East Anglian farmer backs scheme to boost conservation

A landmark agreement has been reached between Natural England, the government's adviser on the natural environment, and the Conservation Grade Nature Friendly Farming scheme to work together to increase biodiversity on farms across the country.

The understanding, signed at Thrift Farm in Royston, recognises the roles of farmers and government and will mobilise the huge potential of food brands and their consumers to support the restoration and management of nature throughout the food chain.

Natural England's director of land management, Ian Fugler, said Conservation Grade's involvement in on-farm research and its innovative market-led approach could be a key element in the delivery of the 'sustainable intensification' agenda in the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

''It is vital that an increase in production fully considers the impact on the environment, and measures are put into place to ensure that farmland biodiversity is protected and enhanced,'' he said.

'Conservation Grade has been driving forward this agenda for some years and we are pleased to be working with an organisation that has so much experience in delivering profitable farming in a sustainable, wildlife-friendly way.'

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Conservation Grade, in which farmers create and manage specific wildlife habitats on their least productive land, follows a scientific approach that has seen up to a 41pc increase in birds and a thirty-fold increase in small mammals such as water voles.

Tim Nevard, chief executive of Conservation Grade, is delighted Natural England recognises the expertise within the Conservation Grade Nature Friendly Farming team, and is looking forward to a fruitful working relationship.

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'Restoring biodiversity on farmland has to be a priority or we won't be able to maintain the natural capital required to sustainably meet the massive global increases in demand for food that are forecast,' he said.

'The partnership between Natural England, as the deliverer of publicly-funded agri-environment schemes, and Conservation Grade, which has established commercial arrange-ments with such well-known brands as Allinson, Jordans and Vitacress to drive farmland conservation, can only go from strength to strength.'

Conservation Grade is an independent, non-profit accreditation organisation that aims to set up commercial relationships between farmers and customers to support a farming system that optimises both crop yields and wildlife conservation. It requires 10pc of the farmed area to be managed for specific wildlife habitats.

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