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Field Margins Around Hadlow Place Farm

Farming sustainably under the LEAF Marque, for nature and food production

Farming in tune with the environment is proving beneficial for nature, while producing food sustainably on the Hadlow Estate’s arable fields and fruit orchards.

The Estate joined LEAF three years ago and is audited annually against the LEAF Marque Standard – an environmental assurance scheme that recognises farm products that are produced more sustainably. Hadlow Place Farm is due to be audited again this summer to measure progress made.

Farm managers Nigel Gibb and Ben Amps believe the scheme is working, both for the environment and for sustainable food production, on Hadlow’s 1,495 arable acres (605Ha) and 180 acres (72 Ha) of apple and pear orchards.

The majority of fruit grown on the farm is supplied to Tesco who have LEAF Marque as their chosen standard.

Nigel said: “It’s not a pass or fail scheme – its progressive. You start off with a baseline position and you are audited annually across different areas. LEAF want to see progress is being made across the farm.”

Nigel and Ben, who work for agricultural contractors Velcourt on the Hadlow Estate, are both trained agronomists, which they believe helps them to have a holistic approach to the farm management, integrating both cultural and chemical controls for the best environmental and productive gains.

Agronomic decisions are based around the protection of beneficial insects, predators and the soil, while also achieving commercial controls.

Nigel said one of the aims of LEAF is to reduce the use of chemicals and cut down on the amount of cultivation of the land to improve soil structure and support nature whilst also greatly reducing emissions into the atmosphere. But he said maintaining a productive and profitable food business was crucial.

“If we have good soil structure we are more likely to get improved yields,” he said. “Yields go down if soil is compacted and wet. LEAF is very much about farming in tune with nature but it is also about producing food more sustainability – the two go together.

“By using non inversion cultivation techniques, less damage is done to the earth worm populations alongside the soil’s natural living organisms. These help to improve soil structure and drainage.”  

Ben said that being in the LEAF scheme had not radically changed the way the farm was managed, because Hadlow Place Farm was already working hard to balance farming and conservation.

But he said being part of the LEAF programme meant the improvements for nature already being made were being fully monitored and measured. “I think the most important thing is that LEAF allows us to be recognised for what we are doing,” he said.

He said school visits to Hadlow Place Farm, which are encouraged as part of the LEAF programme, were one of the enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the scheme. “If just one child goes home and realises that apples don’t come out of a factory, but have to be grown in an orchard then that makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Among the measures adopted to encourage wildlife on the farm are stewardship areas, wide field margins and field corners planted with environmentally beneficial mixes looking to feed birds, small mammals and pollinating insects.

Some of the important and threatened bird species that can be found on the farm as a result include yellow hammer, grey partridge, turtle doves, barn owls and several species of finch.

A heathland regeneration scheme on the Estate at Sandhill, Pembury, which is in a Government Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, is helping to bring back woodlarks and tree pipits.

Ben said: “Songbirds and insects are definitely on the rise.” But he said the improvements recorded do not just happen by accident. “You have got to want to do it,” he stressed.  “It’s all very well saying you are sustainable but it takes hard work and management and LEAF holds you to account.”

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