June 15, 2010: Many of the last of the Swiss flower meadows will fall to the scythe (oops – the mower) today. That’s the haying date Swiss farmers have to wait to for, to be eligible for extra subsidies for ecological safety zones. The delay gives birds nesting in meadows time to hatch out their eggs.
On my walk between two canola fields near our house in western Canada a little bird swooped into the air just in front of me and fluttered away. There between the dandelions and grasses was a well concealed nest with four beige speckled eggs in it. I’m not much of a birder, so couldn’t identify the bird. But it was lucky – Luke, the farmer, only sprayed to the edge of the field, and Robert hasn’t gone through with the mower yet. I’ll have to tell him to wait a few weeks first so the eggs can hatch and the little ones grow.
Later I drove by a dugout at the edge of a field. The wild grass etc around it had just been sprayed. I wondered how many birds’ nests or other small wildlife habitats were destroyed.
The visit to Gabi Uelinger a few weeks ago in Switzerland has sensitized me. I used to see ‘cutlines’ – rows of shrubs and trees along quarter lines – as windbreaks at best. Now I know they are home to many forms of life. Not that I didn’t appreciate the birds or flowers while walking by, I just didn’t really see them as something to be protected.
“A diverse ecosystem is better able to respond to environmental changes or stresses, such as floods, drought, pests and disease,” says an article on Ropin’ the Web, the government of Alberta’s agricultural website. (www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex10342).
It goes on to say: “Conservation efforts can be enhanced by the adoption of management practices that encourage the integration of wild species within agricultural landscapes. The preservation of non-crop habitats is important to the conservation potential of the agricultural lands. Sustainable farming can integrate the interests of agriculture and wildlife.”
Windbreaks, wider strips of grass along the edge of fields or between fields, wide ditches, sloughs, etc., all are precious habitat for nature. We as farmers can help to preserve or even enlarge them with little effort. Being careful to spray only to the edge of the field; waiting at least to midsummer to mow; seeing windbreaks not as bothersome trees in the way of a big field but as nurturers of life – it takes a change of attitude. Maybe it’s not just African farmers that need to rethink! What do you think? I know my farmer would still see the thistles before he’d see the bird…