Defra’s 2021-22 Farm Business Income stats – what do they mean for Dartmoor?

Defra has recently published its Farm Business Income (FBI) figures for 2021-22. The full details can be found here. The FBI statistics given an overall picture of the financial health of farming in England by farming type and these are summarised below. Overall farming had a good year with the exception of the pig sector whose woes have been widely reported. 

The uplands of England are detailed in the report as ‘Livestock Grazing (LFA)’, [LFA = Less Favoured Areas], I will use these figures as a proxy for what happened on Dartmoor in 2021-22. The data represent the average figures for upland farms in England but nevertheless are useful in providing trends and comparisons to previous years. The Defra commentary on the Grazing Livestock (LFA) figures is as follows.

So, in summary, upland farming in England had its best year financially since 2011-12 and this was largely driven by strong sales particularly from sheep. The figures did somewhat surprise me as input costs (fertilisers and fuel costs for example) had already begun to rise by late 2021 as a result of global geopolitical insecurities. Additionally, the concerns of Brexit on sheep sales to Europe appear not to have impacted on upland farm finances. Nevertheless, the full impacts of the war in Ukraine will not be fully felt until the 2022-23 figures are published.

It should also be noted that despite the unprecedentedly strong sheep sales and prices the average English upland farm only made a profit of £200 from its agricultural activity. FBI for upland farms rose by almost a third to an average of £42,900 with almost of this coming from public subsidies, environmental grants and diversified income. Without these income streams the average upland farm would have made a profit of just £4100. The FBI data for Grazing Livestock LFA farms since 2012 is summarised in the table below and is depicted in the two graphs below the table.

Agri-environment Schemes
DiversificationBasic Payment Scheme 
Farm Business Income
Aes & BPSFBI- Aes & BPS
2012/13(8900)9100 1600 17800 19600 26900 (7300)
2013/14(13200)9100 2000 16600 14500 25700 (11200)
2014/15(11800)8800 2200 15500 14700 24300 (9600)
2015/16(10700)9800 2300 17700 19100 27500 (8400)
2016/17(9400)11200 2400 22800 27000 34000 (7000)
2017/18(12500)12000 2900 25900 28300 37900 (9600)
2018/19(21500)10300 2700 24000 15500 34300 (18800)
2019/20(16600)11300 2600 25500 22800 36800 (14000)
2020/2021(6600)10400 2900 26700 33400 37100 (3700)
2021/2022200 12300 3900 26500 42900 38800 4100 
Grazing Livestock LFA

What is evident from the FBI graph is that upland farm income is very volatile – the 2021-22 figures are almost 3 times as high as the 2013-14 ones. It is also worth noting that there has been a steady and significant growth in upland FBI over the past three years.

However, in my view, the strong 2021-22 figures mask the underlying financial fragility of upland farming (including Dartmoor). The impact of the war in Ukraine on Dartmoor hill-farming is something I have written about before – see here and I fear that the financial impact of this will not be felt until the 2022-23 financial year. In addition the drought in the summer this year has led a shortage of fodder which will impact many detrimentally over the coming winter months. It is also proving difficult to forecast whether sheep prices will remain high, partly due to global uncertainties but also the impact of rising costs and the pressure this puts on household budgets.

Finally, there is the uncertainty created by the on-going changes in UK domestic agricultural policy. The Government has recently re-stated that it is not considering a change to the Agricultural Transition Plan, which means that the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidies will be completely phased out by 2027 (with a 50% reduction by 2024). Additionally, there is still a lack of clarity on what the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will look like and what the payment levels will be. This is particularly true for upland areas and for common land. ELMS will replace existing agri-environmental grants schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship in 2024. Based on the 2021-22 FBI figures BPS and agri-environmental grant schemes accounted for 90.4% of the average upland farm’s FBI in England. If the BPS and environmental grant payments are excluded from the FBI the average upland farmer in England would only have £4100 to live on for a year. Applying the same logic to the 2018-19 figures the average upland farmer would have made a loss of £18,800……..

