Nature to benefit as major herb and tomato grower commits to conservation
By: Steve Ott
Buyers of herbs, cress and tomatoes from the UK’s largest supermarket chains will be able to select items that specifically promote wildlife.
One of the UK’s biggest glasshouse growers – VHB Herbs – is the first of its kind to join a nature-friendly scheme for growing crops which is scientifically designed to promote wildlife at the same time as producing food efficiently.
Chris Moncrieff, the company’s technical director, highlights that VHB Herbs are keen on promoting wildlife and have been using natural, non-chemical ways of controlling pests, for example predatory insects, for over 14 years. He goes on to explain “After signing up and taking part in the training for Conservation Grade, we realised we would give a much bigger boost to biodiversity by treating the wildlife areas like crops and farming them for maximum ‘wildlife yield’.
“The key is in the combination of wild flowers, grasses, seed-producing plants and so on – using scientific ratios to create the optimum conditions for biodiversity. But it’s also about specific management techniques,” he adds.
Using around six acres of its least productive land, which equates to 10 per cent of the area farmed by VHB Herbs, the company has created specific habitats for birds and insects across land which includes a pond, water meadow and indigenous tree area. “We’ve made some simple changes, such as taking away cut grasses to ensure the soil stays impoverished, which encourages more native flowers to take flourish. We’re delighted to now have wild orchids growing near the pond.”
There is compelling evidence of this approach working; in trials, turning 10 per cent of land over to the protocol has resulted in a 41 per cent increase in birds, an eightfold increase in butterflies, a thirteen fold increase in bumblebees and a thirty fold increase in small mammals such as water voles within certain habitats on-farm. Such an increase is significantly greater than many results achieved in conventional or even organic farming systems*.
Shelley Abbot of Conservation Grade says: “With increasing reports of biodiversity crises, the nature-friendly farming approach offers food growers and the public a valuable way to invest in our natural capital – rewarding farmers directly for deliberately stimulating wildlife.”
VHB Herbs joins an increasing number of brands, including Allied Mills and Jordans, that are applying the protocol and will be looking at the option of adding the ‘bee’ of the Nature Friendly Farming label on produce.
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