RSPB and farmers celebrate the completion of Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone project
- Credit: Sarah Coulson
Farmers, conservationists and schoolchildren in The Fens are celebrating the culmination of a three-year project aiming to build closer links between agriculture, wildlife and communities.
The Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone (NFZ) is a landscape partnership which brought together 12 Fenland farmers, whose combined land covers 4,000 hectares in an area encompassing the borders between Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
As well as managing plots of their land specifically for farmland birds, the NFZ farmers have helped the project engage with more than 2,000 people in the Fens through a range of community outreach events, from wildlife workshops to farm walks and school visits.
Patrick Allpress of Allpress Farms, near Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, who joined the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone in 2015, said it was important to spread the message about the importance of wildlife-friendly stewardship.
'It's important to have nature in mind when farming as everything we do can affect the balance of nature,' he said. 'As well as cultivating the fields we're responsible for looking after miles of ditches, many trees and hedges, field grass margins, conservation headlands, wild bird mixed covers and over-wintered stubbles, which all can create a habitat and have a positive impact on nature. The Fens is a special area with big large open spaces and we should be doing everything we can to encourage nature.'
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Conservation bodies including the RSPB are working with commercial farmers to increase the uptake of nature-friendly practices, in a bid to reverse the decline of farmland wildlife such as turtle doves and tree sparrows whose numbers have declined by more than 90pc since the 1970s.
RSPB community engagement officer Gemma Wells worked closely with the Ouse Washes Nature Friendly Zone farmers. She said: 'I'm really proud to have been involved in this project and played a part, however small, in helping generate more understanding in the Fens of what wildlife-friendly farming is and why it's needed.
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'Three quarters of our land in the UK – even more in Cambridgeshire – is farmed. It goes without saying that farmland is an important home for wildlife, as well as being the source of the food we eat. Sadly, some of our fastest declining species, such as turtle doves and tree sparrows, make their homes in farmland.
'Farmers like Patrick Allpress and others in the Ouse Washes NFZ are on the front line, and by helping spread wildlife-friendly farming practices and techniques they are giving vulnerable farmland wildlife a lifeline.'
The establishment of the Ouse Washes NFZ and the delivery of the project's community outreach work was part of the Heritage Lottery-funded Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme.
The ongoing scheme focuses on the promotion of the area surrounding the Ouse Washes, the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens, and on encouraging community engagement with the area's heritage.
WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY FARMING FILMS
As the three-year project comes to a close, the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership is launching two short films (shown above) about wildlife-friendly farming as part of the continuing campaign to build public awareness of the efforts of nature-friendly farmers like those in the Ouse Washes.
One of the films is an animated introduction to wildlife-friendly farming, and the other features children from Manea Community Primary School, near Ely, during one of the project's school outreach sessions as well as the manager of the RSPB's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire speaking about the work being done on the farm to test real-world solutions to farmland wildlife decline.
For more information about Nature Friendly Zones, click here.