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Twelve Dales farmers participating in a pilot payment scheme have surveyed the species-richness of their traditional hay meadows – and submitted score sheets for potentially the last time.
The farming scheme in Wensleydale and Coverdale – now in its fifth and final year – is paying the farmers according to the results they produce; the more wildflowers in the hay meadow, the higher the payment.
This approach contrasts with the prescriptive approach of conventional schemes, which pay farmers for following set rules such as not cutting before a specific date.
The score sheets from this summer are still to be studied, but analysis of the 2019 submissions showed that the average score for meadows in the scheme was 18% higher than at the start of the project in 2016, with improvements in all except two of the 19 sites. The participating farmers have been taking extra care managing their meadows and this encourages meadow flowers to become more abundant, boosting the score.
The pilot scheme has also tested the ‘results-based’ approach with payments to farmers who are producing suitable habitat for breeding waders such as curlew. The pilot is being run by Natural England in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
Stephen Bostock, who farms in Coverdale, offered one of his traditional hay meadows, which was already in an agri-environment scheme, to be a control site for comparison against meadows in the results-based pilot.
He said: “Any scheme that can preserve these hay meadows is a good thing. The flowers have gone from a lot of fields around here, as land has been improved. But I think things are changing and people are beginning to value the traditional meadows and what they do for the environment.”
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