Autumn Conference report

More than 70 people gathered at Sandringham in the Museum Courtyard to listen and interact with a range of speakers from government officials to technology experts.

The day started with a fascinating presentation from Professor Paul Dolman who heads up the UEA Environmental Sciences team. Professor Dolman outlined the key findings of the Biodiversity Audit of the North Norfolk Coastal Group area, along with implications for farmers and land managers. The full report can be read here, but headline news that really captured the imagination of those in the room were:

Professor Dolman said such actions had the potential to: ‘Support very large numbers of species that are currently absent from Farmland.’

14,906 species had been recorded across the area since 1980, including 2,093 conservation priority species.

Buffering and extending habitats such as fens, chalk grassland, heathland, ponds and ancient woodland would play a huge role in restoring biodiversity resilience.

Creating large blocks of high quality habitat, especially mosaics of woodland, scrub, semi-natural grassland or wetland would also greatly improve biodiversity.

Hedges, grass margins and particularly cultivated field margins would create invaluable networks that could provide corridors from one habitat block to the next.

Following Professor Dolman, Dr Katy Owen and Rebecca Banks spoke about the planned work of the North Norfolk AONB Landscape Recovery Pilot. Again, the emphasis of their presentation was focused on what farmers and landowners could do to help achieve biodiversity across the area. This ranged from simple actions such as more grass and cultivated margins through to the re-wriggling of river paths. Dr Owen explained that the work was focused on the catchment areas of North Norfolk’s chalk rivers – landscape features that are both rare and home to an astonishing variety of species.

Ponds are a key feature in landscape recovery and Professor Carl Sayer and researcher Helen Greaves gave an impassioned talk on their Norfolk Ponds restoration project, run via the University College London and with newly-announced support from FiPL. Professor sayer explained how the restoration of degraded and ghost ponds was a high priority for nature recovery but also something that farmers could do relatively cheaply and easily.

If you are a farmer or land manger who is interested in restoring or creating a pond on your land, do contact Carl (c.sayer@ucl.ac.uk) or Helen (h.greaves@ucl.ac.uk) as they have the funding and the army volunteers necessary to make things happen.

Defra’s Janet Hughes delivered a well-received update on SFIs and their roll-out. The civil servant spoke briefly to outline the current situation and explained how the department was determined to make sure the roll-out was both successful and also flexible enough to adapt as issues arose. She then fielded a high volume of questions from the audience. Her key message was: ‘We know things have not always been perfect in the past and we are determined to make the system work better for everyone, so get your applications in now.’

The most recent advice on SFIs is to be found here.

Dan Geerah then brought the presentations to a close with an explanation of how careful mapping can bring all the elements of nature recovery in a farmed landscape together. By using apps such as The LandApp, it is possible to see a clear visual plan for cropping, margins and connectivity. Through the use of maps, landlords and farmers can see how their own work towards restoring biodiversity can feed into a wider picture.

The presentations were followed by lunch, courtesy of event sponsors Dodd & Co, and then Stephen Briggs gave a tour and talk at the Sandringham Estate’s agroforestry scheme.

A video of the highlights of the Conference will be available shortly.