Working Conservation: Putting research into practice
The GWCT recognised early on that science-based interventions were needed to achieve multi-dimensional conservation, integrating food production with biodiversity recovery and local community. This approach has never been more important and today the Trust employs over 60 scientists in a wide range of fields from farmland and river ecology to soil health.
For decades, the GWCT been working with land managers to develop practical solutions to farmland conservation challenges developed from its research. As a result, many of the most widely used government agri-environment scheme options are based on its science.
As well as the natural sciences, the Trust’s unique approach to conservation takes into account social and economic dimensions, which are a major influence on how farmers manage their land. Our partnerships with farmers and other private land managers, the Working Conservationists on the ground, have been the foundation for projects across the UK which have successfully reversed the decline of some of our most threatened wildlife.
The Trust draws on 50 years of ground-breaking farmland ecology research. The Sussex Study, the longest-running of its kind in the world, discovered what it was about post-war agriculture that was driving down populations of farmland birds. In response, the Trust devised a suite of agri-environment options including conservation headlands, beetle banks and managed field margins, allowing for the reduction of insecticides and herbicides. Put into practice by farmers, often on a landscape scale through the GWCT concept of Farmer Clusters, its conservation measures have successfully reversed the decline of many red-listed species from hares and water voles to lapwing and song thrush.
Over the past 20 years, our demonstration farm in Leicestershire has carried out research on soil management to deliver benefits to both cropping and the environment. Studies into reducing tillage intensity identified benefits in reduced runoff, reduced crop establishment costs, and increased soil microbial biomass. Another project addressed the issue of runoff through vehicle tramlines and an erosion plot experiment revealed low ground pressure tyres as the most effective means of reducing soil compaction by farm vehicles.
Water Friendly Farming combines the active participation of farmers with scientific application and evaluation of measures to improve water quality, while maintaining farm incomes. Working in three headwater catchments, the GWCT research team put in a range of measures including silt traps and flood damns and continues to monitor their effects by collecting data on flow, nutrient and pesticide concentrations, sediment, aquatic plants and invertebrates.
The GWCT has been at the forefront of developing practical ways for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through soil and livestock management. More recently, it has begun work to develop a hedgerow carbon code, which will help land managers offset their emissions and benefit from natural capital trading. The project is measuring every aspect of a hedges carbon storage capacity from its leaves to its roots and the soil beneath.