On August 21st The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust hosted a number of young professionals at their Allerton Project. The Allerton Project was started in 1992 and has played an important role in influencing agricultural policy through its research into how we can have a productive farm, which is great for conservation too.
Two of our trainee land agents attended the afternoon event, where they benefited from Dr Alastair Leake’s expert knowledge. The main topics covered in the lecture and farm walk were Agriculture and Conservation, but these included the benefits of subsequent Gamekeeping to not just Game, but to Song birds, hares and other animal species and a really interesting talk for us on land drainage. Land drainage does not sound that exciting but it is and run off problems have very much come to the forefront in recent years, with town and village flooding. It was great to hear how this can be prevented or at least not made worse by farming.
The project is a research and education facility, but also operates as a commercial farm. The farm has arable land, pasture and some woodland. The Allerton Project has had three main objectives since its commencement in 1992. These are;
- Combining productive farming with practical conservation
- Research the interaction between farming, conservation, resource management and the environment
- Disseminate the results for the benefit of farmers to policy makers and others (us!)
The project uses three core principles to improve the conservation of Song birds on the Estate.
These are habitat management, winter feeding and predator control. When combining these three methods and even with modern farming, the results have been spectacular.
Between 1992 and 2001, the project had managed to double song bird numbers on the farm. The farm manager was fully involved and the least productive areas on the farm were converted to either winter feed mixes or cover crops (also for Game management). National averages had shown that as wheat yields continued to rise, song bird numbers decreased. The project had managed to double song bird numbers whilst continuing to also increase their wheat yields. A real win!
Getting there has been costly, but the project is having a real impact in increasing land managers and farmers understanding. Shoot days are sold to generate revenue needed to support the ongoing work.
Song birds share the same resources as Game birds, therefore if you manage land for the benefit of Game species you also benefit song birds and other farmland bird species. The project uses trail cameras to record their winter feeders. The results showed that song birds used the feeders more than the Game birds! This emphasises the importance of Game management on the greater biodiversity on an Estate/farm.
The main points to take from the day were that ‘sustainable intensification’ should apply to both the production systems and the environment. The key is to increase crop output from the most productive land and increase wildlife on the least productive land.