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Chichester Harbour Conservancy is encouraging farmers in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to take part in the national Big Farmland Bird Count taking place between the 7th and 15th February this year.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) initiated the Big Farmland Bird Count in 2014 to help farmers and gamekeepers monitor and highlight the success of any conservation management they are undertaking on their land. Land managers are vital in helping to ensure the future survival of many of our most cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, corn buntings and wild grey partridges. They are also responsible for managing the country’s largest songbird habitat on their land but frequently their efforts to reverse bird declines go largely unrecorded. It’s hoped that the count will give farmers an opportunity to not only discover the different range of birds on their farms but also to encourage them to keep their own wildlife records and contribute to national figures.
The survey involves farmers counting birds on one area of the farm for 30 minutes and then submitting their results to the GWCT. The 2014 count was very successful and almost three times as many farmers from all over the county have already registered for 2015.
Find out more by visiting www.gwct.org.uk
The total area of farmland within the AONB is 2,324 hectares. This represents 54% of the overall land use. Agricultural land management is therefore an important activity with land managers playing a key role in shaping the harbour's landscape. The way land is used has an impact on both wildlife and our enjoyment of the area.
Land managers face challenges in the future from climate change, changing crop patterns, increased summer irrigation and the need to protect rare and declining wildlife. In addition, there is increased demand for local produce and the need to engage with communities. The Conservancy in partnership with other organisations provides support and advice to farmers.
Chichester Harbour's location brings many benefits to farmers. The Isle of Wight gives protection and shelter from strong winds. The flat, coastal plain attracts high light and UV levels making it ideal for salad crops and soft fruit. In addition, being in the south of England, the area is relatively warm and frost-free. Although soils vary considerably, much farmland consists of clay and clay loams with some lighter silt deposits.
The type of farming has a direct impact on the landscape.
* Open Arable Farming - fields are surrounded by ditches to provide drainage. Few hedgerows exist but the fields support many mature oak standards. Much of the land is devoted to autumn sown winter cereals, oil seed rape and field beans. Main crop vegetables such as potatoes, leeks and brussel sprouts are grown for local markets.
* Livestock & Dairy Farming - these farmers use grass leys as an important component of crop rotation providing grazing pasture, silage and hay. 300 hectares is coastal grazing marsh. This unimproved grassland provides important wildlife habitats as a result of traditional management techniques. These marshes are used to raise beef cattle.
Farming supports a number of important habitats. The lightly grazed coastal grazing marsh hides the nests of skylark in the summer and provides important feeding grounds for over-wintering waders such as Curlew and Redshank. Unimproved wetland meadows support Green Winged and Southern Marsh orchids.
Aquatic and marginal vegetation can be found along farm ditches, streams and ponds. In addition, these areas provide refuge for the nationally rare Water Vole which make burrows in the banks. Careful ditch management is helping Water Voles to thrive in the AONB.
Hedgerows provide an important source of nectar for insects and nesting sites for farmland birds. They also work as wildlife corridors giving cover to Pipestrelle bats as they forage for insects. By managing hedges in rotation, hedges can flower and produce fruit and seed valued by farmland birds during the autumn and winter months.
Grass margins left around fields help protect hedgerows from fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides. Yellow Hammers and Linnets often nest in these areas.
No-spray zones and conservation headlands along the edges of crops enable rare arable weeds such as Spreading Hedge Parsley, Shepherds Needle and Grass-poly to survive.
Large open arable fields are favoured by Brown Hare. Over-winter stubble provides an important seed source for Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. Spring cereals are favoured by Linnets and Lapwing which nest on bare soil within the growing crop.
Small copses and woodland are an important feature of the harbour's landscape. Coppiced alder helps to maintain a rare population of Desoulin's Whorl Snail. New planting of native species of oak, ash, hazel and wild cherry provide new habitats and help to protect the wooded character of the shoreline for the future.
The landscape we see today is the direct result of land management through the ages. Settlement pattern, parish boundaries and even the shape of individual fields have all been influenced by the past. In the past land has been reclaimed from the sea and some of this now forms species-rich meadows. Today, the drive for agriculture to meet the needs of the 21st century provides both an opportunity and a threat to the unique character of the landscape.
The economic challenges facing farmers within the AONB are no different to farmers throughout the UK. Many national trends are reflected in our local farms. For example, there has been a decline in the number of dairy farms and the total number of livestock. The number of viable farms has diminished and farm sizes increased to cope with scales of production.
The marketing of local produce is a growing opportunity for farmers, along with diversification into new areas such as education and tourism. Grants are often available to help farmers find alternative uses for redundant farm buildings or to develop projects which bring an environmental and economic benefit to the community.
Agricultural land management is the single most important activity affects the character of the countryside within the AONB. In turn this has an impact on the welfare of wildlife. Farmers have to respond to changing demands. In future there may be increased demand for bio-fuels which would affect which crops are planted. In turn this can have an impact on wildlife and the character of the countryside. The Conservancy will continue to work with farmers to ensure that wildlife and habitats are conserved and enhanced where possible.
Individually we do all make a difference. Just small changes in our lifestyle can make a larger difference.
Local Produce - buying locally has benefits for both the consumer and producer. Buying from local farm shops or box schemes helps reduce food miles and gives vital support to local farmers. In addition, it helps the local economy, reduces the environmental cost of food production and increases the health of the local population. It is good to know where our food comes from and in turn safeguard the important wildlife and characteristic landscape of the AONB.
Local suppliers include:
* Southbourne Farm Shop
* Treagust Butchers, Emsworth
* Stoke Fruit Farm Shop, Hayling Island
* Three Harbours Beef
* Chichester Farmer's Market (1st & 3rd Friday each month)
* Veg Out box scheme (01243 649145)
* Tuppenny Barn Organic veg bag scheme
Even if you haven't got large fields, most residents within the AONB have gardens. The way you manage your land can have an impact on the way the AONB looks. The rural character of the harbour can be maintained by planting native species of trees such as English Oak, Ash, Common Alder, Willow. Rather than using fences or walls on boundaries, plant native hedgerows such as Hawthorn, Holly, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel.
See the Landscape Character Assessment for your area for more ideas.
By joining the Friends, you can get involved with practical conservation tasks throughout the AONB. The work is not too strenous and is a good way to make friends and see parts of the AONB not always accessible to the public.
Please get in contact with Chichester Harbour Conservancy for free advice and information about grant schemes that may be suitable for your land.
Business Link - free business advice and support service, available online and through local business advisers. www.businesslink.gov.uk
Environment Agency - guidance on environmental issues that are relevant to businesses. www.environment-agency.gov.uk
National Farmers Union - champions British farmers and provides professional representation and services to farmers and grower members. www.nfuonline.com
Country Land & Business Association - the membership organisation for owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales. www.cla.org.uk
Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is a Government Department in the UK working to secure a healthy environment in which we and future generations can prosper. www.defra.gov.uk
Natural England - provide a wide range of information useful to farmers and land managers. www.naturalengland.org.uk
SEEDA - manages a range of local business grants schemes. www.seeda.co.uk
Rural Payments Agency - make rural payments, carry out rural inspections, and livestock tracing. www.rpa.gov.uk
English Heritage - helps people understand, value, care for and enjoy England's historic environment. www.english-heritage.org.uk
Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre - collect, manage and disseminate wildlife data, providing an information service for the whole of Sussex. www.sxbrc.org.uk
Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre - works to conserve and enhance biodiversity in Hampshire for all who live in or visit the county. www.hampshirebiodiversity.org.uk