The rspb is following other farmers into the rapeseed oil business. I visited Ian Dillon at Hope Farm last week and had a chat about it with him.
Regular readers of this blog might recall that the rspb bought Hope Farm when I was Conservation Director and so I have a quasi-proprietorial interest in it.
But we also talked about birds. I’d seen Ian in the summer, and he gets a mention in my Passenger Pigeon book (believe it or not). the last time I saw him he was bemoaning the harvest and also the fact that bird numbers, farmland birds, had dropped a bit at Hope Farm for the second year in a row.
Between 2011-12 there was quite a big drop in numbers of Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and Greenfinches at Hope Farm but in 2013 at least Yellowhammers and Whitethroats had recovered a bit. But there had been no Kestrel, Corn Bunting, Turtle Dove or Lapwing at Hope Farm in 2013 and that set the index falling a bit further.
The good news is that it is miles above the national index and if every farm in the country had bird increases like Hope Farm’s since it was established then we wouldn’t be worrying too much about farmland birds. It is so sad that the poorly-led farming industry has not repeated the fairly easy and fairly spectacular increases in wildlife achieved at Hope Farm.
But Hope Farm is a ‘proper’ farm, not a nature reserve, and the mantra that farmers have been told for years is to seek to add value to their produce, rather than simply market commodities. It’s easier for a livestock farmer, perhaps, to see how he (or she) could market cuts of beef, pork or lamb at the farm gate than how an arable farmer could sell us some special wheat or barley.
But it was a farmer down the road from me, Duncan Farrington, who first, I believe, spotted the opportunity to market specially pressed oil from rapeseed as a healthy alternative to other oils. Farrington’s Mellow Yellow is loved by Nigella Lawson (unlike Charles Saatchi) and is available in many slightly up-market supermnarkets.
Now the rspb is following suit – and good for them! Hope Farm produced 90 tonnes of rapeseed last year and four of those have been crushed and bottled by George Munns near Chatteris. A tonne of rapeseed produces 300 litres of what is described as extra-virgin rapeseed oil.
The rspb oil (naughtily nutty) is available from rspb shops and from the rspb online shop.
Ian told me that the rspb had decided to go down this route for a number of reasons: to raise the profile of Hope Farm even further, to make a little bit more money (fingers crossed), to publicise wildlife-friendly farming and also to give rspb members a nudge further towards wildlife-friendly shopping. I hope it works on all levels.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started yesterday and has already attracted over 400 votes.