Norfolk NFU leader’s twin challenges

Farmers' leader Francis Ulrych is determined to meet the twin challenge of boosting food production and also wildlife on his arable holding.

As a fourth-generation farmer at Park Farm, Griston, near Watton, he has a county wildlife site, heritage parkland and an important archaeological feature, a medieval moat. While his biggest field, actually the parkland with its mature oak trees, measures 38 acres, his average field size is under 20, with his smallest field just five.

'So, I have thousands of metres of hedges and ditches to manage,' said Mr Ulrych, who recently became the Norfolk Farmers' Union's chairman.

A former chairman of the Watton NFU branch, he was a former chairman of Norfolk sugar beet committee and also the regional sugar board. He is determined to visit every NFU branch at least once during his two years in office.

And given the exceptionally friendly nature of the well-attended Watton branch meetings, he is keen to encourage more 'networking' and interaction of 'grassroots farmers' with the NFU. 'It has got to be led by farmer members, but it is getting that communication which is the problem. 'At the regional forum for sugar beet at Newmarket there are as many growers attending as I used to see at Agriculture House in Norwich when I was chairman of the county beet committee.'

The flow and speed of information from the NFU has improved drama-tically in recent years but he is keen to listen to the views of members. 'You can't turn the clock back and we have to look forward,' he added.

Mr Ulrych, who joined the second term of the entry level scheme, is keen to do more but is frustrated by the lack of 'joined-up' policy on whole landscape and wildlife manage-ment. He has left the overwhelming majority of the field grass margins from the era of compulsory set-aside around his fields of wheat, oilseed rape and sugar beet.

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Some margins have become slimmer but remain about four metres wide. And he is determined to support the aims of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which seeks to encourage land managers to leave field areas for wildlife. However, it is frustrating that my four-metre margins don't apparently 'tick the right box' because they're not at least six metres, he said.

'Surely a four-metre margin is more beneficial to wildlife on any farm than no margin. Basically, there's a lot going on farms which is not recorded for the CFE initiative because it doesn't tick a box,' said Mr Ulrych. The historic parkland is managed on a low input system, so it is not very productive.

'It has oak trees including some hundreds of years old. In the future we will have to look at re-planting and I'm thinking about going into the higher level scheme.'

And he has a nine-acre block of woodland, which is a county wildlife site. 'But there's no incentive to improve its management.'

He would like to see a broader approach, which encourages farmers and landowners to manage the farmed areas and woodland and other valued features to benefit the complete landscape.

'We've got to manage the land for food and for wildlife. It is going to much more important in the future because we're going to be asked to produce more food from less land and also provide an environment for the environment for the wildlife to flourish. And given some incentives, we could do that.'

And just across the road from his farm buildings is a field of Roman or English camomile. The flowers are harvested and distilled and the oil is marketed through Norfolk Essential Oils.