Smarter engagement and co-design with more land managers could deliver more wildlife. Sometimes at little public cost.
The collective skills, ‘public goods’ to use the modern parlance, of which farmers and land managers hold, have huge untapped environmental benefit.
“I wonder if we recognise the tens of thousands of farmers in our own country as indigenous experts” Natural England adviser
Some context first. Policies under the past Common Agric Policy (CAP) have not served wildlife well. Just one example would be an interim reform of the CAP, when ‘greening’ ended up as a red herring blacking out any meaningful benefit to biodiversity.
The CAP ‘landscape’ has eroded trust around how land managers look after nature. It has led to anxiety in thinking that only use of ‘the stick‘ (enforcing regulation, protective land designations) will deliver wildlife.
But waving a stick is rarely conducive to encouraging long term restoration of wildlife (a press release from 5.11.20).
There is plenty of research which demonstrates that voluntary environmental work, urm, works. A paper (Voluntary non-monetary approaches for implementing conservation) concludes, with a ‘clarion call to scientists’: ‘nudging’ rather than ‘shoving’ farmers might facilitate more conservation on private land. (Pdf here)
Study farmers, get wildlife
It’s been mooted for yonks. This paper from over 20 years ago is still relevant, but neglected as no one really bothers to ask those on the ground. ‘Behavioural ecology of farmers: what does it mean for wildlife?’ It’s a no-brainer…as the short paper explains farmers’ attitudes towards conservation, and how this can be used to reach them.
Research on ‘Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of their behaviour’ (pdf here), points towards empowering more balanced partnerships. Govt agencies and eNGOs might deliver more wildlife or better soils by working closer with land managers. See this paper as well. This researcher (the late Simon Leather) nails the importance of peer-to-peer knowledge exchange in the field, not the ‘lab’ or lecture hall.
Wildlife on my watch
There is massive opportunity under the new Agriculture Act 2020 to do more. For farmers, wardens, rangers, gamekeepers, foresters – land managers all – to deliver more for the environment. Either by a wider range of ‘public goods’ not yet unpacked, or by improving land use productivity: which in turns provides more space for nature. Buy a precision application sprayer to enable better management of an existing old hedge, rather than plant new ones with plastic tubes.
“In my view once you understand what you have got, you don’t need countryside stewardship. People in general do not want to screw up the environment and if farmers and landowners actually know what nature they’ve got on their land, their behaviours will change. They want to demonstrate why their place is special and why they, as a private landowner, can be trusted to look after the land”
John Varley – Clinton Estates director, SW England
All of this could result in less dependency on public funded agri-enviro schemes (ELM, in whatever form). A boon at a time of tussles over cash.
So, let’s lose the phobia of seeking to ‘own’ the conservation arena. Or even lead the narrative around nature-positive. It’s better to create the space to understand farmers and land managers et al, to work collaboratively in setting out their collective trove of environmental skills for all our benefit.
Science Rocks blog with link to new Rural Science page
60 sec vlog (Dec 2021) – 16kviews in 24hrs
Updated Dec 2022