Yes, I can be obtuse but, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater as we collaboratively explore new ways to manage land.
Bringing three industry leaders together at the Hay Festival on ‘how agri-tech can reduce farming’s footprint on the environment‘ was fun, but challenging in framing the narrative to avoid ‘staked-out’ principled positions being unconducive to free-thinking dialogue. Helen Browning was eloquent in speaking about her own experience as an organic farmer (while not promoting Soil Association policy), whereas David Speller blew minds (and rose-tinted specs off) re misconceptions on intensive broiler production and Jake Freestone dug deep on ‘tech’ for cover crops and soils.
A mixed audience of farmers and non-farmers learnt, challenged, and interacted with the panel on a range of topics – whole transcript here (Word).
It’s been a busy year – for everybody – as we think, re-think, argue, shout out, go quiet on various countryside issues. We may instinctively seek good news wrapped within new ideas, but let’s not ignore learning from past practices, not throw away achievements to-date, but get braver at harnessing tensions to learn how to collaborate on both counter-intuitive (example – Mark Lynas guest blog) and common ground (example – shooting and conservation for Shooting Times) issues.
Framing is key. What we all want is a good place to start ‘conversations‘ such as the one I hosted for a Defra funded gathering of young farmers and naturalists by setting the stage so we all could discuss issues dear to all our hearts without saying for whom we worked, be able to overcome perceptions, and not fear judgement from peers. Similar to a walk I led for National Trust rangers in Wales and an evening over beer for a Welsh Govt funded partnership – both aimed at stimulating freethinking on upland land uses without ‘dissing’ or dismissing the past practices and getting closer to land managers at grass roots.
Off the hill, a trip to the Hague was a lesson in reconciliation over negative impacts from first generation farming practices without recrimination.
The Netherlands is an ‘intensive’ farm world leader while at the same time its farmer-led initiatives, working in collectives/co-operatives/groups, provide high quality habitat for wildlife within reclaimed productive farmland. Here in the UK, it may be easy to jump on buzz phrases, but farmer clusters have built momentum and the first conference hosted by Natural England was an inspirational event (incl the tensions). See blog here.
It’s that time of year for farmers, land managers, landowners, govt ministers, advisers, polemicists et al to convene at two Oxford farming conferences – to mix ‘bathwaters’ while trying not to throw out too many ‘wicked babies‘ that could all help us optimise land use, face up to tough choices, and mitigate environmental impacts.
ps my ‘bathwater mix’ winner for 2017 was this gamekeeper/farmer/BTO birder research