7th September 2022
Able Hands Together is a care farm, located just outside Stoford, north of Salisbury. Care farming is the therapeutic use of farming practices to help get people closer to nature and do something with real purpose.
The team at AHT received £21,944.92 worth of funding to cover the delivery of activities as part of the ‘Growing Together’ project. It runs until the end of the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme. Helena Darragh went to say hello and find out how the project is progressing.
At AHT, a dedicated team work with people with learning difficulties through supervised and structured programmes of farm-related activities, combining care of the land, environment, and animals, with the care of the people.
The people that attend the farm play an important part in the day to day running of the farm so are referred to as ‘Co-farmers’. Jobs on the farm might involve collecting eggs, feeding the lambs, moving rabbits, or cleaning the straw out of the guinea pig hutch. AHT is already well set-up to offer educational experiences for their Co-farmers, and AHT was keen to develop other activities on the farm that would deliver more for the environment and help build-up skills and interests among Co-farmers.
Historically, AHT has not been large enough to apply for funding under Defra’s Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme and given the size of the area under AHT management and the nature of their business, it has not been possible for AHT to obtain funding for land management or capital items through the CS scheme.
AHT Co-farmers are growing six hundred sapling trees (disease resistant Elms and a selection of native, locally sourced trees) and producing seventy small bird and bat boxes to supply to farmers in Cranborne Chase AONB.
The project is not just about growing trees, it is about creating more understanding of the natural environment, why there is a need to grow trees and why it is important to consider where these trees are located in the landscape. This is likely to include information on the importance of the locally grown disease resistant elm for white-letter hairstreak populations.
Wildlife boxes will be freely distributed to nearby farmers and land managers in the AONB, with information on where best to situate them and asked to provide updates to AHT and the AONB on their use. Similarly, trees will be made freely available to farmers and land managers to help gap up hedgerows, plant in-field trees and connect woodland habitats within the AONB.
Alongside these activities, AHT are running an education package for the Co-farmers. This will provide benefits to local wildlife, help fight climate change and better connect Co-farmers with the natural environment and the local community.
This project is delivering on all four of the FiPL themes: for nature, climate, people and place.
What was done?
So far, disease resistant elms have been given to AHT and they are being grown on by volunteers in pots. As acorns and other native seeds are dropped in local woods, Co-farmers will sustainably gather these to plant in pots and nurture to health over the coming couple of years, before planting on farmland in spots identified as being suitable by AONB staff and farm advisers.
A bird box and bat box have each been built by the Co-farmers, many of whom felt inspired to decorate and have taken some home to put up and observe wildlife from their gardens.
AHT have remarked on the incredible conversations that have been happening while making the nest boxes. AHT staff have been surprised by the reaction of the Co-farmers who really took to the nest box building and have developed a keen interest in the environment.
One Co-farmer now is going to create more areas out of old telegraph poles and pallets at AHT to grow vegetables, wildflowers and propagate the saplings. Another visually impaired Co-farmer expressed his joy at being able to create a nest box which has resulted in a real change in his interaction with staff and grown his interest in wildlife.
This is a real change in the Co-farmers which none of the staff foresaw when embarking on this project which is likely to lead to further opportunities to engage with nature on the farm, beyond the caring of the animals they look after. Talks are being planned in the autumn from local farm advisers and AHT are hoping to do bird and bat watching and grow their own wildflower meadow area on their holding, all as a result of the Growing Together project.
Unfortunately, the drought we have suffered this year has made caring for the elm trees particularly challenging. In a bid to prevent them drying out, some of the trees were overwatered by Co-farmers and have not survived. As a result, a timetable was drawn up by AHT to better monitor the propagation of the saplings with the Co-farmers taking more of a role in the gathering of seeds, planting and nurturing of older trees during the project.
Additionally, with autumn seeming to come sooner, and trees dropping leaves and their seeds earlier than usual, it is not known whether these seeds will be as viable as seeds in other years.
Nevertheless, to date the project has had wider ramifications than AHT has initially thought and has been so well received by the Co-farmers, reiterating the multiple benefits of nature. AHT are looking to develop the work they are doing on their holding and are looking forward to developing links with farmers across the AONB which may lead to farm visits for Co-farmers in future.
For more information about this or other Farming in Protected Landscapes projects, please get in touch with Helena Darragh at firstname.lastname@example.org