Nature-friendly farming methods allow biodiversity to flourish at Wimpole

Nature and soil health are flourishing at Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge according to the results of a full ‘health-check’ into its biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility. 

The results, announced as the landmark Agriculture Bill which starts its next crucial stage in the House of Lords tomorrow, show increases in the numbers of breeding pairs of rare farmland birds, invertebrates and how the land can significantly capture carbon.

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: ‘Sustainable, productive and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy environment. Coronavirus has shown how important it is to have a resilient food and farming system. We know that climate change and sustainability pose the greatest threats to food security, as this year’s flooding and now drought have shown.

" With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think. "
- Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust

‘The Agriculture Bill – and the principle of public money for public goods at its heart – is an opportunity to deliver this. With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think. 

‘The story at Wimpole paints one of hope and optimism – and the government’s forthcoming “environmental land management scheme” will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme. Together, these two mechanisms will ensure all farms have a sustainable future which will be good for the environment, good for farm businesses and good for people.’

The organic farm has been focusing on nature-friendly, sustainable farming methods for the past 12 years to reflect our goals for farming models which are good for nature, good for the public and are profitable.

Bee on a flower in the garden

The national state of nature

According to studies:
• Numbers of farmland birds have declined by 54 per cent since 1970
• The distribution of bees and hoverflies declined by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2014
• It’s estimated that soil degradation in England and Wales costs the economy £1.2 billion a year

Key results from Wimpole

Wimpole conducted in-depth surveys over two years into farmland birds, invertebrates and soil health.

Key findings from the farmland bird survey conducted across half the farm revealed that since 2013:

  • Numbers of rare skylarks have increased by 75 per cent, from 12 to 21 pairs
  • Number of rare linnets have doubled from three to seven pairs
  • Wimpole is one of the most important populations of the rare corn bunting in Cambridgeshire, with between five and eight pairs breeding each year
  • The farm provides winter feeding habitat for at least nine rare bird species - grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, skylark, starling, yellowhammer, woodcock, hen harrier, fieldfare

A total of 1,145 species were recorded in the invertebrates survey, equating to an increase of 38 per cent in the number of species between 2003 and 2019. 

This included 95 rare species with formal conservation status including Bombus Ruderatus – the large garden bumblebee and Tyria Jacobaeae – the cinnabar moth. There were 75 species of bee, 49 species of wasps, 46 species of hoverflies and 22 types of butterflies recorded. Other key results from last year included:

  • 150 per cent increase in Hymonptera (wasps, bees, ants) 
  • 30 per cent increase in the number of butterfly species including the silver washed fritillary and marbled white
  • The organic field margins support on average 30 per cent more invertebrates then conventional field margins

As a business, the farm is also returning a healthy profit. 

Last year, production levels across 369 hectares (912 acres) of the arable farm reached impressive levels for an organic farming system with last year’s harvests resulting in 142 tonnes of wheat – enough to make 200,000 loaves of bread, or over four million scones – 123 tonnes of organic barley – equivalent to what’s needed to make nearly 1.5million pints of beer and 126 tonnes of organic oats – equivalent to over 2.5 million bowls of porridge. 

For 2019, this resulted in £294,617 income, £117,588 profit for the farm (including subsidy payments).

" It’s fantastic to see how nature-friendly farming and a profitable farm business can go hand in hand."
- Callum Weir, farm manager at Wimpole

Callum Weir, farm manager at Wimpole, said: ‘Like many farmers, we dedicate areas of Wimpole to help biodiversity. For example, we sow a variety of plants including phacelia which has purpley blue flowers, clover and sainfoin, with its bright pink flowers which flower from early April right through to October. These attract and support pollinators and insects which have a vital role in the ecosystem.

‘The survey results are vital to understanding how our holistic approach to farming at Wimpole is working. We want to farm sustainably at the same time as being a truly viable business and it’s fantastic to see how nature-friendly farming and a profitable farm business can go hand in hand.’

Callum continued: ‘We were so pleased by the results of the study. It was great to see that our margins, so rich in wildlife, bordering productive farmland. This gave me real hope that with the right support, farmers can help address biodiversity losses and play our part with tackling the climate crisis.’