Farming has for centuries influenced the landscape and natural environment in the UK. Here in the Yorkshire Dales the rich tapestry and iconic landscape of dry-stone walls, pastures and hill land is one of the lasting memories for visitors.
Humans have also developed and created ecosystems that are beneficial for nature and some unnatural ecosystems have proven to be the most diverse and valuable ecosystems in the world. These rich habitats are proof that humans can integrate themselves into the natural system and are in fact inevitably the keystone species on our planet for nature restoration.
Examples of such environments include:
Ancient Veteran Orchards
The ancient veteran orchards of the south of England full of gnarled fruit trees of dead wood and beneficial for insect life and hollows for hibernating mammals are being much studied for their remarkable levels of biodiversity. The deadwood found on these ancient trees can be home to as many as 400 species of invertebrates and the flowers of apple trees feed many pollinators. The unimproved grasslands contain many rare examples of flora and the light planting density allows light in for plant species and warmth for insects a mammals.
At Telfit we have decided taken inspiration from these ecosystems and would love to see such an ecosystem on our farm. As such we have planted an orchard of 325 apple trees nestled alongside the beck in a sheltered and fertile part of Telfit Farm. Here we are already seeing nature moving back in with resident hare population and wonderful flower species developing.
Sadly 60% of these orchards have been lost in the last 60 years. Some have been torn out and many have been left to ruin. It takes years to achieve these levels of biodiversity but there are now concerted efforts to preserve and enhance these environments that remain and to replant lost ones.
Other such human influenced environments that have had benefits for nature are hedgerow. Introduced by humans as barriers for both the shelter and restraining of livestock in their pastures. This tapestry covering the UK spreads everywhere (our hedgerows are longer than our road network). These act much like the road network for mammals and other animals as they travel along them.
The blackthorn and hawthorn provide valuable early nectar and winter berries that preserve life throughout the seasons. They also provide valuable shelter throughout the winter for hibernating species and protection from predators. Hedge laying, the ancient art of cutting the trunks of the growing parts and laying them down in to thicken the hedge and form a barrier to the livestock, creates deadwood that is a vital habitat for invertibrates. May other diverse plants also thrive in hedgerows. Honeysuckle and dog rose provide nectar. Blackberries and hazelnuts form valuable winter forage for mammals. Many rare mammals now only survive because of our nations hedgerows.
Like the Orchards many of our hedgerows have been lost. The industrialisation of agriculture resulted in many hedges being torn out to provide efficiencies in farming. Nearly 120,000 miles of these critical hedgerows have been torn out since the 1950’s. There has fortunately been the green shoots of recovery in this and 60% of farms have been replanting these hedgerows. The benefits of these will soon be felt for nature.
2000 years ago, a quarter of the UK were wetlands. Humans in search for more farming land to grow crops started to drain the land of water. Nowadays most of this is gone. Ponds are a critical ecosystem for many species and are one of the most biodiverse habitats we have. Fortunately humans are capable of enhancing and even producing these highly valuable habitats. Manmade ponds have developed into highly valuable habitats that are home to some of the most endangered of UK species. Two thirds of all freshwater species can be found in ponds. Frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies can all be found living around our ponds.
Fortunately there are now exciting plans to reintroduce ponds around the UK. The million ponds project plans to dig 1,000,000 ponds in the next 50 years. Reintroducing nationwide these valuable ecosystems.
There are many things that humans have done wrong that have caused great damage to the environment but also many that have had notable benefits too. The good thing is that it also appears that we are learning again the value of nature for our farming and that the two can benefit each other. There are exciting and critical plans to redevelop, restore and spread these highly valuable ecosystems throughout the UK and with time nature and people will benefit from these actions.