Insights from the Framework Project Annual Meeting 2023...
The Framework Project Annual Meeting 2023, hosted by The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, brought together farmers, naturalists, scientists, and facilitators to explore innovative approaches to farmland biodiversity conservation. The event, held from 14th to 16th March, witnessed enthusiastic participation from various individuals and organisations working towards sustainable farming practices and habitat connectivity. Here's some highlights from a meeting that shed light on the power of Farmer Clusters to shape the future of agriculture and ecological conservation. And provided an opportunity for useful field visits and sessions across the project's Work Packages.
The Vision of Farmer Clusters
One of the key topics discussed during the meeting was the concept of Farmer Clusters. It was great for attendees to visit the Martin Down Cluster to see how the concept developed in the UK before the Framework project was funded to expand the network into Europe. Professor Andrew Hoodless from GWCT emphasised how their organisation collaborates with landowners and farmers to find practical solutions to environmental challenges. Niamh McHugh, Head of Farmland Ecology at GWCT, shared insights into the Martin Down Farmer Cluster, which has grown to increase habitat connectivity through cooperation and collaboration among farmers. The Farmer Clusters' core idea is to enable farmers to prioritise their own goals, with facilitators providing advice and support to help them achieve sustainable outcomes.
Building Strong Relationships
A critical aspect highlighted by attendees was the importance of building strong relationships between farmers and facilitators. Peter Thompson, who played a crucial role in establishing the Martin Down Farmer Cluster, shared his experience of explaining to farmers how their lands were interconnected at a landscape-scale. The collaboration between farmers in these clusters has resulted in less isolated farmland, with greater emphasis on landscape-scale management.
Farming with a Purpose
AGM23 attendees received a Farm Tour from Jimi Collis of Launceston Farm, a member of Framework's Cranborne Chase Farmer Cluster. The tour exemplified the benefits of embracing a practical approach. Jimi described making decisions based on whether they make life easier for farmers while also considering ethical implications around sustainability and environmental health. Clare Buckerfield, a Farmer Cluster Facilitator at FWAG, lauded Collis' innovative spirit and adaptability, leading to the integration of ecological considerations into his farming practices. Jimi also discussed the importance Farmers doing their own online learning and research, sharing British and European sector-leaders who he has learnt from on social media.
Framework's Platform for Community Engagement
A visiting delegation of farmers from Framework's Czech Republic Farmer Cluster, led by Facilitator Jan Trávnicek, expressed their interest in transferring knowledge from the UK Cluster visit back home. Researcher Iris Bohnet from consortium partner The Czech University of Life Sciences spoke about how the Framework Project has provided an essential platform for community engagement. The meeting served as an opportunity to share experiences and learn from the diverse perspectives of fellow participants, enabling attendees to take valuable insights back to their respective regions.
Work Package Updates
Fanny Tran, the Project Manager, expressed her satisfaction with opportunities for exchanges and presentations by attendees during the event. Project Coordinator Dr Graham Begg, from The James Hutton Institute, also highlighted the importance of sharing information from across the Framework's work packages. This exchange of updates and results allowed for valuable insights and contributions to shape discussions of project progress and development.
There were useful updates on the development of the Data hub and Info Hubs by CREAF and IIASA. The data hub will allow the project's biodiversity research to inform stakeholder decision making. Recodo, the Info Hub, will provide farmers with more information on their land and build a feedback loop promoting innovation based on shared relationships and achievements. Phds Moritz Fritschle and Thomas Rellensmann of Osnabrück University gave interesting sessions about ongoing social science investigating the economics of how farmers value agrobiodiversity.
The Farmer Cluster approach emerged as a pivotal aspect of the project's legacy. At an evening address to attendees, Professor Andrew Hoodless from GWCT pointed out that technology has made accessing data easier for farmers, allowing them to research evidence-based farm management techniques. Professor Emeritus Nick Southerton, GWCT, praised the project's success and the ongoing devlopment of the Farmer Cluster approach beyond the UK.
Looking To The Future
Overall, The Framework Project Annual Meeting 2023 showcased the potential of Farmer Clusters in driving positive change in agriculture and biodiversity conservation. The event fostered meaningful connections, emphasised the power of practical solutions, and underscored the importance of community engagement. As Farmer Clusters continue to grow, they hold the promise of transforming farming practices, contributing to sustainable agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity for future generations.
The meeting left participants inspired and motivated to continue their efforts in researching and enacting valuing agrobiodiversity. As the meeting concluded, it was evident that the project has created a strong network of like-minded individuals determined to make a positive impact on the sustainability of agrarian landscapes. With their collaborative efforts, these farmers, researchers, and facilitators are part of a new era of agriculture that emphasises harmony between ecology and farming practices. As the Framework Project enters its second half, the participants are eager to continue their contributions towards building a food system fit for the future.