For around the last 15 years, the farm has been part of an environmental scheme, run by the government and Natural England, called the Entry Level Scheme. This was a pretty basic program – anyone who entered would be accepted – which meant we placed some grass strips around the place and did a few other bits and pieces. In addition, we were also accepted into the Higher Level Scheme, which was a competitive process. We were successful here because, by luck more than judgement, our farm is environmentally quite interesting. We have three SSSIs, and provide good habitats for a few rare birds as well. Last October, 2016, these schemes ran out, and we moved into an entirely new program called Countryside Stewardship. Once again, we were able to get into the competitive Higher Tier, so we must have been doing at least something right over the last decade.
The amount of land we have set aside for Countryside Stewardship is around double what we used for the old schemes, taking up something like 10% of the entire farm. Ever since harvest we have been busy putting in all the new plots that were needed; margins for wildflowers, rare arable plants, and grass buffers as well as plots for ground nesting birds, winter bird feed and pollen & nectar areas to feed insects. This should make the countryside around us a nicer place to be, but also I’d like to think it will benefit the farm directly as well. I’m hoping they will provide great areas for all our beneficial insects to live, which can go and eat all the nasties in our crops – meaning we can use fewer pesticides.
One of the really big changes from moving into this new system is that the government has changed its mind on allowing access onto these wildlife strips. Whereas they used to encourage it, it has now been decided that people must keep off. This means that some areas of the farm which have been permissive access paths for many years, are now no longer accessible. The single biggest alteration is in the area between Thriplow and the B1368. There used to be a path that looped around this whole block, but it is now entirely gone. However, all of our farm tracks are still open, as they have been since the ‘70s, and in a couple of places we have kept the Permissive Access routes by removing areas from the environmental scheme. It is a bit confusing, and I will put up some signs to make it clear where the changes are, but the best thing to do is to check here. There are still over 7 miles of accessible paths on the farm, so please do respect the changes and keep off the nature reserves. Thank you!