Great day in the field – Roesel’s Bush-cricket

The sun came out this afternoon so I headed into the field in search of Roesel’s Bush-cricket – a species first recorded in Devon in 2014 which until now I have failed to find! Went to a couple of areas where it had been recorded before. I found a single adult in an uncut road verge on the south side of Rewe and then found three individuals by the food alleviation scheme in Exwick directly adjacent to to the north side of Station Road.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket – long-winged specimen f.dilata in Exwick

Roesel’s Bush-crickets are tricky to find but with the use of a bat detector (which makes their distinctive but inaudible songs audible) they can be tracked down. I use a Batbox Duet set at 40kHz and their songs then become audible.

Roesel’s Bush-cricket played through a Batbox Duet at 40KHz

Here is the current known (to me) distribution of Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon

And this is the classic habitat – rough uncut grassland

If you see or hear any Roesel’s Bush-crickets in Devon – please let me know – I’m the county Recorder for Orthoptera – email me: adrian dot colston at gmail dot com …. many thanks

Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon

Prior to 1980 Roesel’s Bush-cricket had a restricted distribution in the UK being found in coastal grasslands from Kent to the Humber. After 1980 the species began a dramatic range expansion north and west.

The species was finally recorded in Devon in 2014 but is colonisation of the county has been slow.

Below is a list of all the records of Roesel’s Bush-cricket in Devon, I’m sure it is an under-estimate and I am keen to receive further records if you have seen it in Devon.

SpeciesDateLocationGrid ReferenceRecorderNumberComments
Metrioptera roeselii08/08/2014Flockmill, ReweSS960007Karim Vahed1f. diluta
Metrioptera roeselii29/07/2017Trinity Hall Nature Reserve, AxminsterSY308957Alex WorsleyMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii06/07/2018Dawlish WarrenSX9878Philip Chambers1f. diluta
Metrioptera roeselii21/08/2019Flockmill, ReweSS960007Gabriel Vahed1Male
Metrioptera roeselii26/08/2019A3052, WestonSY173907Kevin Rylands1 
Metrioptera roeselii01/09/2019Seaton MarshesSY2591Dave SmallshireMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii25/06/2020Ross Meadow, Fingle WoodsSX795888Tom Williams1 
Metrioptera roeselii21/07/2020Axmouth – Lyme Regis CliffsSY273896John WaltersMultiple 
Metrioptera roeselii08/08/2020Halsden Farm, ExmouthSX9982Will Scott1 
Metrioptera roeselii09/08/2020Exwick, Exe ValleySX9093Will Scott1 
Metrioptera roeselii03/08/2021Beer meadowSY213894Christopher HodgsonMultiple 
This is a photo of the first record – found by Professor Karim Vahed at the Flockmill in Rewe, near Exeter. This is a ‘macropterous’ (f. diluta) individual i.e. it has long wings which enables it to fly and therefore disperse and colonise new areas. (Photo Karim Vahed)
Here is a male (non macropterous, known as brachypterous) individual, photographed at the same site in 2017 and found by Karim’s son Gabriel. This discovery would imply that a founder colony was formed in 2014 and persisted to 2017. The green strip on the pronotum and spots on the side of the thorax are diagnostic. (Photo Karim Vahed.)
Here is another male, this time photographed at Ross Meadow in Fingle Woods on Dartmoor in 2020. (Photo Tom Williams)

To date this year I have received one record from a new site at Beer, found by Christopher Hodgson. The species favours long unkempt grass and can be quite difficult to spot as individuals skulk. However Roesel’s Bush-crickets have a very distinctive song which is audible to those with good hearing. I use a bat detector to pick up the call now I’m older!

Follow this link to the website of Orthoptera UK and you can play a sound clip to hear how distinctive the song is. The individuals which the long wings stridulate and produce a loud song which to me sounds like standing under a high voltage electric pylon in the rain!

Now is the time to go out and find Roesel’s Bush-crickets. Majority of the Devon records are to the east of Exeter. On a hot sunny day see if you can see or hear any…. and if you do, please let me know as I’m the County Recorder for Devon for Orthoptera.

