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Sessions & Workshops
Enhancing biodiversity on dairy farms
There is an increasing level of interest from dairy farmers in how to increase biodiversity levels on their farms. This session looks at trees on farms and at biodiversity in the sward, and will provide guidance on biodiversity improvement. (Organised with OMSCo and Woodland Trust)
Jo Smith (ORC): Chair
Extended session summary
This session looked at how biodiversity benefits on dairy farms can be realised without compromising productivity and the potential advantages to the farmer of introducing measures to improve biodiversity. All three speakers placed emphasis on a whole farm approach.
Introducing trees onto farms, using diverse leys, improving sward diversity and structure and introducing edge habitats were all discussed as ways to achieve these biodiversity benefits. Advantages of using these methods to animal health and productivity included, tree presence reducing heat stress in livestock, shelterbelts reducing soil erosion and improving pastures, the nutritional benefits to livestock of a range of forage types.
Mike Townsend from the Woodland Trust talked about how integrating trees into farming systems can increase productivity to meet growing demands for food security whilst also delivering ecosystem services. He used evidence from a review carried out by Harper Adams on the Benefits of Trees on Livestock Farms to look at what works on a farm scale.
- Trees can help to protect farms and livestock from weather extremes and climate change.
- Shelterbelts act as an insurance policy against increased frequency of weather extremes – helping reduce soil erosion and reduce excess nutrient run-off.
He used the example of the Pontbren farmers, a group of 10 farms in mid-Wales who have planted trees in areas less suitable for livestock and have seen significant pasture improvements over a 15 year period, woodchip is used as cheaper bedding and then a soil improver, which releases less GHGs as it breaks down than straw.
Joy Greenall highlighted the benefits to managing for biodiversity of having a good farm map that can be scribbled on. Farmers know their farms but the information needs collating. Joy's slogan was: 'Make a place for nature – make this your whole farm!'
Mark Measures outlined how soil is central to wildlife and productivity, farmers need to be able to influence the biological composition of the soil. The quantity and quality of organic matter types very important. He also spoke about the benefits of diverse leys for dairy farmers and gave an example mix. It's easy and cheap to produce a single crop, but diverse crops are more resilient to weather extremes, different rooting structures improve soil and access to nutrients in different soil zones. A diverse ley and a range of forage types can support production, increase resilience, improve sustainability and enhance the natural environment.
A presentation from Gethin Davies from the RSPB again highlighted that conservation needs to be at a landscape scale. He described ways that dairy farms (especially organic systems) are well placed to achieve this by improving sward diversity and structure and by creating and managing edge habitats. These actions will boost the food chain at the bottom - birds and mammals are indicators for what's happening lower down the food chain. It is key to consider a whole farm approach, different parts of the farm will provide different resources and we need to consider the whole lifecycle requirements of species.
- Woodland plantings need to be kept diverse to be resilient. The current grant system doesn't always find the right solution.
- There are not many options in current ES for grasslands, the benefits of developing a 'dairy' version of the ELS/HLS arable package was discussed.
- ORC SOLID project – request for farmers experiences of cattle browsing on hedgerows (what species/ when).
Speaker presentations and abstracts
Mike Townsend (Woodland Trust): Trees on livestock farms (14MB)
Recent years have seen increasing focus on food security, and growing pressure for more domestic food production. At the same time there is recognition that nature is fundamental to the delivery of ‘ecosystem services’. For agricultural production this means healthy soils, pollinating insects, climate regulation, and plentiful and clean water. But farming also has an impact on wider ecosystem services for society, including maintaining water quality, mitigating flooding, and supporting biodiversity. The development of sustainable agriculture depends on increasing production, whilst maintaining and improving the condition of the natural environment. Thoughtful integration of trees and other natural elements into farming systems can support production and deliver benefits which make sense at a farm scale, whilst also delivering wider public goods. In particular trees can help in reducing heat stress, improving shelter, particularly for young stock, and support productive pasture growth. Through reducing soil erosion, and intercepting runoff, trees help conserve soil resources while improving water quality and reducing flood risk. In addition trees and woodland can provide woodfuel, support wildlife and add to the amenity of the farm.
Henry Edmunds (Cholderton Estate)
Henry Edmunds, who won the RSPB/Telegraph Nature of Farming Award in 2012, has had to withdraw for family reasons. Aspects of his presentation and achievements will be reflected in the presentation by Gethin Davies.
While there is considerable awareness of the declines in farmland wildlife in arable systems, the pastoral regions of the north and west of the UK have also seen many species dependant on farming decline in range and number. Studies have shown clear benefits for wildlife from organic arable cropping over conventional management, but there is not comparable evidence for organic grassland management. Organic principles are a helpful foundation for wildlife, but there is scope for carefully targeted management to provide considerable additional benefit. Two areas to focus on in helping farmland wildlife include:
- Boosting the availability of insects within grassland -Modern grassland management rarely allows plants to go to seed or key insects to complete lifecycles, diminishing these early links in the food chain. Greater diversity in plant species and structure in grassland are key to boosting insects. Legumes offer an opportunity to provide pollen and nectar, and food plants for insects, but require management practices that allow extended periods without grazing or mowing.
- Providing winter seed food - Many farmland birds depend on seed food, especially in winter. This is mainly provided through arable cropping, such as weedy brassica/root crops and stubbles. Alternatives ways of providing seeds include ‘wild bird seed mixes’ or ’seeding ryegrass’.