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D Southall & Sons - biodiversity case study

When it comes to taking care of the land and its wildlife, farmers are often those leading by example, demonstrating their commitment to improving the biodiversity of the area they work. The Environmental Stewardship scheme is one significant way in which Natural England supports and rewards farmers for developing and maintaining environmental plans appropriate to their land. One family farm in Worcestershire, D Southall and Sons, is showing how sophisticated farming techniques now sit hand in hand with conservation.

It was 2005 when twin brothers Paul and Michael Southall joined the Entry Level Stewardship scheme (ELS). Their 800 Worcestershire acres are best known for their vegetable harvests, producing a wide range of crops to fill the calendar year, including asparagus, peas, beans, courgettes, purple sprouting broccoli, continental onions and pumpkins. Their agreed plan with Natural England began with planting areas of land to produce wild birdseed to provide a more attractive environment for overwintering birds.

The results of this measure alone were wide-reaching in a short space of time. The number of visiting birds increased significantly, with many more species identified. These wild areas have also encouraged a profusion of insects which visit the plants in the summer months – most notably butterflies and bees. By managing their hedgerows with wildlife in mind too, Paul and Michael have managed to create yet more food and cover for wildlife.

Further areas have been planted with specific seed to produce nectar- and pollen-producing plants, particularly aimed at the bee population. A notable success on the farm has been the return of the Large Garden Bumblebee, Bombus ruderatus, a nationally scarce species.

Paul Southall explains how it works. “There are areas of land such as headland and copse that we would normally leave without planting with crops and which we would simply mow to keep under control. With the scheme we look differently at these areas and cultivate them with the various seed mixes to make a much more biodiverse environment. Four species of wild orchid have now been recorded on our farm, entirely due to habitat creation and management under the ELS scheme.”

In recent times, harvest mice nests have been discovered on the farm, and regular moth recording has included the discovery of a new species for Worcestershire. Visiting wildlife experts have also found great opportunities to research plants and invertebrates in a carefully-managed setting.

The attitude towards nature conservation and the methods used have become such a way of life and business at D Southall and Sons that their next step is to move up to incorporate some of the more detailed Higher Level Stewardship options in their land management and to help more people understand how they look after their farm. For example, a busy time of year for Paul and Michael is pumpkin harvest when local schoolchildren are invited onto the farm to learn about farming, sustainability and food miles.

Whilst it requires enthusiasm and resources to take such a holistic approach to farming, it’s an approach that has helped build a very successful business and it embodies the family’s attitude to farming. Paul, Michael and their father Don all believe that farmers are custodians of the land with responsibilities to care for its future and they look forward to developing more habitats and sharing their experiences with others.

To learn more about the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, please see http://www.naturalengland.org.uk

Fact File

Website:   www.dsouthallandsons.co.uk
Crops:   Asparagus, Peas, Beans, Courgettes, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Continental onions, Pumpkins
Acreage:   800 in total
Professional Memberships:   LEAF, FWAG and Assured Produce.