Agriculture in England

Bale lifting agriculture 1000x (c) Tom Lord.jpg

Bale lifting on Lower Winskill Farm, Yorkshire. © Tom Lord

A walk through most of our farmed countryside today is a dispiriting experience - it’s certainly green but where has the colour gone?

Lowland meadows are sliding towards extinction. Once part of every farm, they are now no longer part of the living fabric of the countryside but instead exist as tiny enclaves of flower-rich beauty in a sea of industrial grassland – bright patches amongst what might as well be, botanically, green concrete. In the uplands, traditionally managed hay meadows are now few and far between.

As you travel through National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty such as the Lake District, the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales, the skeleton of dry stone walls and the impressive physical landscape are still there but much of the botanical richness is gone. On arable farmland, management intensification has probably gone further than anywhere else. Once familiar cornfield flowers are now of conservation concern, with species such as corn buttercup and small-flowered catchfly going from ‘weed’ to ‘rarity’ in just a few decades.

However, it doesn’t have to be an inexorable decline. Farmland plants underpin the natural systems that support the growth of the rural economy and public subsidies could work for the majority of them. It’s just that in its current form, Environmental Stewardship, it mostly hasn’t. The design of the two-tiered scheme has resulted in a high uptake of the broad and shallow Entry Level Scheme (ELS) by farmers. Yet, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds of public money which has gone into it, ELS, as currently implemented has resulted in little real ecological gain for the majority of our threatened farmland flora. 80% of threatened lowland meadow flowers are not supported by ELS options nor are 72% of threatened upland meadow flowers.

The Higher Level Scheme (HLS) is more "narrow and deep" and really could make a substantial difference to the fortunes of farmland flowers and the wildlife they support but needs to receive a greater proportion of the funds available to make the difference it could. This is what Plantlife is campaigning for.

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And on that farm... (England)

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