Raveningham estate manager explores the true value of environmental stewardship

Jake Fiennes at the Raveningham Estate. Picture: James Bass

Jake Fiennes at the Raveningham Estate. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Environmental schemes can punch their weight financially and should be treated as one of the most profitable crops in a commercial farming operation.

That was one of the messages from a major event which discussed the importance of managing wildlife within farmed landscapes – as well as celebrating some of Norfolk’s best examples.

The annual members’ evening for Norfolk FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) included a keynote address by Jake Fiennes of the Raveningham Estate, near Beccles.

Although a passion for protecting the countryside was a great motivation for the farmers attending the event, he said conservation could also be justified in monetary terms to widen its appeal.

He said the payments from environmental stewardship schemes were about “gross margins, not grass margins” – particularly when compared with arable crops, which are suffering from depressed commodity prices.

He calculated the gross margin for winter wheat at £444 per hectare, compared to £515 for a floristically-enhanced 6m grass margin.

Meanwhile, winter rape’s gross margin of £435 per hectare was eclipsed by £778 for a two-year crop of enhanced wild bird cover.

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Mr Fiennes said: “Agri-environment is your most profitable crop, but do you look after it?

“I want to enhance the environment and because it is my most profitable crop, I treat it as I should.

“When I drive around the countryside it is depressing to see the low level of effort going into such a profitable crop.

“We want a landscape that is rich in diversity, producing high-value crops, and on the periphery we want floristically-enhanced field margins and conservation headlands.

“That is what we want, and we want it at a landscape level.”

Mr Fiennes said Raveningham had been in environmental stewardship for 16 years, encouraging wildlife such as partridges, brown hares, birds of prey, lapwings, butterflies and a multitude of insects alongside the estate’s commercial operations.

“It is a farming system that financially stacks up,” he said.

“It delivers employment and it delivers environmental benefits across each habitat that I oversee.

“You will only deliver diversity if you are committed to the job in hand.

“But we can still produce viable crops, as well as a vibrant environment for future generations.”