Collective skills

14 thoughts on “Collective skills”

  1. Good farming practice, and particularly mixed farming, can achieve wide environmental benefit. Many farms and large sporting estates whilst sound economically prove that country sports and modern agriculture can help maintain wide biodiversity sustainably. However large areas of countryside growing crops purely to feed digesters to produce “Green Electricity” using fuel and fertilisers and carried long distances from field to furnace do little to help biodiversity or greenhouse emissions. Perhaps the subsidy for this operation receives could be put to better use .

    1. Whilst I take your point, we need to balance the need to drive down fossil fuel use to replace with non fossil fuel use. There is no reason why mono crops can not be a part of a mixed, bio diverse landscape. The restrictive prescriptive measures can surely, with political will be improved? It’s early days yet in the transition from Fossil to Renewable energy technology. The UK Government has been woefully inconsistent in its renewable energy policy. That needs to change.

  2. ‘Ownership’ is a key word in motivating farmers to explore the biodiversity potential on their farms. The enforcement of the concept of ‘stewardship’ ignores the hard work and long term financial commitment that farmers have invested in their land for generations. When I have created habitat on our family farm I have felt an intense sense of ownership of, and protection for the biodiversity that results. Too often the farmer is left with the idea that he/she is creating habitat and biodiversity for others to enjoy, whilst they continue to work dusk to dawn to make a living off their land.

  3. I guess it depends on what biodiversity and for whom. Farming can benefit some biodiversity and impact others. Much depends on the style and sensitivity of the farming methods. Clearly, intensive modern industrial farming methods based on high levels of mechanisation, large mono-cultures and chemical usage (fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides) isn’t good for biodiversity resulting in reductions of insect, bird and mammal populations (see the State of Nature Report). On the other hand, traditional farming methods have created a biodiversity based on those non-economic species adaptable enough to find a niche in the open and managed landscapes that farming creates, and we often look back through rose-tinted glasses on this biodiversity as a kind of “good old days” evidenced by living memory (“Oh I remember when…”) and “natural” history texts such as Gilbert White’s “The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne”.
    The key word here is “natural” and how we view and value farmland biodiversity (the variety and patterns of which are dictated by the spaces and niches created by farming practice) over the wild and truly natural biodiversity of the biophysical potential of the land (dictated only by climate, soils, geology, topography and geographical location). Here, farming is at odds with wild nature, in that farming is predominantly an economic activity focused on production of food and fibre. Nothing wrong with that… I love my food! But, wild nature is only allowed to exist wherein it’s impact on production is negligible or minimise or controlled, and therefore at the whim of the farmer or land owner. Where a species is deemed to be detrimental to production it is invariably brought under control by management (which may mean use of lethal methods… witness continued calls for badger culls and persistent “vermin” control on grouse moors and pheasant shoots).
    Now I don’t like top-down control and red-tape as much as the next man/woman but if we are to see the survival of many wild species in our landscape, and the return of a few missing ones too (run Falviu, run!), then there needs to be a meeting of minds based on common respect and reliable information.
    The lack of a level playing-field is of concern to me. Back to your agoraphobia and its definition as an open space over which we have no control. Farmers and large land owners hold all the aces here, and this is why some level of control and regulation is necessary to protect nature and create a better and more natural biodiversity in the post-Brexit world.

    1. Interesting that your perspective on “open space over which we have no control” is a perspective increasingly shared also by farmers and landowners who feel they have no ultimate control over the land their families have managed for generations.
      A local example, up the road. A mixed farm with native cattle, out wintered for years on the moor above the farm had produced a distinctive habitat on which orchids thrived. SNH on discovering this treasure trove decided the cattle should no longer be allowed to winter on the moor. Result? No more orchids. I could recount many tales of similar high handed officialdom outranking the generational stewardship of farmers and landowners. A rebalancing of power and sharing of knowledge through discussion groups is long overdue.

    2. Thanks Steve
      See my three comments under Miles Kings’ blog related to your’s above
      The more I see the Black Mountains revert to wild, the more I see a need for smarter ‘intensive, less use of land’ farming elsewhere

  4. The most powerful driving force in CAP environmental policy was not the environment but the welfare of non-competitive farmers. The rhetoric was provided by environmental activists but the funds had to meet more pressing social/political objectives.

    In the UK the balance between environment and farming was more different. A durable environmental policy has to begin with the authentic benefits that are only secured by intervention. To determine this we need to understand what sorts of environmental impacts farming will have. There is clear evidence that some farmers place a very high value on what is, misleadingly called “nature’ – birds, water purity, landscape and rural villages etc. To understand why this is, and what factors constrain or encourage it, is a basic requirement in determining what ‘policy’ if any, is needed. Rushing in with regulatory mechanisms to safeguard specific items in nature is more likely to lead to distortion where the cuddly elements take priority over those of genuine social merit.

    As we reconstruct our farming post Brexit we need this more than ever. We also need a clearer perspective of what our relationships will be with the world market. If food manufacturers and food consumers pay more than is needed to satisfy demand the government responsible may have a very short life.

  5. I think John Marsh’s final paragraph is most telling. A clearer perspective of relationships with world markets is of paramount importance. And we could all do with taking a step back (not in time) and re-examining some fundamental farming and subsidy systems. Neither the status quo nor the status quo ante can ‘rule’.

  6. Thought provoking article as always Rob; what is apparent in most discussions about land use, is a lack of clarity about what problem(s) we are actually trying to solve. Is it food security, farming income, biodiversity decline or a host of other issues. After a fun week at the Royal Welsh Show, i am firmly of the opinion that we need much more open and honest dialogues about what we want from our land, and ideally these dialogues should occur outside in the landscape. These uncertain post-Brexit times are a once in a generation opportunity – it must not be wasted.

    1. Define “we” Andrew. This is a big chunk of the problem here. Different groups and individuals want different things from the same bits of land, and more often than not it is the land owner that get’s their way, possession being 9/10ths of the law.

  7. Very interesting article and a great set of comments. Much to think about, although I fear that our current government has no thought for the environment at all, so it will definitely be up to those who manage the land to ensure a healthy environment for our descendants to enjoy.

  8. Couldn’t agree more Rob about a ‘landscape full of Loddingtons’. It’s not just great for farmland birds, but pollinators, crop pest predators, air, water and carbon. However, rural businesses can’t survive on aspirations and goodwill. We need mechanisms and market places that properly reward food and the environment. The Allerton Project can play its part in both demonstrating and ‘knowledge exchange’ to show a blueprint for a positive rural future.

  9. This response was posted from a land manager in a direct message to me:

    “I don’t agree with the common held assertion that greening was bad. I think it was actually a very successful policy. It drove the idea of permanent green cover, cover crops and led to the recent surge in no-til farming. I think it has been hugely effective.
    The problem with greening is that it was awful in terms of measurable outcomes and as such no-one in policy felt that it achieved much.
    Back in 2016-17ish, I was on a stakeholder committee to the EC and greening was one of the focuses. The UK was lambasted as its greening performance was poor. France and Germany were hero’s, as they made their farmers measure and map every square metre or cover crop, hedge etc etc, so they had stats.
    In practice, UK farmers were doing far more, because we have more hedges and are better at leaving wild field corners and margins etc. We just did it and because it was never measured, it never counted – so greening was seen as a failure.
    I would argue that it has been one of the biggest drivers to a more extensive Ag system. I struggle to prove it though!”

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