A day with the Uplands Alliance

Yesterday I spent the day in London at an Uplands  Alliance meeting which was hosted by DEFRA at their Smith Square headquarters. The Uplands Alliance is a loose coalition of all those organisations, individuals and academics with an interest in the uplands of the UK. It is a forum which facilitates discussion and communication rather than a body which produces position statements – see here.

Noble House, Smith Square, Westminster – DEFRA’s home

Following the vote to leave the European Union a huge cloud of uncertainty now hangs over the Uplands – the Uplands Alliance suggest that 31% of upland farm incomes are derived from the Basic Payment Scheme and Countryside Stewardship – without these subsidies many if not most upland farmers would not be able to survive. Following Brexit the Basic Payment Scheme is only guaranteed until 2020 and there is currently a hiatus around new Countryside Stewardship schemes.

The Uplands Alliance’s draft poster detailing the public benefits and issues in the uplands

Prior to the EU referendum two ministers now in DEFRA (Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice) set out their views on agricultural subsidies via their thinktank ‘Fresh Start Project’ (see here). They alluded to the end of Pillar 1 payments (the Basic Payment Scheme) and Pillar 2 monies (Countryside Stewardship) should be focused more on the marginal land to deliver environmental benefits.

I suspect it will be many months before public announcements are made to even indicate options but I think a direction of travel is becoming clearer. At the State of Nature report launch (see here) Andrea Leadsom stated that the current Government wanted to leave the environment and nature in a better state than the ones they inherited. In addition Dieter Helm, the Chair of the Natural Capital Committee has produced a paper on where he thinks agricultural policy should go (see here) – “A third option is to do away with all the subsidies, and instead concentrate any spending on directly purchasing the public goods that public money is paying for. This approach would sort out what the public goods from the land are, and how the natural capital embedded in the landscape could be enhanced.

Agricultural subsidies are going to change maybe radically and it is therefore against this backdrop that the Uplands Alliance met yesterday. There is  real fear in the uplands about the future due to the changes and the uncertainty but there are also real opportunities and if you like reading smoke signals or listening to the jungle drums the wind might be blowing favourably towards the uplands.

londonA room with a view

The meeting was oversubscribed and many who wanted to attend were unable to. We received a short briefing from Professor Mark Reed of Newcastle University who suggested that the uplands needed to take a precautionary approach, that is using the ‘strong evidence that paying for restoration and active management for conservation could provide benefits for wildlife, water quality, reduced flooding and climate. Meanwhile we know little about the effects of large-scale withdrawal of management from peatlands.’

He later tweeted this and note the phrase public money for public goods appearing again.

Minette Batters, the NFU’s Deputy President very articulately made the case for maintaining and supporting farmers in the uplands but didn’t use the phrase public money for public goods.

After lunch Sonia Phippard, the Director General of the Environment and Rural Group at DEFRA spoke, she suggested ‘it will take some time‘ to present new policy and that it was ‘too early to speculate what comes next‘ but nevertheless ‘we need to be radical in our thinking but realistic in our delivery’. She also did say that the hiatus around Countryside Stewardship needed to be sorted out in discussion with the Treasury.

The remainder of the day was spend in 8 breakout groups looking at four different scenarios.

  1. Resilient Land-based Businesses
  2. Vibrant Cultural Landscapes
  3. Local Schemes for Local Outcomes
  4. Outcomes rather than Actions

Each group  considered the impact of their scenario on upland outcomes over the next 25 years from the perspective of scale of both a farm and the landscape. Then each group identified:

  • What are the three most significant human Responses to the scenario and three most significant environmental Results of the scenario?
  • What are the three biggest Risks resulting from the scenario?
  • What are the three most important evidence gaps emerging from the scenario that need to be filled by Research?

It is important to note that these scenarios were not consultation options they were more ‘straw men’ to elicit debate and discussion. I am not going to attempt to summarise these workshop as I only attended one of the 8 but a couple of key messages came out.

The amount of money required in the uplands to keep farming in the hills to farm and deliver with others the public goods is actually much less than many would have thought. Of the £3bn of current CAP money paid to farmers in the UK (via Pillar 1 and Pillar 2) £231m goes to the uplands (around 7.7%). More will be needed to deliver many of the environmental improvements but £231m will keep the hills in active management and therefore support upland farmers and rural communities.

The next key task therefore is engaging with the public to ensure they are aware of the ‘public goods and benefits’ in the uplands i.e. wildlife, water, carbon storage, access, landscape, historic environment etc etc so that when the crunch comes the public are prepared to allow their money to be used to deliver them.

The other noticeable feature of the day was the large amount of consensus between all the participants. This is perhaps not unprecedented but it is unusual as stakeholders in the Uplands have plenty of history when it comes to disagreement and conflict on a number of topics! But at this high level strategic approach there was much agreement, of course the devil will be in the detail and inevitably there will be difficult days ahead.

