North Norfolk could be a trailblazer for wildlife-friendly farming, says leading conservationist

Jake Fiennes, Holkham Estate's new general manager for conservation. Picture: James Bass

Jake Fiennes, Holkham Estate's new general manager for conservation. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

North Norfolk could be a trail-blazer for new wildlife-friendly farming strategies, the opening winter meeting of Stalham Farmers' Club was told.

Jake Fiennes, who began his new role as conservation general manager at the Holkham estate this month, told 35 club members that major changes to farm support will create opportunities for innovative policies, driven by practical farmers and land managers.

His vision of combined benefits for wildlife, landscape and for food production would be a challenge for the industry in the coming years, he said.

Having just left the Raveningham estate in south Norfolk after 24 years, he had seen how a 'cluster' approach involving tenants and even some neighbouring farmers had delivered positive results.

Average wheat yields on Sir Nicholas Bacon's estate had increased from 6.5 tonnes per hectare to 10.5t/ha while less-productive land had been converted into a beacon for wintering and breeding waterfowl.

Mr Fiennes, who briefed members on the latest National Farmers' Union (NFU) environment forum's discussions at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, had also recently spent two hours talking to Defra secretary Michael Gove about new wildlife farming strategies.

He said that north Norfolk, which had a number of large estates and farms, had the potential to work together to deliver real environmental benefits and produce high-quality food too.

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But farmers would have to learn new skills and techniques to deliver 'public goods' funded by the taxpayer, he said.

Also at the meeting, six new members were elected to the club, which started its 177th season at a new venue, Vera's Coffee Shop at AG Meale's nursery, near Stalham.

The chairman, Henry Alston, said the club had jointly won the Norfolk Livestock Clubs' county quiz with three members of Holt and District Farmers' Club. It was Stalham's first success in the quiz since the county competition was started in 2008. He thanked Nigel Cooke and the secretary, Michael Pollitt, for representing the club.