to the right of the picture -


Modern day land management presents new threats for the Corncrake which protection alone is unable to address. The loss of cattle farming in Scotland seriously threatens the corncrake recovery and we are now in danger of finally experiencing the same effect here in Yorkshire. Although the birds prefer cover, they favour lighter vegetation that is removed at least annually by either cutting or grazing. Cattle grazing near hay meadows provides areas of longer vegetation for the birds to inhabit between the hay cut and migration. The recent decline of cattle grazing in the valley puts further pressure on the birds.


The good news is that while chick mortality is high, this provides plenty of potential for recovery of numbers by improving survival rates & encouraging fledging of second broods. Our cattle grazing in & surrounding the ings provides some safeguard against habitat loss but as we also manage traditional hay meadows we didn’t want to contribute to their declines. An internet search revealed very little practical advice or experience of ‘corncrake friendly mowing’ (CFM) techniques from anyone who had actually carried it out. All of the available guides contained simplistic diagrams of mowing patterns that didn’t really represent real-world scenarios. It was clear that if farmers like ourselves are to be encouraged to adopt corncrake friendly management then providing practical advice on how to go about it is an absolute necessity, so we decided to document our experiences.


Now, a word of warning to the casual reader who isn’t interested in carrying out CFM themselves- you may want to skip to the end as this is the boring technical bit;


The conventional methods begins by mowing a headland around the perimeter
The conventional methods begins by mowing a headland around the perimeter

We began mowing in mid-july using a four-wheel drive 72hp tractor and offset 1.64m drum mower. The traditional straight lines are easier to set & maintain by using the field edges as a guide when operating machinery. Starting in the middle and working outwards is a tractor driver’s nightmare but this was the first of three techniques we tried in an almost-square field of 12.77 ac (5.17 ha). We marked out a centre point by pacing across the field in a north-south and east-west direction, returning half the way back, then following the opposite trajectory to find where the two points met.




Cutting began by forming a spiral around an initial small square
Cutting began by forming a spiral around an initial small square

Cutting started with three passes on either side of the centre point in straight lines to create a central block of approx 10 m by 10 m. The next pass started on the right and continued around in an anti-clockwise direction and proceeded in a spiral until the edges of the field were reached. On three sides of the field this was reached at the same point, but the remaining side required several more passes. In order to avoid long distances of travel while not mowing, we took the decision to mow in either direction on the corners, returning passes in a clockwise direction requiring driving on the uncut crop. The field margins were cut as a traditional headland in an anticlockwise direction to maintain the uncut margins. The crop was spread after mowing then turned and rowed up conventionally for baling.


Method 1
Method 1

Although cut in a spiral, turning & baling were carried out conventionally
Although cut in a spiral, turning & baling were carried out conventionally

The second method involved a smaller 5.35 ac (2.16 ha) field of almost square shape with some trees and bushes within. Cutting a traditional headland on two opposing sides created an area for turning while the other two margins were kept intact. A mid point was cut between the two headlands forming a central opening followed by passes on either side in each direction. At first this approach involved some tight turns, and ended with some very long turns on the later passes. Although this makes for efficient method for very long, narrow fields, the square shape reduced the turning:mowing ratio to unsustainable levels.


Method 2
Method 2

As per the RSPB guide to CFM a round field containing a central pond or copse is the ideal shape for most efficient mowing but also one of the least likely shapes encountered, so I question its value as an example. Our final field contained a pond close to the margins of the south-eastern corner and was also the most challenging. Beginning by circling the pond in a clockwise direction, followed by subsequent anti-clockwise passes was reminiscent of the first example, however this created a large irregular area on the north & western sides of the field. With a conventional headland created on the western side and the pond margins on which to turn along the eastern side, we proceeded to mow conventionally, subsequently opening up several sections and mowing until a narrow strip was left in each. These were left overnight to give the birds chance to escape to the larger field margins under the cover of darkness.


Method 3
Method 3

This represented the most conventional method and followed a technique suggested by farmers on the Cowal peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Although differing little in terms of time and efficiency compared to conventional mowing, the break in mowing, depending upon the layout of the farm, may not be practical for efficient working. This may be avoided by flushing any birds manually, on foot, before completion of mowing.


Uncut strips were left overnight for corncrakes to disperse before mowing
Uncut strips were left overnight for corncrakes to disperse before mowing

It is commonly accepted that delaying mowing until August negates the need for CFM, giving breeding birds the chance to fledge before mowing commences. However this may not be possible later in the season due to time constraints. Staggering cutting dates also allows for a greater variety of vegetation lengths across breeding habitats, as preferred by post-breeding corncrakes and other ground nesting birds, than clear cutting over a shorter period of time. It is also less desirable for farmers to sit-out periods of favourable haymaking weather whilst awaiting an uncertain August.


Given the small numbers of birds present it is not possible to quantify the effectiveness of either method in terms of chick survival but RSPB figures suggest that survival rates increase from 40 to at least 80% with CFM. However, with knowledge of corncrake behaviour it is reasonable to assume that method 1 gives the greatest opportunity for escape. Whilst this represents a reasonable efficiency compromise, it may be less desirable to tractor drivers having to work in the round. The method is also limited to largely square fields containing few obstacles.


Efficiency of mowing by CFM method
Efficiency of mowing by CFM method

Method 2 is largely only practical for narrow fields, in which case it is likely that efficiency would rise significantly to almost 100% and the method does still provide good opportunity for escape.


In terms of efficiency method 3 seems hard to beat but it does still force corncrakes into an ever-decreasing island of grass and creates open ground, therefore increasing the chances of mortality. Flushing birds on foot before mowing also gives an opportunity to survey numbers for a relatively small decrease in efficiency. In this case 0.5 hours spent flushing would represent 87.5% efficiency.


If the breeding success and spread of corncrakes it is to improve it is important that farmers and land managers are encouraged to consider methods to reduce mortality alongside habitat provision. Any losses in efficiency also represent a financial cost to the farmer which must be taken into consideration otherwise this might lead to further abandonment and loss of favourable corncrake habitat.


UPDATE; Since writing this blog we're pleased to announce that a total of 8 calling males were present in the Ings in 2017 and as a result of the conservation measures this increased to 10 calling males in 2018! You can help us do more to increase England's only naturally occurring population of breeding corncrakes by donating to the Friends of the Lower Derwent Valley.



If you know of any alternative methods or experience of CFM please share & discuss them using the comments below;


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