The current drought conditions are having a devastating effect on the country’s wildlife, but it deepens the case for the positive impact of regenerative farming and working with natural solutions, says the Countryside Regeneration Trust (CRT).

The CRT’s wildlife monitors at several locations around the country have noticed numerous indicators of how much the countryside is struggling as an official drought being declared looks more likely each day that passes without significant rainfall.

Butterflies are a useful indicator species and we’ve noticed that numbers of high summer species such as meadow brown took a rapid nosedive on our weekly surveys, following the two days of extreme heat,” says Vince Lea, The CRT’s head of wildlife. “What’s more concerning is that many of our common butterfly species depend on grass for their caterpillars, and grass has stopped growing and is desiccated. The knock-on effects are likely to be far fewer butterflies next summer, as was the case following the drought of 1976”.

As the impact of climate change in the UK means warmer weather and rainfall becomes less predictable, farming practices and how they account for wildlife is even more important. More natural grassland systems have greater resilience to drought than intensive monocultures.

“We harvested hay from our wildflower meadows in June and they are now regrowing, but it is clear that deep-rooted broadleaved plants such as birdsfoot trefoil and knapweed are doing well, while grass is simply brown,” explains Vince. “These broadleaved plants are also producing a second flush of flowers giving pollinators feeding opportunities, and for some butterflies such as the common blue, these species are their caterpillar foodplants.”

One of the most important wildlife habitats at the CRT’s Lark Rise farm in Cambridgeshire is the Bourn Brook, which is pitifully low right now. Considering the climate issues we face, it seems more important than ever to consider ways of both holding water in the landscape and managing excess floodwater when the inevitable downpours eventually arrive, landing on the baked hard ground and instantly running off.

Regenerative farming is about building up the soil structure and soil carbon which makes soils both more water retentive (keeping crops growing longer in dry weather) and more porous and absorptive, therefore holding more water when excess rain falls).

“Over the years, our rivers have also been abused and turned into deeper, straighter channels designed to take water away, but really we need them to be holding water for longer and there is undoubtedly a strong case for more natural rivers, aided and abetted by the dam-building of beavers,” says Vince.

By Andrew James, PR & Policy Officer