Preliminary Farm Wildlife Assessment
Undertaking a preliminary farm assessment is the first phase of identifying areas of interest and opportunity. Here, preliminary assessment refers to a desktop review and an initial farm visit.
Prior to farm visit - desktop resources
Invest time and resources in a pragmatic due diligence review of available desktop information. Be informed of the priority habitats and species either on the farm or in the surrounding area, and potential connectivity opportunities. Some sources of information:
- Multi Agency Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC) an interactive map with layered information including; designations, habitats and species, and land based schemes
- Environmental information in Wales (Lle)
- Scotland environment information and data
- Northern Ireland Natural Environment Map viewer (NIEA)
- Natural Biodiversity Network (NBN)
- Catchment Based Approach (CaBA)
- Local Records Centres, costs notwithstanding
- Build and use a network of personal contacts within local wildlife groups, specialist natural history societies and eNGOs to add to and corroborate wildlife data
- Local Nature Partnerships
- Local Nature Recovery Strategies, Priority habitats and species will also be focused on within the future Local Nature Recovery Strategies (in England), and linkage with agri-environment schemes. Where applicable, check equivalent strategies and linkages with agri-environment schemes in the devolved countries.
Generate a map of the farm annotated with basic information from the desktop review, along with any necessary survey forms, and have them either printed or in a digital format.
Where appropriate, have an initial conversation by phone or email, to confirm date, time and location of meeting.
Talking and maps
1. First and foremost, have a conversation with the farmer – ideally an individual who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the farm. (see Communicating with farmers).
2. Understanding the farmer’s objectives is an important first step. This will include any general (improving habitats for pollinators and natural pest predators), or specific wildlife interests. Farmers are more likely to initiate and maintain conservation activity if it is built on their existing interests and passions.
3. Building a good relationship is key and it also enables the adviser to better understand the farmer and the farm. Allow digression into other non-wildlife topics (e.g. current farming affairs, weather etc) if it develops. Listening to the farmer and showing interest in what matters to them is not only key to building a good relationship and respect, but also to steer your role as their advisor.
4. Have a user friendly sized hard copy map of farm or best approximated area. Check boundaries with the farmer [who may be able to offer a copy of their farm map], and/or confirm information from preliminary desktop information. This might include designated sites, AES participation, etc. Get baseline information correct from the start, including immediate history of land use changes and what has gone before.
5. Use the map to check the best and most appropriate route around farm and parking locations. An ideal would be to travel with the farmer especially if it is a large farm, as this is an opportunity to listen to the farmer’s perspectives on specific wildlife areas and features of the farm.
6. You should be aiming to have added to the mapped parts of the farm included in 4 above, an overall physical map of farm wildlife opportunities and restrictions, which will include the wildlife resources that the farm provides. The Farm Wildlife six key actions can be used as a checklist or framework: Existing Habitats, Field Boundaries, Wet Features, Flower-rich Habitats, Seed-rich Habitats, Farmed Area.
Farm and Farmer
7. To maximise potential wildlife improvements, it is essential to understand the mechanics of the farming operation. This includes issues such as tenure (owner occupier, short- or long-term tenancies etc), and succession (this can be a hugely significant issue to any longer-term plans but be aware it is a potentially sensitive subject). An understanding of what activities are caried out on the farm and why is necessary if you are to seek to alter/change these activities.
8. Ascertain relationships with neighbouring farmers – especially if planning potential landscape scale activity and linkages with common habitats etc.
9. Most farmers have a network of commercial relationships with organisations/people including agronomists, land agents, contract farming operations, etc. Build an outline understanding of how these impact and influence the farmer and farm operations, including how they directly and indirectly impact wildlife conservation activity on the farm.
10. Towards the end of an initial visit, the farm environment adviser should be able to demonstrate to the farmer some of the potential benefits, including species beneficiaries, for any proposed works as well as how the farm and the farmer themself might benefit.
11. Game shooting interests, regardless of their effects, can be an important lever for farmers participating in agri-environmental schemes. It is important to understand the farmer’s aspirations, to help plan for biodiversity improvements.
12. The visit would not normally be recorded either in audio or video. At this initial stage it is suggested this is not undertaken or requested. There may seem a lot of differing points to raise, discuss and to check, but points can be reiterated throughout the visit, key points annotated on map(s) and your own notes recorded on a dictaphone or using a voice recording app.