You can’t sum up regenerative farming in one quick and easy-to-digest sentence. The best way to phrase it is to say that it represents a move away from highly intensive farming on an almost industrial scale, to an approach that endeavours to balance food productivity with encouraging biodiversity to thrive.  

When the Countryside Regeneration Trust acquired Lark Rise Farm in 1993, the first thing CRT Trustee, tenant farmer and conservationist Tim Scott did was to plant hedgerows that broke up the large fields into smaller parcels.  

Today, Lark Rise totals 400-acres, and its hedgerows stand tall and dense, providing an excellent home for a variety of wildlife. Tim also makes space for nature on his farm by providing grass margins around the fields, planting beetle banks to increase the numbers of predatory insects that eat crop pest species and leaving over-wintered stubble which protects the soil. 

Thanks directly to this kind of wildlife-friendly farming, the CRT’s wildlife monitors have been able to record that robin, wren, chiffchaff, and song thrush have all been present in greater numbers, In fact, the Amber-listed wren and the Red-listed skylark are the most numerous breeding bird species at Lark Rise, while breeding lapwing continue to be a headline species. 

One of the key techniques for regenerative farming carried out by arable farmer Tim, is direct drilling. This method has directly impacted on lapwing populations, and bird populations more broadly, as minimising disturbance within the soil has significantly increased the abundance of invertebrates. Instead of ploughing in the traditional sense, where the surface soil is literally turned over, with direct drilling there is no turnover of soil at all. Instead, the machinery cuts slots into the soil, and the seed is deposited into them.  

Advantages of direct drilling 

Firstly, the carbon trapped within the soil isn’t released. As agriculture accounts for around 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, the gain brought about by these different tillage practices is a welcome bonus in the UK’s bid to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. The organisms within the upper layers of the soil that are so important to its health are also left undisturbed which, coupled with a reduction in wind and rainfall erosion, means that over time soil quality improves, rather than degrades.  

Ultimately, with direct drilling there is less environmental impact. For Tim direct drilling has become a key component of his approach to nature-friendly farming, but it’s been an ongoing process of research to discover what works and sometimes, what doesn’t.  

“We don’t only direct drill at Lark Rise, instead we use a range of cultivation systems, tailoring our management field-by-field,” he explains. “One weed we have a big problem with is black grass, because it’s resistant to all but the strongest herbicides and it smothers the crop. The best way to get rid of it is to plough it in, but then if you’ve been direct drilling for years you don’t want to lose the soil improvement you’ve achieved.” 

As yet, Tim hasn’t found a solution to his black grass issue, but the ongoing processes are all about finding the best way to farm effectively, yet in a nature-friendly fashion. Direct drilling is a very useful technique for a regenerative farmer, especially used alongside the numerous other things that promote a greater biodiversity within the boundaries of a working farm.  

“While regenerative farming is still a relatively new movement, it’s something I feel very passionate about,” adds Tim. There’s no doubt in my mind, that direct drilling is a useful tool for improving the health of the soil in my fields, but it’s an on-going learning process for all of us using these techniques. However, I believe it’s a process that’s hugely important for the future of the countryside.” 

Another CRT trustee and farmer, Nicholas Watts, is also a strong advocate for direct drilling. He has seen an increase in the numbers of lapwing and skylark following direct drilling on fields at Vine House Farm near Spalding in Lincolnshire. 


“In my lifetime, I have seen hundreds of new ideas to help farmers increase yields, and they have nearly all been detrimental to wildlife,” says Nicholas. “But direct drilling improves the health of the soil, stops erosion, and attracts more wildlife than anything I have ever seen or done on my farm before.”

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