Local action can make a big difference, but sadly many species cannot be supported by one farm alone. To broaden our impact, we need to take a step back and consider the landscape surrounding our farms. By working with neighbours and partners we can make the countryside more connected and ensure wildlife has all it needs to thrive.

Bob Felton and Liz Wallis on Twyford Farm are among farmers and landowners in Ashdown Forest who took part in a test and trial of Landscape Recovery. One of the government’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, this funds long-term, large-scale projects in England.

The Larger Ashdown Landscape Recovery Project aims to bring landowners and farmers together over an area of 7,400 hectares, to help restore nature across the landscape and to improve the heathland and woodland habitats across Ashdown Forest, a Site of Special Scientific Interest within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In September 2023, the Conservators of Ashdown Forest and more than 40 other land managers applied for the second round of the Landscape Recovery scheme. Sadly their application was not successful, but the team plan to reapply in the next round.

If chosen, they will draw up a 30-year plan and be among the projects that test how Landscape Recovery can turn around biodiversity loss in this country, while supporting the farming community.

Harrison Anton, CLM Farm and Environment Consultant and one of the Coordinators of the Ashdown Forest test and trial, said: “This beautiful spot, which covers over 10 square miles, is one of the most wildlife-rich areas in the South East, with its lowland heathland and deciduous woodland habitats home to many rare and threatened species.

“The test and trial considered how to create new habitats and link others, so improving the connectivity and resilience of these areas and the wildlife in them to the threats posed by climate change and habitat fragmentation. We also kept farming revenues, food production, tourism and the potential for species reintroduction in mind, as well as looking at establishing a conservation herd to graze the heathland habitats to keep them open.

“During the test and trial workshops, Bob Felton and Liz Wallis provided an integral perspective as farmers who are using nature-friendly farming practices. All the farmers and landowners that took part mapped how their land is managed and what wildlife species are present, to help plan what action could be taken. We noticed a group mentality quickly developed. There was a desire to work collectively and to do something which worked for them as individuals as well as for the wider landscape.

“Our feedback to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will hopefully shape the Landscape Recovery agreements on offer in future.”

Wildlife super-highways

Members of the Ashdown Forest Future Farming Landscape project have also pledged their support for the Weald to Waves scheme. This aims to create a nature recovery corridor of 100 miles in length, from Ashdown Forest via the Knepp Wildland estate and taking in three rivers to bolster the kelp forests off the Sussex Coast.

Bob and Liz on Twyford Farm and other members of the Upper Ouse Farmer Cluster have reached out to Weald to Waves to get involved.

In Surrey, Heathland Connections has received Local Nature Recovery funding from the government’s ELM scheme. This project aims to connect up partners to enhance, restore and connect heathland in the westernmost section of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). These unique habitats are hot spots for rare bird, reptile, dragonfly and plant species.

The CRT’s Green Farm is within this area and has two patches of heathland, where we are collaborating with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust to monitor reptiles.

We’re looking into how we can get involved in this and other community projects that aim to establish wildlife corridors through the landscape surrounding Green Farm. Look out for updates in future editions of The Lark.

The power of community

The collaborations we’ve highlighted are just the tip of the iceberg. From CRT volunteers carrying out wildlife surveys and habitat improvement to our Conservation Team entering wildlife data into national schemes to contribute to the understanding of how species are faring across the country. From partnering with independent businesses to provide local communities with coffee trailers, breweries and artisan shops, to neighbouring farmers grazing their livestock on our farms to improve the habitat.

Any organisation is only as good as its people, and we are thankful for the farmers, ecologists, volunteers, staff, tenants, CRT Friends, trustees and partners that help us keep driving forward to showcase the benefits of nature-friendly farming and rural businesses that are embedded in their local community.

Published in The Lark magazine, November 2023. Updated February 2024.

Pictured top: Ponies grazing on Ashdown Forest heathland © Dan Graeme