The Co-operative Group is celebrating the first anniversary of its ground-breaking Habitat Heroes projects, to protect and preserve endangered wildlife, with the launch of a seventh scheme in Kent.
The Group, one of Britain’s largest farmers, launched the lifeline last year by setting up a team of “Habitat Heroes” on six of the farms it owns or manages, to help preserve some of the country’s most iconic species.
Over the last 12 months, the projects have recorded several successes as part of the national initiative. Widespread wildlife activity has been recorded on all the farms, and plans are now in place for the next phase of the project with the surveys to continue and for improvements to be made on farms to improve wildlife habitats.
The latest scheme, to protect farmland birds such as Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge, Turtle Doves and Yellow Wagtails, has been launched at Highland Court, near Canterbury, Kent. Working with conservation charity, Kent Wildlife Trust, the farm is recruiting volunteers to carry out population surveys of the species that live on the farm.
The six other farms taking part in the project are Goole in Yorkshire, Coldham in Cambridgeshire, Tillington in Herefordshire, Blairgowrie in Perthshire, Down Ampney in Gloucestershire and Stoughton in Leicestershire.
Kate Jones, who heads The Co-operative’s farming operation, said: “The Habitat Heroes project has been a great success so far and we’ve seen some really positive results at all the farms involved, which shows the project is really making a difference.
“Nature needs all the help it can get and the latest scheme at Highland Court to boost farmland birds, along with all the other projects at our farms across the country, gives us the chance to lead the way environmentally by making our land work for local wildlife.”
One of the first pieces of work to be completed as part of Habitat Heroes, was an artificial otter holt, fitted with an “otter-cam” at The Co-operative’s farm in Coldham. It has captured rare footage and there have been positive signs of an increase of more than 20% in otter activity on the farm. As a result, a second otter holt, fitted with a solar-powered camera, is being built on the estate.
At Tillington, the farm worked with local Council’s Countryside Officer and licensed bat expert to hang 50 bat boxes across the estate. Since then, surveys by national ecological experts, Swift Ecology Ltd, have shown plenty of bat activity and identified more than five species of bats on the farm. Later this year, around 2,000 mixed trees will be planted to create bat-friendly windbreaks and join up the existing habitats on the estate near Hereford.
The farm at Down Ampney worked with Gloucestershire Barn Owl Centre to erect three super-sized “Barn Owl Manors” fitted with high-tech cameras. They have captured on film two barn owls using the nesting boxes, and subsequent surveys by the British Trust for Ornithology have shown positive signs of barn owl activity right across the site.
At Blairgowrie in Scotland, the farm has worked with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels to monitor the population, and put up “reds-only” feeding boxes, where they have found plenty of red squirrel activity and sightings over the last 12 months. Meanwhile the Goole farm has worked with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to conduct weekly surveys to map the estate and have found plenty of positive water vole activity, as well as recording several sightings.
Finally, at Stoughton, Leicestershire, the project has focused on pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, where several different species have been identified on the farm, which has planted strips of wild flower mixes to encourage pollinators to visit and thrive on the land. As part of the project the farm is working with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust to monitor the population and assess how they can further support pollinators on the farm.
The Group’s farming business has worked with leading environmental groups to identify where investments and adaptations could be made to improve the habitats, feeding and breeding opportunities for key endangered or protected species, such as water voles, otters and red squirrels, helping to safeguard them for the future.
The Co-operative Group is funding the Habitat Heroes project, whilst its farming business has harnessed the support of farm managers, local environmental groups and volunteers to carry out vital environmental work to improve and sustain the habitats of species that are indigenous to the farms. Protecting the environment is a key element of the Group’s Ethical Plan.
Building on the success of its award-winning “From Farm to Fork” scheme, a nationwide initiative aimed at giving schoolchildren a greater understanding of the outdoors and an understanding of farming, The Co-operative Farms has incorporated Habitat Heroes’ activities into The Co-operative’s Green Schools Revolution to encourage schools to take part in eco-friendly activities.