Defra announcements: FIPL and initial response to the Glover Review

Defra has made a number of announcements this morning about the Farming in Protected Landscape scheme (FIPL) and have given their initial reaction to the Glover Review published in September 2019 (see here and here).

By Protected Landscapes, Defra mean National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Defra have issued a press release (see here) which sets out the scope of the scheme. In essence this is a grant scheme to:- 

‘to make improvements to the natural environment and improve public access on their land – the next step in the Government’s landmark plans for a renewed agriculture sector outside of the Common Agricultural Policy. The funding will go towards one-off projects to support nature recovery; improve public access; mitigate the impacts of climate change; provide opportunities for people to enjoy and understand the landscape; and support nature-friendly and sustainable farm businesses.’

This is a grant scheme to fund works and is not an income support scheme for farmers and land managers.

More details on the Scheme are set out in a Guidance note (see here). To be eligible to apply applicants need to meet the following criteria – interesting to note that common land is included.

Additionally, for Dartmoor, the National Park Authority have produced a page on their website which expands on the Defra information (see here).

The page includes examples of the types of project which could be funded.

I haven’t yet discovered what the England and Dartmoor budgets are for this scheme, but this information will be needed so that applicants match their project aspirations to the available grant monies.

Initial response to the Glover Review

This is based on a Parliamentary Statement made by Secretary of State George Eustice (see here). Much of the Statement builds on previous announcements regarding nature recovery, access and inclusions issues. There are a few sentences on the future governance of protected areas.

‘Each of our protected landscapes has its own identity, and many of their functions require local accountability. However, we are also considering how their structures might be changed so that we can bring the family of protected landscapes closer together, and ensure there is more strategic direction nationally, while retaining their local functions.’ 

 These words seem to mirror the report from Tom Heap on Countryfile a couple of months ago, but we are going to have to wait until later in the year to receive the detailed proposals, which will then be consulted on.

It is good to see more information emerging but as with previous announcements the detail is partial and somewhat fragmented. The FIPL scheme is due to open in July 2021 so it will be useful to see the budgets for this sooner rather than later.

Broad-banded Nomad bee in my garden!

Whenever the sun came out yesterday I was out in my garden in Exeter looking for bees and other wildlife. There were a couple of Nomad bees hawking over my lawn and I managed to get some reasonable photographs of them. Nomad bees are cleptoparasites, they lay their eggs in the nest cells of other bee species and their larvae feed off the host bees pollen stores (and the larvae / egg) meant for their own off-spring.

At first glance I thought it was Nomada flava, the Flavous Nomad Bee but it didn’t look quite right, it looked much more like Nomada signata, the Broad-banded Nomad Bee. I have a list of Devon bees and that suggested that N. signata was now extinct in the county. So I posted the pictures on Twitter, asked the question and tagged in Steven Falk, the bee expert and author of the excellent Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland.

All rather unexpected and exciting! I’ve now checked the National Biodiversity Network and see that the species was recorded from the Cullompton area in 2020. Very possible that this little is undergoing a range expansion, possibly as the result of climate change.

It is / was a pretty scarce species and it parasitises the nests of the common bee Andrena fulva, the Tawny Mining Bee which is a resident in my garden.

In recent years I have started managing my lawn as a mini hay meadow, letting it grow until around September when I then cut it. As a result it has a lot of wild flowers and quite a few bees!

There is Steven’s book if you haven’t seen it and are interested in identifying bees – it is excellent.

Here are a couple of full size images on Nomada signata, the Broad-banded Nomad Bee.

Thinking about sheep

Thinking about sheep

Sheep are obviously one of my research interests, but nevertheless I do find the role that they have played in our lives from the point when we stopped being hunter gatherers and became farmers really fascinating. They have clothed us, fed us and at points in the past made the UK fabulously wealthy, sheep terminology is unique and many sheepy terms are deeply ingrained in our culture and language. Now sheep in the UK find themselves at a crossroads.

I’ve just finished reading ‘A Short History of the World according to sheep’ – very good and I can recommend any of the books below if you want to find our more about sheep, our history and culture.

