Chris Packham talks of uniting conservation and farming on trip to East Anglia

(From left) Chris Packham and Martin Lines at Papley Grove Farm PICS: Ross Bentley

(From left) Chris Packham and Martin Lines at Papley Grove Farm PICS: Ross Bentley - Credit: Archant

On a recent visit to East Anglia, Chris Packham met chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Martin Lines​ - it was also a meeting of minds.

Chris Packham with bioblitz volunteers at Papley Grove Farm

Chris Packham with bioblitz volunteers at Papley Grove Farm - Credit: Archant

Martin Lines is on a mission to change the subects farmers discuss.

“At the end of harvest farmers meeting up in the pub will talk about tonnage, quality of produce and yields, but no-one mentions wildlife directly,” he said.

“But they should be talking about what they have done for wildlife on their farm. Farmers should be champions for wildlife.”

Mr Lines is certainly a champion for wildlife and in recent years has introduced a number of nature-friendly measures on his 460-acre family farm in Cambridgeshire where he grows winter cereals.

Wildflower margins have been planted to attract pollinators; cover crops sowed to hold in nutrients and reduce fertiliser use; while wildlife corridors have been created to connect natural features such as rivers, woodland and hedgerows.

He has also been instrumental in connecting like-minded farmers and is the chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network - an organisation that launched in January with a view to giving a greater voice to farmers who hold conservation at the heart of their work.

Bioblitz volunteers looking for butterflies at Papley Grove Farm

Bioblitz volunteers looking for butterflies at Papley Grove Farm - Credit: Archant

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“We want to take the best bits from farming and from conservation and bring them together,” he continued.

Last weekend Mr Lines welcomed TV wildlife presenter and campaigner Chris Packham to his farm where local naturalists organised by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Environmental Records Centre were carrying out a bioblitz to tie-in with a ten-day nationwide fact-finding campaign the celebrity has spearheaded.

Mr Packham described this visit as “one of the most important stops” of the campaign - with farming taking place on 70% of the country’s land, it is crucial, he says, that more farmers adopt environmentally friendly measures if the huge wildlife declines and lost of biodiversity that has taken place in post-war Britain is to be reversed.

Read more: Chris Packham brings bioblitz to Suffolk to shine light on plight of wildlife

Bioblitz volunteers at Papley Grove Farm

Bioblitz volunteers at Papley Grove Farm - Credit: Archant

He said; “We are going into Brexit and hope that we come out the other side with an opportunity to reform the way farming takes place in the UK. It needs restructuring - and if it’s relieved from the negative burden of the Common Agricultural Policy then we do have the opportunity to sculpt a new method that suits farmers, consumers who eat the food, and nature conservation.

“We want to work with the farmers to make sure we improve the quality of the farmed environment because we are losing the battle without them.

“It’s essential we work in a far more co-operative way with farmers, such as Martin, who are doing great things - he’s a profitable farmer who is producing good quality, healthy food.”

Mr Packham, who is also planning a People’s Walk for Wildlife through London in September, said there were still farmers “who are showing no interest in the future environment” and “still using way too many insecticides, herbicides and fertilisers” but pointed to a new generation of progressive farmers and conservationists, who he hoped would push through meaningful change.

He continued; “Martin is an intelligent, bright man who has seen the need for change; has explored and experimented with methods of change; found those which are productive; implemented them and then thought ‘I’m not the only one’.

“He’s found a raft of others who he has united into the Nature Friendly Farming Network and as far I’m concerned this is one of the most important stops on our bioblitz. To come and hear him saying the things he is saying are so reflective of my own views - it means their is a real partnership between conservation and farming.”

Mr Packham added; “I may not say the same thing to the man down the road who is chucking neonicotinoids about, and pumping loads of glycosates into the environment - I’m going to be over there having a pretty stiff conversation with him but I know I can do that off the back of knowing I have a partner in Martin - a farmer who is forward-thinking and who wants a secure future for his family and his fraternity.”