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    • Yesterday I attended a meeting where a group of farmers in West Sussex were looking at the possibilities of expanding their conservation work beyond the farm boundary by adopting a ‘cluster’ farm approach.  As we all know, wildlife doesn’t know where one farm ends and the other begins, so this seems like a great idea to me.

      The area in question has been mapped to show all of the priority habitats such as ancient woodland and chalk grassland, as well as designations including SSSI’s and county wildlife sites.  On top of this, key farmland birds, rare arable plants, butterflies and bats have also been included to show what lives where.  It is hoped that all of this information can be used to inform future conservation work, and to make sure that farm habitats are linked up across the landscape.

      Each farmer will be playing their part, be it through agri-environment schemes such as ELS and HLS, Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) as part of greening, or other work they may be undertaking through initiatives such as the South Downs Way Ahead Nature Improvement Area (NIA).  Individual farms will still have their own schemes and projects, but by adopting this approach, all of their work will be considered as a whole to benefit wildlife and habitats in the cluster area.

      Landscape scale conservation is a widely used phrase now, and one that I think is here to stay.  Recent projects such as the NIAs have embraced this, and it looks like the new agri-environment scheme, NELMS, may include an element of cooperation across farm boundaries.  This is still to be decided, but it might be worth thinking about what you are doing in relation to your neighbours, and how you could link up any conservation management between your farms.  Who knows, it may even stand you in good stead to access agri-environment funds in the future.

      The rolling South Downs landscape - an opportunity to think about conservation across farm boundaries

      The rolling South Downs landscape - an opportunity to think about conservation across farm boundaries

      This message was added on Friday 31st October 2014