A new government scheme to help preserve habitats for birds and insects and to encourage the growth of rare species of wild flowers is being tested on farms in Wensleydale and Coverdale in North Yorkshire.
The scheme, like similar ones before it, involves the farmer receiving a subsidy for leaving hay meadows unimproved – using no fertiliser or herbicides, and not mowing until the flowers have seeded. This not only helps to preserve many varieties of wild flowers, it also provides a natural habitat for many pollinating insects including bees.
But more flowers in the meadows means there is less grass, and therefore less winter feed for farm animals, which could threaten their survival. There are also strict regulations attached to the original scheme, such as limits on the number of animals that can be grazed and specific dates for mowing, which many farmers find it difficult to comply with.
Payments dependent on outcome
This pilot is different, however, because the farmers are paid by results and the regulations are less onerous.
Each farmer is given a scorecard on which to record the species of flowers he or she sees in the meadow. Some plants get a positive score, some a negative one. The more positive-scoring species and the fewer negative-scoring ones, the higher the payment received.
The scheme is also being piloted in three other areas of the UK. So far, the nineteen Yorkshire farmers involved seem positive about it.
It will be interesting to see what happens.