The sultry days of summer continue into August. Sue Bradley discovers how Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is helping farmers looking to make sense of new funding frameworks and gets to know a flower once regarded as having mystical powers
Britain’s departure from the European Union has opened the door to a number of reforms, with the environment and farming among the areas being tackled.
The Government wants to redesign its approach to agriculture, which accounts for 69% of the landscape in England, with its 25-year Environmental Plan declaring how it wants to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.
Key to this is a move away from the subsidies paid under the EU’S Common Agricultural Policy, replacing them with ‘public money for public goods’.
• Clean and plentiful water
• Clean air
• Reduced risk of harm from
• Mitigation of and adaptation to
• Thriving plants and wildlife • Beauty, heritage and engagement.
The Environmental Land Management (ELM) policy discussion document was launched in February and seeks to work with stakeholders to ‘co-design’ this new approach.
Before lockdown, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Senior Wildlife and Farming Manager Tim Bevan began liaising with farmers in the Cotswolds to discuss the ‘public goods’ they’re able to deliver, such as designating areas surrounding rivers as permanent pasture, which locks carbon into the land and provide buffers for nutrient residues used for arable crops; sowing pollen and nectar-rich wildflower margins and winter seed mixes, planting trees and hedgerows and improving soil quality to aid water retention and reduce the risk of flooding.
Dragonflies don’t bite or sting, despite being given the nicknames ‘devil’s darning needle’ and ‘horsebiters’ in various European countries over the centuries. These fragile insects are commonly found near water and are especially prevalent during warm, still summer days.
“In the future, farmers will be paid for delivering the public goods outlined within the ELM structure,” explains Tim. “Defra says it wants to consult farmers, other businesses and countryside organisations.
“The part that Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is playing is to produce land management plans showing how farmers are going to deliver on the six public goods, while continuing to produce food.”
Among the first farmers to work with the Trust is Edward Earnshaw, who has a small family farm covering 300 acres in Bourton-on-the-water. Most of his land is used for arable crops, with fields close to the River Windrush being put down to permanent pasture.
Currently Edward is involved in stewardship schemes, such as providing enhanced winter stubbles to increase the food available to insects and farmland birds. He has a number of wildflower plots, has planted a mile of hedgerows and is committed to reducing levels of fertilisers used on his arable fields.
Elsewhere he’s collaborated with a fishing syndicate working with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to make improvements on his farm’s section of the Windrush and helps the Cotswold Voluntary Wardens to maintain rights of way across the farm.
“Farm subsidies have helped protect farmers against volatility in global food production,” says Edward. “Working with the Trust has enabled us to get an early look at how things will be done differently in the future.”
When it comes to butterflies, few wildflowers can match the pulling power of black knapweed.
This tall, thistle-like plant, also known as common knapweed and Centaurea nigra, grows on all kinds of UK grassland, including farm meadows, heaths, moors and woodlands. It reaches around a metre in height and has deeply-divided, oblong leaves and pinkpurple flowers made up of many tiny blooms surrounded by a collar of modified leaves known as bracts.
Black knapweed blooms from June to September, during which time it’s visited by large numbers of butterflies, particularly the marbled white, common blue and meadow brown, along with various bees and other pollinating insects. Once the flowers have faded, the seedheads provide food for a range of birds, with plants dying back to ground level during the autumn and producing fresh growth in spring.
Black knapweed can be purchased for home gardens and has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Plants for Pollinators’ logo. It will grow in full sun or partial shade in moist but well-drained soils.
In olden times it’s said young women would pick black knapweed flowers, pull out the rays and wear the plucked heads in their blouses, watching eagerly for the florets to open, providing a sign that the man of her dreams was near.