Loss of arable land wiped out plants

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In response to your article (April 26) ‘Anger over loss of chalk grassland’, much of the South Downs was put into arable reversion leys in the last 15 years as part of the Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme.

The uptake of this scheme was enormous as the financial incentives were attractive to farmers and landowners.

Much research has taken place on the effect that this has had on the environment and the wildlife in those areas. The almost total loss of arable fields in some parts of the Downs has virtually wiped out arable downland species of plants and the insects and animals that depend upon them.

The South Downs are home for many more species than just those that are found in and on downland turf.

As a result, the ESA scheme was unsuccessful and is now finished. It has been replaced by the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which encourages a jigsaw of different cropping to provide a balance of habitats nurturing many different species.

The racecourse fields were in an arable reversion scheme which has now expired. The idea is to provide a habitat mosaic on our farm in blocks of around 20 hectares. These provide an essential balanced environment for all wildlife. In particular arable fields are an important source of food for many over wintering bird species on the stubble and Natural England provide payments to promote this aspect of farming.

Our farm is a haven for wildlife running from brookland to downland of which we are justifiably proud ,as well as producing international prize winning livestock.

If Stephen Watson was observant he would notice that many thousands of hectares, belonging to many different farmers immediately around Lewes and all over the South Downs, have been ploughed up in the last two years to achieve the goals detailed above.

We can appreciate that it is not always easy for private individuals outside our industry to understand what is going on and why.

The aesthetic and recreational value of this land is not the only concern of the various bodies looking after it. The fields were assessed by East Sussex County Council, English Heritage and Natural England and a full ecological survey took place, carried out by highly qualified staff. If the field had been of high ecological value as suggested the necessary permissions to cultivate would not have been granted.

As mentioned in your article, we have holiday cottages.

The race course fields are too far from the cottages to affect the guests staying there but the people coming to stay know that they are coming to a fully working farm and that is much of the attraction. There are always arable fields around the cottages as well as grass leys.

The tourists love to see the tractors and combines working as well as the livestock with their young. Normal farming practices cannot possibly adversely affect tourism to the South Downs National Park.

Susan Harmer