Huge farm network is helping rare Brecks wildlife in field margins

Breckland Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen and fellow councillor Ian Sherwood met the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network

Breckland Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen (second right) and fellow councillor Ian Sherwood (centre) met farmers from the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network - Credit: Breckland Council

Farmers met council leaders to show how uncropped field margins across a huge network of land can help develop a more biodiverse Breckland.

The Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network, launched earlier this year, now has over 50 members covering more than 100,000 acres.

Believed to be the largest farmland cluster in lowland UK, it aims to protect and enhance the special wildlife of the Brecks, guided by a UEA-led biodiversity audit in 2010 which catalogued 12,843 species - many of which are found nowhere else in the country.

Breckland Council leader Sam Chapman-Allen and Ian Sherwood, member champion for Breckland sustainable strategy, were shown how uncropped cultivated margins are a key part of the strategy.

The strips are carefully located on field edges identified by new analytical tools which predict where Brecks wildlife is most likely to thrive.

The councillors were told that these uncropped margins can allow wildflowers and rare arable weeds to grow, supporting a wide range of insects and birds. Over time, these can then act as predators against insects that can destroy crops.

A farm in Brettenham, near Thetford, where uncropped cultivated margins have been in operation for 20 years, has now developed into an ideal environment for typical Breckland arable flowers like viper's bugloss, the rare common cudweed and poppies, which attract insects like ladybirds and hoverflies.

Other farmers following similar practices over the last 10 years have reported the return of breeding turtle doves and stone curlews.

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West Harling-based farmer Richard Evans said: “Breckland farmers have a huge opportunity to build on the science through targeted habitat creation, linking these margins, creating a wildlife network of fields, that target the best areas for our threatened wildlife, rather than an untargeted patchwork.

"We were delighted to meet with Breckland Council, where we could highlight the importance of this ground-breaking project and how by working in partnership with organisations like the UEA, Plantlife and government agencies, we hope to improve biodiversity in the Brecks."

Cultivated arable margins are a key conservation tool within the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network

Cultivated arable margins are a key conservation tool within the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network - Credit: Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network

Mr Chapman-Allen said: “We have an incredibly constructive and positive meeting with members from the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Group and will be exploring ways of supporting their efforts both locally, regionally and on a national platform.

"The introduction of cultivated margins, which has been backed by scientific research, offers a great opportunity to develop a more biodiverse Breckland, increased farming yields, whilst reducing pesticide use."