Early in the year we published the results of our work with Lancaster University on the potential resource protection benefits of field corner interception ponds (Journal of Environmental Management 135: 54-62). Several years of data on blackbird nesting success and breeding abundance were transformed into a paper in Journal of Wildlife Management (78: 402-412), identifying implications for the conservation of this and other songbirds. The first results from our School Farm demonstration catchment were published as a conference paper, and as an article in British Wildlife (25: 154-160), translating the concept of ecosystem services into a real practical example.
We have had more post-graduate students working with us than ever, each of them making a small but important contribution to our overall understanding of the integration of agricultural and environmental processes from field and farm to landscape scale. Thanks to them all for their hard work. Towards the end of the year, Dr Nicola Hinton joined our research team, providing us with the capacity to take forward our own soils research.
It has been a big year for the landscape scale Water Friendly Farming project. Our partners at the Freshwater Habitats Trust pulled together the three years of baseline data to enable us to publish a report on the first phase of this project. Even in this early stage, our findings have important implications for landscape scale aquatic wildlife conservation, and to our understanding of the relative importance of agricultural and domestic impacts on water quality. We continue to draw on our data and experience in the project to develop our understanding of other issues such as soil and nutrient resource use efficiency from a farming perspective, and the implications of headwater management for reducing the risk of flooding downstream. We are also investigating and addressing issues associated with the use of important crop protection products and drinking water supply.
We continue to apply the lessons learnt from our farm scale research at Loddington, and our landscape scale work in the Water Friendly Farming project, together with emerging results from research elsewhere, to inform practical management on farms in the wider river basin through the activities of the Welland Valley Partnership. As in the Water Friendly Farming project, we aim to work with farmers to identify synergies between the economic and broad environmental sustainability of farm businesses, and the requirements to protect water.
In November, we formally became one of five national sites within the Sustainable Intensification Platform, a Defra-funded initiative to create a network of demonstration farms linked to landscape scale projects. Our initial contribution at the farm scale is to gather baseline data and carry out some preliminary trials on crop establishment and cover crops. We will also be exploring the relationship between sheep performance and the minerals available to them in ley swards. Our research partners on this are NIAB TAG and Nottingham University (Sutton Bonington). At the landscape scale, initial activity involves baseline surveys of farm businesses and exploring the potential for collaborative activities that strengthen the capacity of farm businesses to combine economic, environmental and production objectives. We look forward to working with Exeter University on this project.
Thanks to all those who have worked with us in 2014. Another successful year draws to a close, laying down foundations for even better things in 2015!