March 2021 - Uncultivated field margins are intended for wildlife

Published in Charlbury Chronicle March 2021

We are fortunate that several farmers and estates in this area are trying to make a positive contribution to conserving the environment and increasing biodiversity by leaving unploughed field margins around some of their fields. Payments are made under current environmental stewardship schemes to maintain a 4m to 6m buffer strip (field margin); these payments help to offset the money they could have made from farming the margins instead.

The Rural Payments Agency and Natural England state that ‘A grass buffer strip may provide new habitat, protect existing landscape features, and improve water quality’ - a really wonderful thing. However, there are restrictions: for example, the land must NOT be used for access (including by the public) the aim being that it should be a refuge for nature to encourage increased biodiversity, undisturbed by trampling. Payments to the farmers can be withheld if the conditions are seen to be breached. Unfortunately, some people have chosen to ignore or even remove signs put up by farmers regarding access; such removal means that we may be unaware of restrictions and, unwittingly, be the cause of such a breach.

Field margins are really important zones for our diminishing wildlife, including flowers, insects, small mammals and birds throughout the year, and it is important to create corridors and connections for wildlife across the landscape. The new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will go even further to reward farmers for adopting environmentally sustainable farming practices, so in time, we hope to see even more land being managed to help the ecology and biodiversity around us. However, if we walk (with or without dogs), ride etc on these margins, we will not only adversely affect the wildlife but also adversely affect the likelihood of these margins being implemented or retained.
As a community, let’s work together to support the efforts of our farmers by respecting the restrictions regarding the margins and use instead our local network of public footpaths which are all clearly marked. And to the farmers, it would be great to have even more support for wildlife, and more field margins for plants and wildlife.