FOR most farmers it can be difficult to know where to start when considering how to improve environmental measures on their farm.

With so many different factors to consider and little time, such considerations can start to feel like just another pressure.

The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) has been working with farmers to improve environmental protection since 2008. Yesterday, to celebrate it's tenth birthday, the scheme held a special re-launch event at Clinton Devon Estates.

Now re-branded as 'Championing the Farmed Environment', the scheme will be continuing with it's aims to inspire and enable every farm to adopt practices that will conserve the wildlife and natural resources on their land. Representatives from organisations across the South West attended yesterday's event to show their solidarity and offer support towards developing this vital area of farming. Speeches were made by representatives from CFE, The NFU, Clinton Devon Estates and Westcountry Rivers Trust alongside Farmer Sam Walker of Stantyway Farm.

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Representatives from organisations across the South West attended yesterday's event

CFE have broken down the issues that farmers need to consider into four themes: soil, water, air and wildlife.

They are working with a wide range of specialist organisations across these subject matters, acting as a voice for farmers and the issues involved in farming. In return, they will take the knowledge and successes of these specialists and cascade them out to the farming sector.

At the relaunch event, Becky Hughes from CFE South West (pictured above) emphasised the need for sound policy to be put in place, alongside the need to ensure that farmers know where they can go for trusted, reliable guidance about these issues. CFE has encountered fear amongst farmers that they may receive fines if they draw attention to themselves by asking organisations for help or advice. Some farmers were said to feel that the damage was already done and there was little they could now do to change things.

Becky said: "The positive messages aren’t out there about how much of an impact making these changes can make".

Celebrating achievement

An important aspect of CFE's plans is to celebrate and get word out about the great things already happening amongst farmers and landowners in the area.

Event host Clinton Devon Estates are recognised as being leaders in this field. Clare James, Estates Surveyor, spoke at the event about the management across the estates and how they put responsible stewardship and sustainable development at the heart of everything they do. This includes working with citizen scientists and conservation organisations, and PHD students at Exeter University.

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Clare James, Estates Surveyor at Clinton Devon Estates, showed event attendees around and discussed management approaches

One farmer on the Clinton Devon estates is Sam Walker of Stantyway, a 265 acre mainly arable organic farm. Sam spoke about how being a tenant farmer effects the way management of the land is approached.

He said: "it changes your thinking as you’ve got to make sure you look after it".

Stantyway Farm is the easternmost breeding site in the UK of cirl buntings, a rare and easily disturbed bird, making it a very important site in conservation terms. Sam manages the land to work with their habitat.

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Stantyway Farm is the easternmost breeding site in the UK of cirl buntings, a rare and easily disturbed bird. image: Paco Gómez https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emberiza_cirlus_-Valencian_Community,_Spain_-male-8_(1).jpg

Sam said: “you don’t have to have big grandiose plans that cost millions. It’s just a 'no skin off my nose' philosophy. It’s very easy and not really any cost involved. There’s loads of free advice: it just involves talking to people".

As part of the farm there is a two acre field on the edge of a cliff that there’s not much you can do with. So, Sam says, he spent an hour with a strimmer trying to create some habitat that the cirl buntings might like.

Sam has also been using scrap wood around the farm to make up swift boxes, undertaken herbal ley trials, which he said had huge benefits for his cattle, and been trying to improve the organic matter in his soil.

"If I can improve it the soil will host more fauna, fungi, bacteria and will need less working saving time, diesel and labour", he said.

“What I’m doing: it’s not big, flash, exemplary, it’s just talking to people. Making the most of some free advice”.

Quantifying results

Paul Cottington, NFU South West's Environment Advisor, spoke at the event about how difficult it is to quantify the results of making environmental improvements, and prove profit losses or gains as a result.

He spoke of case studies of farmers that have worked hard to approach things in an exceptional environmentally friendly way and how difficult it was to measure the results of their actions.

Paul said: "If we can quantify the outcomes better we can persuade others to get involved more easily. People aren’t aware of the results of their actions, and how some of these actions can improve their numbers".

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Paul Cottington, NFU South West's Environment Advisor, spoke at the event

Yog Watkins from Westcountry Rivers Trust also spoke at the event. He talked about how commercial products are being over-pushed, and the long term damage this is causing. Yog is working to teach farmers when and how to apply products so that they can apply a lot less for the same yield, saving money and increasing profits.

Yog spoke of the difficulties of getting past established farming routines that have been known to work in the past and the financial fears that farmers experience when risking making changes.

Sharing ideas

Audience members at the event were invited to share their own ideas with CFE about how they could work with the scheme to more effectively engage with farmers who are working every day in the fields.

The audience agreed that in order to motivate farmers, what is already being done needs to be more visually recognised and rewarded. They also agreed that, with the stresses of day to day farming life, it was very difficult for farmers to be able to take the time out to step back and assess the bigger picture.

As one audience member commented: “If you’re a dairy farmer and you’ve got loads of debt and milk prices fall by a penny and it’s beyond your control, you haven’t got time to step back and look at the facts and figures: you just farm harder".

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Audience members shared ideas about how to engage better with busy farmers

In summary of the event, Becky Hughes said: "We had some great discussions around the challenges and opportunities for farming and environment in the south west. I left the event with some very positive ideas for how CFE can plan and shape our future activities to provide positive support to farmers and engage proactively with stakeholder organisations.

"We aim to be enthusiastic champions of farmers across the country, helping people to maintain high environmental standards whilst growing resilient, profitable businesses, and we're listening to everyone to understand how best we can do that in years to come".