Author: Shelley Abbott, Fair to Nature Facilitator
This June the RSPB agriculture team attended the Groundswell regenerative agriculture show and conference, held in Hertfordshire, UK. It’s the 6th year of this show and the second time we’ve attended and it’s grown in just that one year! Over 5,000 people attended this year’s show and it not only attracts farmers but also policy makers and influencers, as well as lovers of sustainable food. At its heart though, Groundswell is a farmer led show for farmers, exploring the ways of working with nature to grow food in a sustainable way, and that includes being profitable.
The event was founded by the Cherry family on their mixed farm in Hertfordshire and was born out of frustration at the lack of agricultural events that talked about soil health. The family farm went down the route of no-till in 2010 to improve the soil so the events that focussed on tillage were no longer applicable. At the exit to the carparking field stands an up-ended plough, signifying the journey from the days where ploughing the land to prepare for the next crop was common-place to nowadays where minimum tillage (min-till) or no tillage (no-till) are becoming the norm. We know more now about the biology of soil, the ecosystems that thrive within it, the carbon that can be locked up by those ecosystems and the significant benefits that healthy soil an bring to the crops that grow in it.
The theme of our stand at Groundswell this year was ‘Nature supporting farmers’, focussing on beneficial invertebrates, soil health and resilience, and nature underpinning food production. Pollinators and soil health are key to a farm’s success and our message was to strengthen farmers’ understanding of the various ways of working with nature on their farms to ensure the best outcomes for themselves and the environment.
The stand featured the main projects that the team is working on. The Farm Wildlife 6 key elements* reinforce much of the work of the RSPB agriculture team. If parts of all 6 elements are present on a farm, there is a good chance that farmland biodiversity will thrive there. Being based on these 6 key elements, the Fair to Nature Standard is a way of certifying the work for biodiversity and demonstrating nature-friendly farming to customers. Hope Farm is our own example of practising what we preach, embracing the 6 key elements, being a member of Fair to Nature and trialling ways of working with nature to achieve the desired outcomes. The Volunteer Monitoring of Farm Wildlife project is helping farmers to monitor the impacts of their nature-friendly farming by matching them up with trained volunteers who carry out bird, bumblebee, butterfly and pollinator surveys.
Over the two days at Groundswell, Bex Cartwright, from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and RSPB Agricultural Advice Project Manager Catherine Jones, demonstrated how to carry out a UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme FIT Count, a simple 10 minute monitoring of pollinating insects visiting certain flower types within a quadrat.
We were also signing visitors up to our Farming E-news, a quarterly newsletter showcasing the RSPB’s work in the agricultural sector.
As usual, our handy tractor cab guides to farmland birds proved popular with visitors seeking to find out what birds are visiting their farms and what habitats those birds favour.
We had a good number of visitors to our stand over the two days, lots of farmers but also other innovators in regenerative agriculture and policy influencers.
Those of us staffing the stand also got the opportunity to attend some of the 120+ talks and demonstrations that took place, including Dung Beetle safaris, the practicalities and benefits of cover crops, discussions on agroforestry, on climate friendly farming, on supply chain opportunities, on the National Food strategy one year on, on Nature Positive farming by 2030.
*The Farm Wildlife Partnership advocates that to help farmland wildlife the most, it is best to implement advice from these 6 key elements: existing habitats; field boundaries; wet features; flower-rich habitats; seed-rich habitats; and the farmed area.
All images are the property of Shelley Abbott and Fair to Nature.
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