As part of this current lockdown I have produced a series of 10 sheep cartoons to try and capture the role of sheep in our lives …… hope you enjoy them …. I really enjoyed producing them!

Might ‘virtual’ fencing help reduce the Molinia jungle on Dartmoor?

I have written a lot in the past about the issue of under-grazed un-grazed areas of purple moor grass, known also as Molinia, on Dartmoor. There are some very significant areas of this grass on Dartmoor’s Commons, most on areas of wet heath or hydrologically non-functional blanket bog. It forms areas of tussocky vegetation which tends to swamp other plants and can be very difficult to walk through. The main way of dealing with this problem is through the spring and early summer grazing of this grass by cattle. Between May and July Moliniais both nutritious and palatable to cattle. The challenge on the Commons of Dartmoor has been getting the cattle into the Molinia blocks and then shepherding them to stay there. In this day and age, the necessary labour is often not available to achieve this.

With this issue in mind I attended a webinar yesterday, organised by the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership on ‘Cows and Conservation: the role of livestock in landscape restoration’. There were a number of presentations but three seemed very relevant to the Dartmoor Molinia problem.

Huw Connick talked about ‘Holistic Management’ – these are the ideas pioneered by Allan Savory who lives in Zimbabwe, many farmers in this country are attracted to his ideas and they are better illustrated here by ‘mob grazing’ where large numbers of grazing animals are put on a small strip of a field and restrained by electric fencing and then moved onto the next strip etc. This allows grassland to be grazed and then have significant period of time to recover and grow before they are grazed again. The idea of mob grazing is to mimic the situation found on Africa’s savannahs where predators are constantly moving the herds of grazers along which stops specific areas becoming over-grazed. Achieving this on Dartmoor’s Commons is not practical on account of the shepherding that is required and of course the absence of livestock predators, however …

The second talk was by Synne Foss Budal who works for a Norwegian company called  ‘NoFence Grazing Technology – the world’s first virtual fence for livestock’. They have produced a collar for either cattle, sheep or goats which allows graziers to select an area of ground where they want their animals to graze, if the animals attempt to stray out of the designated area, the collar initially makes a sound audible to the animal and if it continues to stray it will receive a ‘pulse’ (electric shock) which makes it return to where it is supposed to be. The system works by GPS, a phone-based GIS app and also requires 2G phone connectivity so that the farmer can keep a digital eye on their stock. 

There is a very informative website – here – with a series of videos showing the system in action, additionally there is a user guide which can be downloaded

The last presentation was by Emma Wright of the North Pennines AONB Partnership where she talked about the use of the NoFence technology by the RSPB at their Geltsdale Reserve in the North Pennines where the system is used on cattle.

There is clearly a cost to this system, I have tried to draw up some ball-park figures to give you an idea of the investment required. Costs come in two parts, the one-off purchase of the collars, batteries, chargers etc and the annual costs of using the software and GPS – these costs are determined by the number of collars utilised and the duration of the grazing period. In a Dartmoor context using suckler cows, it is only the mothers that require the collars.

Here are a few broad brush sets of costings. It would appear that a collar charger and spare battery for a cow costs around £350.

Number of cattleGrazing durationCapital costAnnual charge
503 months£17,500£1350
1003 months£35,000£2430
508 months£17,500£2640
1009 months£35,000£4860

These are not insignificant sums of money! Additionally, the drawing up of grazing areas where it is desirable to hold cattle to graze the Molinia will of course also need to include the areas that contain their drinking sources, not all Commons may be suitable for such an approach, but nevertheless it struck me that this might a technology which might be able to play a role to help hill-farmers and deliver conservation outputs.

These ‘collar’ technologies have been around for a while, but earlier versions involved cables in the soil and there were doubt whether the GPS versions actually works, NoFence appear to have a system which works. 

As we move towards ELMS and the vision to see our National Parks richer in wildlife with hill-farmers delivering a range of public goods, it strikes me that a trial on Dartmoor would be a good thing. In due course, if effective the deployment of such a system could be funded by ELMS. Be interested to hear what hill-farmers and conservationists think.