My face-to-face ‘field intel’ trips provide enlightenment as to what people really think.
Conversations can be so different in the field than online or indoors. This road trip (aka ‘field intel’) between lockdowns showed me how land managers, academics, govt, activists might exchange insight from different views.
A previous intel trip along the Marches garnered views of an avid environmental activist (who at one time wanted to be a gamekeeper), arable farmers and bird ringers.
This northerly trip was more uplands focussed – covering Southern Scotland and northern England taking in people and places (as well as ignoring signs to navigate roadblocks.) A lesson to beware gatekeepers, perhaps!?
Carrifran Woodland is an inspiring journey of motivating people to act. However it also highlights risks of new knowledge not always reaching wider communities. It’s a pity the results aren’t shared as a tool for land managers (as potential tree-planting farmers), rather than being used as rewilding leverage against existing land uses. [note pragmatic use of pesticide-treated trees and glyphosate to kill bracken on site].
Farming slow-grown livestock in wild places is something fewer farmers tend to do in the 21st Century. It looks good on Instagram, but is bloody hard in reality. Patrick Laurie’s book defines that well. As well as his sweary outburst here.
A fifth return to Langholm moor in driving wind and rain. Where I meet a leader from the community buyout to have a conversation very different to one I expected to have. Let’s just say the adaptively ambitious business plan, embraced by the local community, may not have been read by everyone ideologically interested in this brave innovative project.
Conversations by a river bank are never dull. Perhaps the white noise of a watery ecosystem helps ease difficult subjects into the open with a Doctor of wildlife conservation. Wrong and right? Way more nuance than that. Wildlife conservation conflated with animal rights, guns in heather-clad places; tourist-poor arid African landscapes stalked by low-impact conservation-cash-rich trophy hunters – all made for fascinating dilemmas.
To Northumberland, then onto Nidderdale, where land managers, nee farmers, spoke honestly of how hard the forthcoming rural transition will be. Perhaps especially for tenant farmers. Who, while they adjust their thinking and seek new partnerships (such as Tees-Swale), require understanding landlords, patient banks, and profitable agri-enviro schemes (ELMs).
Back north to Hadrian’s Wall. Talk of forestry is fraught with fear of unfashionable trees, personal perceptions, easy straplines, carbon confusion and tough trade-offs. Especially when Europe’s largest man-made forest (Kielder) rubs up against once open-cast coal mine, now protected land, resulting in some really knotty socio-ecological discussions.
The finale of the ‘field intel’ trip was meeting a conservationist legend in the field (literally) of birds of prey. Sitting in a trucker’s motorway service station near a batch of hen harriers, I couldn’t help but re-read the sign above Stephen Murphy –
‘the team have managed to strike a balance ensuring security for raptors is high on the agenda, as is good management around sustainable land uses, and welcoming Natural England staff’apologies to Sally Traffic, Radio 2
In a transitional era, narratives around existing and new countryside policies, sheep and trees, livestock and meat (50 sec vlog), trees and carbon etc are all being stretched within the Overton Window of scoping out new countryside policies.
We require all the agility, humility, pragmatism and tolerance we can muster to ‘join the dots’.
THIS is a LIVE blog, as it may evolve over time, as I reflect on outcomes from the trip, while seeking to refresh and reframe narratives, some controversial, as gleaned from my experiences.
Next trip was East Anglia in summer 21. Ping me if interest to meet (or assist in funding) on another ‘join the dots’ field intel to help brokering dialogue to build trust and enable action in the field.