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County Voice: Leo Hickish debates the hedge

PUBLISHED: 00:16 10 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:25 20 February 2013

Leo Hickish is Chairman of the Sussex branch of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).

Leo Hickish is Chairman of the Sussex branch of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).

Wildlife-friendly features such as buffer strips (pieces of land in permanent vegetation), over-wintered stubbles and unharvested conservation headlands are common on Sussex farms.

IT IS often assumed that farmers and conservationists sit on opposite sides of the fence, or perhaps hedge.


Of course there is debate, but the factors which unify wildlife campaigners with farmers and land managers are more significant than those which divide them.


Typically in Sussex, we have farms with a diverse mix of grassland and arable areas alongside historic features. Large areas of land are already managed specifically to benefit farmland birds and mammals.



Healthy growth in species


The result is that species associated with Sussex, such as grey partridge, corn bunting, skylark and brown hare have seen healthy growth in areas where such beneficial measures have been undertaken. Arable wildflowers and associated insects have responded well where un-sprayed conservation headlands have been established.


On the Pevensey Levels, much work has been done by farmers to create an excellent habitat for wading marshland birds such as lapwing.


The careful management of our natural resources is also essential to underpin the vital role of food production from farming. Many of our treasured species and habitats are now dependent on the continuation of appropriate farming practices. So too is the protection of water and soil quality and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.


If you think of the CAP in terms of wine lakes and butter mountains, you will have little sympathy with European agricultural legislation. It may appear brazen for farmers and growers to express concern about management of the not-insignificant CAP budget, at a time when European finances are in such a mess. It is however many years since subsidies encouraging farmers to over-produce were scrapped, and when you hear of farmers receiving public money these days, it is in all probability for environmental stewardship. More than half of the South Downs National Park is covered by the demanding Higher Level Stewardship agreement, ensuring that the rolling chalk downland and river valleys are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.



Reform, not ruin


It is because of the financial crisis, rather than despite it, that this matter requires such careful consideration. The CAP needs further reform to enable the policy to respond to pressing needs of global demand for food, the challenge of global warming and threats to the environment.


There is a great danger that the progressive reduction, capping and bureaucratising of payments for environmental stewardship within CAP reform proposals will undermine the conservation work which farmers and land managers throughout Sussex undertake. There is tremendous will to continue and increase conservation in this part of the world, but the market price of food does not pay for it.


Livestock, for example, are not always viable from an economic point of view, but are essential for conserving specific landscapes which most of us value.


Future CAP policy must enable us to feed a growing population, without neglecting the public benefits of biodiversity, landscape and the protection of vital resources.



Farmers helping wildlife



  • Wildlife-friendly features such as buffer strips (pieces of land in permanent vegetation), over-wintered stubbles and unharvested conservation headlands are common on Sussex farms. The keen-eyed might also spot strips of wild bird seed mix and beetle banks to provide food sources and cover for birds, insects and small mammals, while the main crop area remains conventionally managed.


Leo Hickish is Chairman of the Sussex branch of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA). www.cla.org.uk

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