The hungry gap and soil health

By Toby Neal | Farming | Published:

Looking out of the window the snow has been a wonderful backdrop highlighting flocks of little birds out there struggling with the icy blast.

Tim Main, chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

I hope by the time you read this that it will have passed. I also hope that many of you have participated in the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s annual farmland bird count, which is gaining momentum year on year.

The bird count enables the GWCT to build a long term national picture of what is happening to our farmland birds in the countryside, thereby aiding research and contributing to future policy. It was in no minor way as a result of GWCT research that Natural England now oversees payments to farmers for feeding in the “hungry gap,” between December and April. Remember early spring is critical, for nest building, breeding, incubating and hatching young, so do keep feeding the birds until spring has well and truly sprung.

It is with great sadness that we hear Ian Coghill, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s longest-serving chairman, will be stepping down from his role. It will mark an end of a highly successful eight years in charge, during which Mr Coghill showed great passion for the Trust’s work.

He has been a frequent visitor to Shropshire where his passion for the work of the GWCT was inspirational and driven with infectious energy. Ian’s successor as chairman will be Sir James Paice, who will start his new role in July. Sir James enjoyed a long political career as a Conservative MP and spent two years as Minister of State for DEFRA.

Concern over soil health and soil erosion is gathering momentum. The GWCT recently held a two day conference bringing together top UK researchers, policy makers and farmers. The conference highlighted the effect we have had on this fundamental resource and the importance of soil, not just as the essential component for farming and food production, but the way we live our lives and utilise the land.

In the UK, 17 per cent of arable soils already show signs of erosion, 40 per cent is considered at risk and this has an impact not only on our land, but our water too.

This month we have what promises to be a feast of food and skill at a “Venison Evening” at Apley Farm Shop, by kind permission of Lord and Lady Hamilton. To take place on Thursday, March 15, it will comprise of a butchery demonstration, followed by a venison dinner. For more information contact

Tim Main is chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.


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