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Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Shabden Park Farm is committed to farming in an environmentally-sustainable manner and we farm under an agri-environment scheme called 'Countryside Stewardship'.

Countryside Stewardship is a long-term voluntary scheme run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which makes payments to farmers to improve the natural beauty and diversity of the countryside.

It is part of the England Rural Development Programme, or ERDP, and is governed by the Environment Act 1999 and by EC Council regulations.
Its objectives are to:
  • sustain the beauty and diversity of the landscape;
  • improve and extend wildlife habitats;
  • conserve archaeological sites and historic features;
  • improve opportunities for countryside enjoyment;
  • restore neglected land or features;
  • create new habitats and landscapes, where appropriate.
Naturally regenerated grassland
   
Note: Countryside Stewardship was replaced for new entries in May 2005, by Environmental Stewardship schemes. Shabden Park Farm's existing agreement will continue until 2014.
Chalk grassland

The Countryside Stewardship scheme operates in a variety of landscapes, including coastal areas, lowland heath, arable farmland and chalk and limestone grassland. One of the Target Areas in Surrey is the North Downs, characteristically comprised of chalk grassland with steep scarp slopes and dry valleys. This geology has formed habitats for many rare or scarce plant and insect species, but large areas have been lost through agricultural intensification and scrub encroachment. The CSS's objectives for chalk and limestone grassland include conserving grassland by sensitive grazing and scrub control, restoring traditional hedges and returning cultivated areas to downland. This last objective is the management option that we have employed on the field areas of Shabden Park Farm in restoring them to traditional chalk downland from arable land and set-aside.


Chalk downland grasses and wildflowers

Recreating grassland

The Scheme makes provision for grassland to be created in order to increase habitat diversity on arable areas, and to protect and extend existing grassland habitats. The idea is to create a diverse sward by encouraging grasses and flowers characteristic of the area, its soils and climate. Ideally this should be by natural regeneration, but this will only be successful where the site is close to existing grassland which is rich in grasses and flower species, or on areas that will become covered by water containing plant material. Where natural regeneration is not appropriate, a suitable grass mix should be sown.
   
Seed mix
The seed should be native and of local provenance, and should contain at least six grasses, with no one species comprising more than twenty percent of the total mix. The list of native grasses available to choose from under the Scheme includes Timothy, Cocksfoot and several fescues, including Sheep's fescue, the larval foodplant of the scarce Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly, which occurs on the scarp slopes of the North Downs.
Species-rich grassland in the Shabden valley
Stewardship at Shabden

An area of 111 acres, including the fields through the Shabden valley, were put into Stewardship in 1994. An attempt at natural regeneration was made to start with, but after two seasons of rank vegetation and annual arable weeds, these areas were re-seeded with native grasses. Having experienced problems initially in establishing a sward, in the last three years the grassland in the valley has begun supporting a variety of new plant species, including large amounts of legumes, such as black medick, birds foot trefoil, vetches and clovers, and increasing numbers of pyramidal, spotted and bee orchids. There are many anthills, and consequently the population of green woodpecker has increased dramatically. The tawny and little owl populations are on the increase, and birds of prey sightings have increased. The populations of finches and warblers have increased through hedge-laying and rotational cutting, and areas of thistle seed being allowed to overwinter. Sightings of butterfly and other insect species have increased and we will be monitoring these by regular transect walks.

Cultivating for grass seed

 

We have committed a further 65 acres, south of White Hill, to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. This time, we have used our experience of the first areas to recreate the grassland. For instance, we have altered the seed mix to exclude or reduce the amount of seed of species which proved too dominant, and to include seeds for species such as horseshoe vetch, which are suited to chalk grassland butterfly species.
As this new project evolves, these pages will be updated with the progress the land is making as it changes from arable to species-rich grassland.

Links

Defra for information about the Countryside and other Stewardship Schemes

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