In 1952, Guy Shropshire started farming at Hainey Farm in the lsle of Ely in Cambridgeshire. In the early 1960’s Marks and Spencer became the first supermarket customer he supplied.
Hainey Farm is now part of Cambs Farms Growers Ltd, who became founder members of G’s Growers. G’s is one of the UK’s largest salad growing businesses with farms across East Anglia, West Midlands and West Sussex.
Today at Hainey Farm (494ha) they grow Iceberg, Little Gem and Romaine lettuce, celery, onions, beetroot and winter wheat amongst other crops, some grown conventionally as well as organically.
Guy Shropshire’s grandson, Charles Shropshire is now the Director of Cambs Farms Growers Ltd and, although the business is his main challenge, he is fully aware of the balance required to maintain a healthy farm business working alongside the environment. “Here at Cambs Farms Growers Ltd, we are passionate and committed to enhancing the environment”, says Charles Shropshire. “The Fenlands are essential to our farming business, and we believe in working with nature to provide the perfect ecosystems for wildlife to flourish and our crops to grow.” With this in mind, the farm set 10% of its land aside for wildlife. Working with the farm’s Conservation Manager, Stewart McIntyre, and the RSPB’s Conservation Advisor, Andrew Holland, they entered the Countryside Stewardship higher-tier scheme and became certified members of Fair to Nature, which they see as the gold standard for environmental and wildlife enhancement.
“The Fenlands are essential to our farming business, and we believe in working with nature to provide the perfect ecosystems for wildlife to flourish and our crops to grow.”
Charles Shropshire, G’s Growers
A wide range of Countryside Stewardship options and Fair to Nature habitats have been applied to enhance all flora and fauna. Nearly 12ha of bird seed mix has been sown specifically to provide food during the winter, for farmland birds such as the Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow, with supplementary feeding as an added addition. Over 20ha of flowers have been sown across the farmed landscape, including ox-eye daisy, bird’s foot-trefoil, red clover and musk mallow. These will provide butterflies, hoverflies, moths and bees with a much needed nectar and pollen resource throughout the year. The abundance of invertebrates found in these mixes, provides an important food source for adult birds and their chicks, which is crucial to their survival.
Tussock grass margins and grassland fields extend over 28ha of the farm. Margins are placed strategically alongside watercourses and hedgerows to protect existing habitats. The increasing Water Vole population and the damselflies that dance over the ditches clearly show the water is clean. Whilst Tree Sparrows are nesting successfully in the hedgerows.
The many different habitats across the farm cover far more than the minimum required for the Fair to Nature certification. Wet grassland has been improved, by creating foot drains and scrapes for breeding Lapwing and Snipe. Reedbed has been created to attract breeding Bittern and Warblers. Woodlands are being managed sensitively to encourage breeding birds, with glades created for butterflies. Stewart McIntyre says, “The strategy we have implemented is already showing benefits, which is very rewarding.”
Charles is keen to promote how nature can be incorporated alongside a commercial farm business. For the last six years, the farm has opened its gates to the public on Open Farm Sunday. Everyone is invited to join the farming team to view equipment and packing facilities used to make this farm what it is today. Wildlife walks and trailer rides show off various bird seed and flower mixes around the farm. With over 6000 attending the event, what better way to show how wildlife and farming can work hand in hand!
“With Stewart’s tireless energy, a vast range of Countryside Stewardship options have been implemented and existing habitat is being managed more sensitively. Already, bird numbers are increasing, with Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer numbers rising dramatically and a population of Tree Sparrows, not only feeding, but breeding on the farm has now been recorded, which is fantastic,” says Andrew Holland.
The farm entered into the evidence-based Fair to Nature scheme in 2017 because the proscriptive suite of habitats required have been proven to increase farmland wildlife. The Fair to Nature Standard is based on research that showed a 13-fold increase in bumblebees, an eight-fold increase in butterflies, 42% increase in bird life, and a significant increase in plant life, including some of the rarer annual species. More recent studies at the RSPB’s Fair to Nature accredited Hope Farm have shown a 201% rise in breeding farmland birds where targeted habitats, such as those required by the scheme, are in place.
Managing the habitats to keep them in peak condition for the wildlife that use them can be costly, and this important work is partly funded by responsible companies, such as M&S, who use the products from these farms.
Author: Andrew Holland (RSPB)
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