Joining FWAG SW for a two-month work placement, I was keen to understand how farmers are supported in balancing the competing demands of wildlife conservation, adaptation to future climate change, a shifting policy landscape and the need to run successful businesses.

After a brief introduction at the largely empty FWAG SW offices, I met up with the Devon Lead to accompany her on a farm visit. Following tea, cake and a discussion with the farmer about Countryside Stewardship and how it could be best utilised on the land, we were shown the fields under consideration. Witnessing the efforts the farmer had gone to in order to manage his livestock and land, alongside his outlining of the challenges he faced, emphasised both the need for support but also the indomitable spirit of farmers and land managers. As we walked through the farm, farmer and advisor discussing land management options, the farmer suddenly paused in his explanation of where to run piping for a livestock trough to point out a willow tit flitting between the branches above our head. Such an observation runs contrary to how farmers are often portrayed and instead reminded me that for many, a deep appreciation for the natural world is irrevocably intertwined in their lives as food producers.

During my time with FWAG, I have also been fortunate enough to sit in on feedback sessions from farmers engaged in the ELMs trials. These sessions were often lively, with participants keen to share what could be improved in the scheme’s design as well as elements which they felt worked well. These occasions were thoroughly interesting, providing me with a broad overview of the direction of future policy as well as an insight into the challenges associated with creating and implementing an agri/environmental scheme which works for farmers across differing regions and with differing views and practices.

My work placement with FWAG SW has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about the successes and challenges of farmland conservation. I am extremely grateful to FWAG SW for accommodating my placement and look forward to seeing how the organisation continues to grow and support farmers and wildlife throughout the South West.