Dairy farmers supplying to Waitrose Wildcare scheme are excelling at providing wildlife habitats on their farms. With the national average of set aside land on farms for wildlife at between 5% and 10% the Wildcare suppliers are setting aside an average of 25% and some are setting aside up to 30% of their farmland for wildlife.
The Waitrose Wildcare scheme was set up in 2006 to try and introduce a balance between dairy farming and biodiversity. Under the scheme the 60 dairy suppliers are required to set aside a minimum of 10% of their land for nature. In addition each farm has it’s own Farm Wildlife Action Plan to put in place a series of actions to boost the diversity of wildlife on the farm. The scheme works closely with the local Wildlife Trust and each farms individual action plan ties in with the county’s own Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
Farmers taking part in the scheme undertake a detailed annual assessment to measure the effectiveness of the farm action plan and receive expert management advice on a range of issues of concern to nature conservation including:
- Management of farm woodland and hedgerow trees
- Creation and ongoing management of field margins
- Creation of ponds and the maintenance of existing ones
- Restriction of grazing from edges of watercourses
- Management of wetland areas
- Restoration and ongoing management of hedgerows
- Management of meadows
- Protection of the nest sites of ground-nesting birds through farm operations and implementing bird friendly silage making practices
- Reduction of potential pollution, by avoiding the application and run off of slurry and fertilizers into adjacent managed habits.
In exchange for the extra work involved Waitrose pays a premium on the price of milk. Despite the short amount of time that the scheme has been operating there is already positive signs.
Wild Orchids return
On a number of Wildcare farms across southern England rare orchids are returning to the countryside. With additional land being taken out of the working farm these delicate plants get the chance to thrive once more. “They are ‘delicate’ species with a complex lifecycle making them poorly equipped to cope within some working farm environments,” said Waitrose WildCare manager Tim Oliver. Under the Wildcare scheme, he said wild orchids had, however, now been identified on farms “across Dorset, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Somerset“.
“Meanwhile, the farms are efficiently producing over 100 million litres of milk per year,” said Oliver.
Butterflies thrives on farmland
54% of the UK’s 67 species of butterflies have been spotted on Wildcare farms. One farm, Caundle Marsh near Sherborne, has seen 40% of the species on it’s land. The farm also saw 3 species of the countries most endangered butterflies – Dingy Skipper, the White-letter Hairstreak and the Small Heath – living on it. Butterflies are an ideal indicator species and if butterflies are doing well then most of the other wildlife will be thriving.
Brown hares leaping back
Brown hares on Wildcare farms are bouncing back with an increase in numbers of up-to 35%. Action undertaken by Wildcare farmers included planting areas of grassland to break up large cereal crop fields. Maintain hedgerows to provide additional cover for hares, leaving winter stubble to provide winter protection and when cutting for silage they cut from the centre of the field outward to allow hares to escape the harvesters.
The Wildcare scheme demonstrates that intensive farming techniques need not result in the destruction of wildlife habitats and that, diary farming at least, can be wildlife friendly. The milk produced under the Wildcare scheme is sold under the Waitrose Essentials brand.
photo credit: AndyRob