Monday, 23 March 2015


Farmers get their income not only from from selling produce, but also from government grants and incentives. The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) is a mechanism that pays farmers for doing things that benefit wildlife. Huntingdonshire District Council has entered quite a lot of the land it manages into the scheme, mostly to get some payment for work that we already do.

New bat boxes with Ranger Matt.
Ranger Sam was in the picture too, but he moved!
At Paxton Pits the meadows by the visitors centre are mowed for hay and then grazed every year to create a flower rich sward that also holds millions of insects such as butterflies, moths, beetles and crickets. HLS pays a small amount towards this work. 

Then we have the arable ground that includes Peter's Field, which is a more typical farming scenario. We are paid to create grassland and floristic margins for wildlife, but even the crops are wildlife friendly.  We grow nectar mixes for insects and sow wildflowers into our cereal crop. One of our major crops these days is "wild bird cover mix". This is not harvested; it just provides a living bird-table. And its not just birds that benefit, but also mammals like harvest mice. 

When ranger Matt Hall was ploughing last week, I saw at least a dozen yellowhammers and some wagtails feeding in the furrows, but these are wintering birds. Only a few pairs of yellowhammers hold on through the summer. The only way to help them is to provide old hedgerows for nesting, and plenty of weed seeds.

Another bird to benefit from our HLS scheme is the barn owl. Last year they bred twice in nest boxes that we provided. This year we are putting up lots more nest boxes for barn owls and kestrels, and for tree sparrows, all paid for by the scheme. 

Dodder Fen holds several ponds that have become shaded out and relatively unproductive. The HLS scheme paid for the removal of several willows that we used to build a new otter holt with. It also paid for a few more bat boxes in our more wooded areas. 

In general, I would say that the scheme has helped us to pay for work that we would have done anyway, eventually, while on a typical commercial farm it might have tipped the scales a little bit more in favour of wildlife than might otherwise have been the case. I hope so anyway.