The Co-operative offers a lifeline to endangered and protected species
Endangered and protected species are being offered a lifeline by Britain’s largest farmer, The Co-operative Group.
The Group has set up a team of “Habitat Heroes” on six of its farms across the country, to help preserve some of the UK’s most iconic species, including water voles, otters, bats and red squirrels.
By launching the national wildlife initiative, The Group’s farming business joins leading environmental campaigners who are taking direct action to help preserve species under threat, in response to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and continuing concerns over a global decline in biodiversity.
The Habitat Heroes project aims to identify where The Co-operative Farms can make investments and adaptations on the six farms to improve the habitats, feeding and breeding opportunities for endangered or protected species, helping to safeguard them for the future.
The Co-operative Group is funding the project, whilst its farming business has harnessed the support of farm managers, local environmental groups and volunteers to carry out the vital environmental work to improve and sustain the habitats of species that are indigenous to the farms.
Christine Tacon, Managing Director of The Co-operative Farms, said: “As Britain’s largest farmer we feel we have a responsibility to lead the way environmentally. The Habitat Heroes project gives us the chance to look at ways we can really make our land work for local wildlife.”
She added: “The beauty of this scheme is that we can keep on re-visiting and revising it. As part of the scheme, we will conduct regular surveys into the wildlife on our land to find out what is working and where we are seeing positive results, to help guide the environmental work we commit to in the future.”
The six farms taking part in the Habitat Heroes project are Goole in Yorkshire, Coldham in Cambridgeshire, Tillington in Herefordshire, Blairgowrie in Perthshire, Down Ampney in Gloucestershire and Stoughton in Leicestershire. Several of the sites have webcams to study the targeted species.
The first piece of work to be completed as part of Habitat Heroes, was an artificial otter holt at The Co-operative’s farm in Coldham. The holt has been fitted with an “otter-cam”, which recently captured rare footage of an otter investigating the holt on a number of occasions.
For this part of the project, The Co-operative is working with Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners, the drainage authority for the middle of the Fens, who commented: “The site at the Coldham farm is perfect for an otter holt as it is so secluded and it is now a key site in the network of holts we have created. The fact that The Co-operative has already gained rare footage of an otter in the holt is a great sign as it suggests they will be keen to make regular use of the site as they move around the river.”
Otter numbers have declined in the UK since the 1950s due to pesticide use, hunting and habitat destruction, so artificial holts now provide a refuge for otters whilst natural habitats recover.
At Down Ampney, the Farm Manager has linked up with Gloucestershire’s Barn Owl Centre. The centre has created and erected three super-sized four-foot nesting boxes, called Barn Owl Manors, on the farm. The nesting boxes are the first of their kind and stand on six-foot high stilts. Their innovative design deters other birds from nesting in them and makes it impossible for foxes to access, thereby increasing the chances of barn owls making them their home. The boxes have been fitted with a high-tech camera system, allowing non-invasive observation of nesting activity.
In Goole, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has conducted a 50-day survey of the farm’s watercourses to map the positive signs of water voles. The number of water voles in the UK shrank after their biggest predator, the American mink, was introduced to the country. With a map in place, the Goole Farm Manager is now able to stagger his ditch management and clearance programmes, giving water voles the opportunity to move homes, improving their chance of survival.
At Blairgowrie, Perthshire, The Co-operative Farms is working with local environment group, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, to monitor the population of red squirrels in the area and have put up “reds-only” feeding boxes to supplement their diet.
Meanwhile in Tillington, a licensed bat expert and the Herefordshire Bat Group is advising The Co-operative on how to create habitat and roosting opportunities for bats, by retaining older trees for summer roosting, planting bat-friendly windbreaks and co-ordinating the hanging of 50 bat boxes around the farm.
At the sixth farm in Stoughton, Leicestershire, the project is focusing on pollinators such as hoverflies, butterflies and bees. Wild flower mixes have been sown on strips of land between fields to help encourage the species to visit and thrive on the land. The Co-operative Farms is looking at ways of monitoring the population of pollinators as part of the project and are working with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust to access how they an further support pollinators on the farm.
Building on the success of its award-winning “From Farm to Fork” scheme, which has welcomed more than 45, 000 schoolchildren to its farms, The Co-operative Farms will incorporate Habitat Heroes’ activities into The Co-operative’s Green Schools Revolution to encourage schools to take part in eco-friendly activities. Schools can register to benefit from Green Schools Revolution at www.greenschools.coop
Protecting the environment and inspiring young people are key elements in the Group’s groundbreaking Ethical Plan launched earlier this year.
The Co-operative Group:
The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned not by private shareholders but by almost six million consumers. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, the leading convenience store operator and a major financial services provider, operating both The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Insurance. Among its other businesses are the number one funeral services provider and Britain’s largest farming operation. As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group has also set out its social and sustainability goals in its groundbreaking Ethical Plan, which specifies almost 50 commitments in these areas.
The Group operates over 5,000 retail trading outlets, employs more than 110,000 people and has an annual turnover of £13.7bn. Further information is available at www.co-operative.coop
The Co-operative Farms:
The Co-operative has a long agricultural heritage and has farmed land across the UK since 1896, when the Group bought its first farm to grow potatoes for Co-operative food stores. The “Grown by us” range consists of food and drink either grown by The Co-operative Farms, or made using ingredients grown by the business. Caring for the environment and growing good quality produce remain at the heart of The Co-operative Farms business.
The Co-operative Farms manages more than 50,000 acres of land, which it owns or farms on behalf of other landowners, from the north of Scotland to southern England.
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- Michelle Henderson
- Public Relations Manager - Food and Farms
- The Co-operative Group
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