Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: farm biodiversity (page 2 of 4)

New extension video on farm riparian management

Excited to highlight here our new riparian management extension video, another collaboration with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Simon Greenland-Smith, MES alum and SARPAL project manager, developed this stylish video with the folks at local production company Wonderlust, as part of our series on ‘small changes’ towards biodiversity-friendly farming. During our previous evaluation of the Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation (ABC) program, modified harvest and riparian management were the two practices that were significantly increased by education. We hope through videos like this to get the word out about these ‘small changes’ to more farmers than those who opt into an ABC plan, or visit our BioLOG extension website.

New wood turtle stewardship program announced at ASFWB

A wood turtle found by Grade 9 students from Middleton, out with Katie McLean from CARP and Simon Greenland-Smith, in September 2016.

A wood turtle found by Grade 9 students from Middleton, out with Katie McLean from CARP and Simon Greenland-Smith, in September 2016 (photo: Simon Greenland-Smith).

MES alumnus and lab project manager Simon Greenland-Smith was in Summerside, PEI, last week for the AGM of the Atlantic Society of Fish and Wildlife Biologists (ASFWB), announcing our exciting new project on wood turtle habitat on agricultural lands. Simon is working for the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species At Risk Protection of Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) envelope. That work is a natural extension of our work on biodiversity-friendly farming, and is aiming to develop and evaluate a pilot program to eliminate risk to wood turtles in farmland areas also defined as critical habitat for them. SARPAL is designed to avoid situations like the federal government got into out west with the sage grouse. We are drawing on a rich base of ecological expertise about wood turtles in the province within government (e.g. NS Department of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Service) and NGOs like the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) and the Mersey-Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI). We have already done some advocacy work around farm practices to support wood turtles, such as our animated extension video on modified harvest practices in which a wood turtle sports a pompadour haircut (this only makes sense if you watch it). This is a great opportunity to engage directly with farmers in ways that share the costs of, and ease other transitional barriers to, stewardship actions.

What farm fragmentation looks like in Nova Scotia

Our typology of Nova Scotia farm fragmentation based on the number of non-contiguous parcels and the time to drive across the two furthest apart parcels.

Our typology of Nova Scotia farm fragmentation based on the number of non-contiguous parcels and the time to drive across the two furthest apart parcels.

When I moved back to Canada from Australia, and started interviewing farmers in Nova Scotia, I was surprised at how small and fragmented their holdings were. I found myself wondering how this spatial pattern influenced their management. Does it mean that it is harder to think of a farm as an ecosystem, and manage accordingly? Or is it a boon for biodiversity, as remoter parcels are left to nature? I threw a few questions about farm fragmentation on our Marginal Land survey last year, and those preliminary results are now in, recently presented on a poster at ISSRM, Farm as ecosystem: What is the impact of fragmented property ownership on farm management? It show us that fragmentation in Nova Scotia is intentional, the result of purposeful land acquisition by serious farmers. While it cannot be ascribed to fragmentation alone based on the data we collected, these high fragmentation farmers were less likely to have ponds and wetlands on their properties (as a function of farm area), though they had just as many woodlands, which are seen to have high ecosystem service value (timber, etc). Moreover, high fragmentation farmers were less likely to undertake biodiversity-friendly farming techniques. I think this is enough to suggest more research is warranted. Next time I want to look for diversity within farms. Does the farmer treat far-flung parcels differently than those closer to the heart of his operations?

New paper – farmer perception of wetland ecosystem services

An alternative Figure 2 for our new Ecological Economics paper

An alternative Figure 2 for our new Ecological Economics paper

Really pleased to see the paper from Simon Greenland-Smith’s MES on farmer perceptions of their farm ponds and wetlands out in the June 2016 issue of Ecological Economics. Simon did walkabout interviews with farmers around their wetlands and ponds, and coded the results using the ecosystem goods and services (EGS) framework popularized by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. He used novel approaches to ‘standardize’ farmer expression styles, and used the results to counter the results from economic valuations of wetlands from TEEB data (see above). Simon’s thesis was funded by my 2012 SSHRC Insight Development Grant on farmer stewardship of EGS in the face of climate change. He continues on in the lab leading our extension work on farm biodiversity, including managing BioLOG.

Akenfield

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

My 1978 Penguin edition of Akenfield.

Another second-hand bookstore treasure from someone who knows me well, Akenfield (1969) is a remarkably engrossing (and surprisingly undated) study of an anonymized rural Suffolk village, in the voice of fifty or so local residents. It tells the story of post-war England, agricultural modernization, social liberalization but also lingering fealty and class boundaries. The author, Ronald Blythe, interviewed and synthesized each voice, sometimes adding a sympathetic preamble of description and context. Surprises abound, such the description of WWII as a boon: conditions were so mean pre-war, that young men worked to the bone on farms found war service easy (with more food), and even bad farmers grew rich to supply that food. Some of the most compelling parts for me related to the farm landscape and how it was perceived and used. For instance, in the Introduction:

“…its hedges – now being slaughtered – were planted in the eighteenth century and, where they remain, shelter all the wild life of the particular fields they surround. Earlier field boundaries can be easily traced by ridges and ditches, and here and there a great tree spreads itself out in Time, making no sense at all. The clay acres themselves are the only tablets on which generations of village men have written … I am, but nothing remains of these sharp straight signatures.” (p. 14)

About the taciturn field workers, the last holdout of peasantry, working over generations for the same farmer, for compensations that keep him bound – a farm cottage, etc – Blythe writes: “Science is a footnote to what he really believes. And what he knows is often incommunicable “ (p. 15) . That younger generations continue to look to farming is described such: “perhaps, they have inherited the small residual static quality in all village life, that thing which is either condemned as apathy or praised and envied as contentment, but yet which is really neither of these. The attitude contains something determined and enduring, and also incorporates some kind of duty or loyalty to the village fields” (p. 91). For instance, a young ploughman bemoans the loss of the hedges, being undertaken to expand farms and enable increased mechanization, which make it difficult for a ploughman to keep his bearings:

“A well-kept hedge is a good sight and tells you where you are. The hedges belong to the village. You get used to seeing them standing there – they are like buildings and you miss them when they are knocked down. Some hedges are important and when they go you feel as bad as if a wood had been taken away. I think that there are certain hedges which the farmer’s shouldn’t touch without asking the people – although I can’t see this happening.” (p. 279).

An older farmer, an emigrant from Scotland, gives an outsider’s perspective on the impact of landscape on long-time residents, reminiscent of Swift’s observations in Waterland of what flat fenlands make of fenlanders: “The big skies leave the East Anglians empty. The skies are nothing. The horizons are too wide. There is nothing for a man to measure himself by here. In Scotland you have the hills, the mountains. They diminish a man. They make him think. … they last and he doesn’t.” (p. 320)

Blythe’s anthropology is thorough and generous, but does not shrink from difficulty. I do not know how he negotiated access and approval within such a small village given the blunt assessments many interviewees make of one another, individually and collectively, but it is a true gift that he made this record. It was made into an eponymous film in 1974 and is still in print – I just saw a new edition in Bookmark last week. This book is of a piece with early and modern tales of shepherding by Hardy and Rebanks discussed last year, as well as Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways. A recording of Blythe and Macfarlane on the dais together at the Charleston Festival in 2013 for a celebration of rural life and sense of place is worth a listen.

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