2,500 hectares of farmland dedicated to wildlife habitat
September 2011. Celebrating a scheme that’s seen land totalling the equivalent of 4,000 football pitches being dedicated to wildlife friendly habitats, the Waitrose WildCare scheme marks its fifth anniversary this month.
“We are talking a large area,” comments Tim Oliver who heads up the scheme. “Dairy farmers who supply milk and cream to Waitrose are on average dedicating 25% of their overall farmland to wildlife habitats – amounting to 2,500 hectares of land. It’s above and beyond what we ever thought could be achieved when the scheme was launched five years ago.”
First rolled out in 2006, Waitrose WildCare was designed to be a flexible and pragmatic scheme with the primary objective of improving plant and wildlife habitats across the farms, a focus which, as the scheme reaches its fifth year milestone, is still held today. “Our strategy to target habitat rather than species has been rewarded,” reflects Tim. “Tailoring our advice to focus on what will deliver the greatest benefit to wildlife on each individual farm has allowed us to take into account the geography and location that are unique to every holding, so that we offer bespoke rather than blanket advice.
“There are some key components to the WildCare approach including, advice on good hedgerow management, implementing wildlife buffer zones and encouraging farmers to leave cereal stubbles over winter; but we have found that many of the 60 dairy farmers within the scheme are going well beyond the minimum criteria: planting wild bird seed mixtures, creating pollen and nectar strips, digging ponds and providing winter food,” comments Tim.
Waitrose Dairy Farmers
WildCare works with Waitrose Dairy Farmers, to encourage farming practices that benefit wildlife.
The Waitrose Dairy Farmers group, launched in 1999 (originally called the Select Farm Milk Group), now includes 60 farms – producing high quality milk, through efficient, ethical and sustainable farming practices. Waitrose has consistently paid one of the market’s highest prices for milk. By paying a premium, Waitrose enables its dairy farmers to meet costs, make a profit and reinvest in their dairies. The Waitrose Dairy Farmers Milk Scheme reflects the long-term commitment Waitrose has with Dairy Crest and this forward-thinking group of dairy farmers. The scheme also demonstrates Waitrose’s support for the Government’s strategy of balancing high quality with efficiency, in order to create a profitable and sustainable dairy farming economy.
The group’s milk is sold under the essential Waitrose brand.
Take Ashton Hawkers dairy farm in Wiltshire, which dedicates a remarkable 30% of land to wildlife habitats, since joining the scheme in 2006 Ashton has re-dug 11 ponds that were previously filled in, in the 1970’s. “The farm is located near the River Avon and has excellent water-bird habitats in the ponds and woodlands,” comments Ashton. “As well as developing the ponds, I’ve switched to spring barley cropping allowing us to leave land fallow during winter, providing good food habitat and excellent cover for birds.”
Commenting on his experiences since joining WildCare, Ashton believes he has learnt a lot and got so much out of it. “Seeing the increase in wildlife numbers is the best thing, it’s living proof that the changes we’ve been making have worked,” he remarks.
150 bird species, 42 butterflies, orchids, hares
Tim reports on the success across all of the WildCare farms. “We now almost have almost 150 bird species recorded, 42 out of a possible 67 butterfly species and 19 farms with orchids present. Sightings of hares have also doubled since the scheme began and every farm now holds breeding populations of the red listed Yellowhammer with sightings trebling.” He adds, “We are particularly glad to see threatened farmland species, such as Corn Bunting, increasingly taking up residence on the participating farms. It just goes to show how relatively small changes in habitat management and farming practices can have an enormous impact on wildlife.”