Groans and frustrated mutterings have been heard in farm offices up and down the country over recent weeks as farmers go through the annual ordeal of BPS and agri-environment scheme applications. Deadlines for new Countryside Stewardship applications was on the 5th of May, while BPS and existing ELS, HLS, CS and forestry grants are on 15th May.
Participation in agri-environmental schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship play an valuable role in establishment and maintenance of wildlife habitats as well as being an important supplement to the income of many British farms. However the associated work of running them is enough to get even the most calm of farmers pulling their hair out.
Navigating the application process is just the start. Once a management agreement is in place the real work of ensuring compliance begins. In a survey of 646 NFU members, 76% said they had concerns about managing ongoing Countryside Stewardship Scheme obligations (source).
- Remembering what management options are where
- What are the requirements for managing those options
- Recording evidence in case of inspection
We’ve spoken to several farmers recently who are using fieldmargin to map out their HLS options and as a record-keeping tool so we have put together a guide on how to start doing this on your farm.
Our founder Mark runs an arable farm in Hertfordshire with his sister, Kate, and farm manager, Ben. The farm is part of ELS and HLS and it had always been a frustration for Mark that the information about his management options were all on paper maps, making it difficult to use while in the field or to share the information with people working on the farm. He decided to use fieldmargin to map the farm’s management agreement. Now everyone in his team has been added to the farm on fieldmargin so now they can refer to this information wherever they are and record jobs that have been done that affect environmental stewardship.
“Using fieldmargin has made everything quicker”, says Kate. “Now we can use fieldmargin to go out and check areas in the field rather than having to use a tapemeasure. Also because everyone is on it any queries can be logged then and there rather than waiting until you get back to the farm office.”
She gives an example of when she was out in the field measuring the area to be sown with wild bird seed mix. Her contractor was ordering the seed and messaged her using fieldmargin to ask how much was required, she was able to instantly give him an answer without leaving the app.
Here’s how to follow Marks example and go from this:
This process is best done on a desktop rather than mobile as the big screen and increased accuracy of a mouse make mapping easier.
If you haven’t already, map out your fields and any other features that might have management options attached to them such as woodland. We have made this process quicker by adding an option to ‘add from Environmental Stewardship’. If you have participated in ELS or HLS this allows you to select areas that are part of your farm so that all you have to do is split them up into individual fields. You can find instructions on how to do this here.
Next, create feature types for each of the management options on your farm. Mark planned this by listing all of the colours used on his existing map and then assigning them to colours on fieldmargin so he could be sure he hadn’t missed any.
Once you have your features types set up you are ready to start drawing. fieldmargin calculates the length and area of shapes that you draw so you can confirm that you have put the correct amount on the map.
There you have it. A digital map of your farm’s agri-environment scheme that allows you to see at a glance what options you have and where wherever you are. You can view specific options by switching them on and off in the layer list. Make sure that you have invited everyone working on your farm so that they can refer to it too and help with recording jobs.
For management options that have complicated requirements that you will need to refer to such as dates of when they can be cut or grazed you can use notes to record this information. Simply create a note with the management option as the title and then add instructions as comments below. Because notes are attached to a location on the map you can place the note on the feature(s) it applies to, you can also quickly find a particular one using the search bar.
Countryside Stewardship has introduced much more emphasis on record keeping which must be provided to Natural England for checks. However if you are under ELS/HLS it is still important to have good records for inspections. By using fieldmargin you can easily make notes of much of this information, while you’re in the field. Some examples of records that you may need to keep are:
- Field operations at the parcel level: For example, a record is needed to prove you did not cut the grass or you planted a nectar flower mix during a certain window.
- Photographs: Some options require photographs of the option to prove a mix established, prove management requirements were followed or the option was present. For example, nectar flower mix (AB1) and low input grassland (GS2/5). You can easily attach photos to notes using the mobile or web app.
- Any options with a grazing requirement: Any options that require grazing will require a parcel level grazing record. For example, nectar flower mix (AB1) and low input permanent grassland (GS2/5). You can do this by using a note in each field where this record is required and adding comments (which will automatically be date-stamped) when you move livestock on or off of it.
You can find full information on the records you are required to keep for Countryside Stewardship here.
Interested in using fieldmargin for your agri-environment schemes but need more help? Get in touch and we will be happy to give you further advice.