Herb grower signs for wildlife protocol

Conservation Grade adoption signals switch to active promotion for environmental measures.

VHB Herbs, part of the Vitacress Group, has become the first glasshouse grower to sign up to the Conservation Grade Protocol, entitling it to use the Nature Friendly Farming bee logo on its products.

The herbs, cress and tomatoes grower, valued at £96m, has run several wildlife projects as part of a long-standing ethical approach to growing that led to its dropping the use of insecticides 14 years ago.

But the adoption of Conservation Grade signifies a change to actively promoting wildlife, according to VHB technical director Chris Moncrieff.

"Retailers want suppliers who are improving their sustainability and consumers are increasingly looking for products that will deliver specific benefits such as increased wildlife," he said.

"Becoming part of Conservation Grade ticks those boxes for us because it delivers tangible, quantifiable results and has a strong consumer-facing brand."

The company has given over 10 per cent of one West Sussex site to managed wildlife habitat, including a water meadow and native tree woodland. Wild orchids have already self-established, Moncrieff added.

Wildlife surveys have also shown a thirteen-fold increase in bumblebees, as well as a 41 per cent increase in birds, an eightfold increase in butterflies, and a thirtyfold increase in small mammals such as water voles.

Protocol compliance Rules set out for food growers

To comply with the Conservation Grade Protocol, growers must be part of a farm assurance scheme, participate in conservation training, have a farm environment plan, give 10 per cent of area over to managed wildlife habitats and pass an independent annual audit.

According to Conservation Grade office manager Shelley Abbott: "The nature-friendly farming approach offers food growers and the public a valuable way to invest in natural capital - rewarding farmers directly for deliberately stimulating wildlife."

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