Take up the 10% Challenge and help wildlife flourish in your garden

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The 10% Challenge is a project designed to get people “creating homes for wildlife in their gardens”

A few days ago I had the pleasure of an early morning visit to Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk, just south of Ipswich. The trip was for work, but any journey that involves me getting out of London early in the morning and travelling through the very gentle countryside of East Anglia will never be classed as onerous. After breakfast in a magnificent barn restoration, a small group of writers were given a brief introduction to the importance of wildlife conservation in farming and then a tour of the farm.

Our host was Jimmy Doherty, the scientist-turned-farmer who fronts popular BBC TV shows on food and farming. The purpose of the visit was to find out more about Jordans 10% Challenge - a project designed to get people “creating homes for wildlife in their gardens.”

From the moment you arrive at Jimmy’s farm - after nearly a mile down a narrow lane with few passing places - you can see that he takes farming and conservation seriously. The farm buildings are restored carefully, and in keeping with the local style. There is care and attention in the neat layout, and great facilities for kids to roam and play, with nature trails and climbing frames. A two-hundred year-old barn has been restored and converted to house a wonderful farm shop, full of local and sustainable produce - including a really impressive butchery - and a large, airy bar and restaurant, which offer more local food. It was here, over coffee and porridge, that we watched a short presentation about the importance of wildlife conservation in farming.

But it’s when we get outside, touring the farm, that Jimmy is really impressive: enthusiastic, articulate, flowing with facts about the relationship between plant and insect, full of insight into the diversity of wildlife abounding on his land. Outside the barn a small herb garden, shielded from the wind, provides a haven for butterflies. A patch of land by another building has been banked and allowed to grow wild to help bumble bees nest. Darwin's Garden, a more formal paddock, has been set out to teach visitors about evolution and the interconnectedness of life. Ponds and woodlands provide different habitats, allowing smaller mammals, amphibians and birds to nest. And a warm, humid butterfly house provides a sanctuary for rare and threatened butterflies all year round.

At each, Jimmy takes time to explain about the importance of allowing diversity to flourish, and the need to work with nature. He gives his livestock time to grow and space to roam. That, he argues, produces better food, and allows nature to thrive.

And this really is the point. As a supplier of cereals to Jordans, Jimmy has set aside around 15 acres from his 150-acre farm for conservation projects. Jordans is best-known for a range of breakfast cereals, but the family has been in business for over 150 years, originally as flour millers. In 1985, well before organic farming gained currency, the company introduced the Conservation Grade standard. In return for a premium on the market price for cereals, Jordans requires its suppliers to set 10 per cent of their land aside for conservation purposes. Now working with around 50 farmers in the scheme, 5,000 acres has been set aside as havens for insects, birds, bees and wildflowers. In addition, the farmers are required to manage the entire farm sustainably.

Building on their scheme, Jordans are now inviting the public to take up the 10% Challenge and convert 10 per cent of their own gardens into wildlife havens. Over the next year the aim is to get 10,000 gardeners to join in. That would result in an area equivalent to 18 football pitches being setting aside. But longer term, Jordans is more ambitious. If 10 per cent of the one million garden acres in Britain was set aside that would be the equivalent of more than 63,000 football pitches. A lot of happy birds and bees!

The Challenge is something that everyone with a garden, a bit of land, a patio or even a box on a windowsill can get involved with. 10 per cent should be doable for most of us - as Jimmy says it doesn't have to be your most productive land, or slap bang in the middle of the lawn. Most of us have hidden or lost areas, and these all count towards the 10 per cent. With a little effort, we can all create some areas for wildlife to thrive. Often, once set up, the flora and fauna take over, and our job is simply a bit of maintenance and repair work. Something as simple as a nesting box attached to a wall for over-wintering birds or some damp, rotting wood for beetles can make a difference. “Whether you’ve got rolling acres, a tiny courtyard or even just a hanging basket, everyone can take the Challenge,” says Bill Jordan who set up the Conservation Grade system.

The potential to assist wildlife in our gardens is substantial, if results from the 10 per cent of farm land already set aside are a guide. Research on Conservation Grade farms has shown a 41 per cent increase in birds, an eight-fold increase in butterflies and a thirty-fold increase in some small mammals such as water voles. Jimmy is enthusiastic about the possibilities: “There's a tremendous amount of space in the UK, just ready and waiting to be a home for birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife, and with recent declines in numbers, they need all the help they can get.”

How to get involved
To take the 10% Challenge, visit Jordans’ website at www.jordanscereals.co.uk/10-challenge and sign up. You’ll find an array of information on how to turn parts of your garden into wildlife havens, such as advice on creating a butterfly cafe or a bee hotel.

Jordans are also recruiting 50 Wildlife Heroes to spearhead the campaign. Each will get a kit containing all the tools they need and their progress will be charted on the website.

See also Jordans Top Ten Tips for creating wildlife-friendly homes in your garden.

More info about Jimmy’s Farm, including the online shop, is at www.jimmysfarm.com

Don't have a garden or a patio?
If you don’t have any available space of your own there are still a few ways to get involved.

  • Talk to your local council to see if it will set aside some of the parks and gardens it maintains. The council might also welcome some volunteer help in tending the space.
  • If you have kids at school, talk to the head about setting some space aside if the school has some land.
  • Take up allotment gardening - advice from the National Society of Allotment Gardening at www.nsalg.org.uk
  • Search out derelict land (be careful not to trespass) where a bit of judicious help could create a haven or two.
  • Support your local city farm or community garden - see the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens at www.farmgarden.org.uk
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