The meeting was chaired by Michael Winter (from Exeter University) and Julia Aglionby (Foundation for Common Land). At the beginning of the meeting Michael paid tribute to Ian Mercer who died a couple of days ago (see here) and dedicated the meeting to him – most appropriate and I am sure Ian would have been delighted with the outcome.

Parliament where ultimately the fate of the Uplands will be decided




Eating meat and the planet

One of the themes that runs through my blogs is how the intensification of British agriculture is detrimentally impacting on wildlife, habitats and the environment generally. For example I have written recently about the huge growth in maize cultivation (see here), the decline of the cuckoo (see here) and the loss of heather on Dartmoor (see here). I guess therefore that it is no surprise that I am attracted to read a book entitled ‘Farmageddon’ by Philip Lymbery who is the CEO of the organisation Compassion in World Farming. To be honest I can only read the book in the small chunks as it is quite depressing but it unfortunately does tell a tale which we all eventually need to confront.


For me, the key sentence in the book is this, it is talking about factory farmed animals, “Together they consume a third of the world’s cereal harvest, 90% of its soya meal and up to 30% of the global fish catch – precious resources that could be fed direct to billions of hungry people.” Unbelievable except that it is true.

Factory farming involves keeping animals inside sheds all year round and feeding them there on cereals, soya or fish meal. This raises all sorts of issues surrounding animal welfare, pollution (from their waste), overfishing along with the intensive pesticide, fertiliser driven agriculture needed to produce the animal feed. Livestock agriculture also produces around 10% of manmade climate change.

This is of course all driven by the world population’s desire to eat meat rather than having a vegetarian diet. Livestock agriculture requires around 10 times as much land to grow the same amount of food which is plant based. Different types of livestock agriculture have varying efficiencies of converting ‘grass’ into animal protein – this is called the feed conversion ratio – see here and here for more details. There is an interesting article in the Economist from 2013 setting out the same story  – see here.

Different countries eat differing quantities of meat per capital – see here for a table (note the dates at the top of the table are the wrong way round). This shows that in the UK we eat on average around 80kg meat per annum, in the US the figure is 124kg. In both the UK and the US the consumption levels are pretty stable. However in China in 1961 3.8kg of meat were eaten per annum and by 2002 this had risen to 52kg. Now 50% of all pork produced in the world is consumed in China ……

So what is the situation in the UK regarding the production of meat? Pig and chicken farming in the UK is generally pretty intensive with animals reared in sheds. However when it comes to cattle we have not adopted a factory approach to beef/dairy production yet. Cattle and diary cows in this country feed on grass fields during the spring, summer and autumn and are only brought into sheds in the winter when the ground conditions deteriorate. This method has much higher animal welfare standards than factory farming but it not without its environmental impacts – most cattle and diary cows are pastured on improved fertiliser enhanced grasslands. Feed does have to be grown to feed the animals during the winter – traditionally this would have been hay or silage but now is more likely to be maize.

In essence if we in the UK ate 1/2 or 3/4 the amount of beef we currently do it would free up a huge amount of land where crops could be grown which we could eat instead.

Interestingly I have just started getting my fruit and veg from Riverford – the organic farm co-operative near Totnes.

Riverfords 1

In my box this week was Guy Watson’s weekly article – on this very topic ‘Ruminating on ruminants‘.

Riverfords 2
If you want to read more about the Riverford’s ‘How much meat’ debate – press here.

This isn’t an anti meat, anti farming debate – it is about how we can sustainable manage the planet and feed the growing population – by making meat a bit more of a luxury item and not an every day necessity would make a massive difference.

Let’s also be clear many of the wildlife habitats and landscapes we cherish in this country and elsewhere depend of cattle and sheep grazing for their survival. There may be a debate about whether our uplands are overgrazed but as I have said before without any grazing on Dartmoor we would lose a huge archaeological landscape from the Bronze Age and many habitats and species we love – see here for example.









The Land – Can Britain feed itself

Parke Walled Garden – some old photos

It is less than a decade ago that we started to restore Parke’s Walled Garden – here are a few photographs showing some of that work.

Parke WG7The walls are being ‘repainted’ with lime wash – the garden is still a jungle and the capping wall tins have yet to be replaced

Parke WG6Repairing the main wall

Parke WG3An old photo from the early 1900s – note the glass house and the box hedges around the beds

Parke WG2Major Hole’s gardener

Parke WG4This pit outside the Walled Garden used to house the boiler for the glass house – you can still see some of the pipework

It is good to see the Walled Garden now back in use and we hope that as the years go by and more money becomes available we will be able to restore some of the other older features that were once in the garden.

Parke WG1And finally the sunset over the Walled Garden yesterday evening

A Cook’s Book – Stella West-Harling

Stella West Harling, the founder of the Ashburton Cookery School, Dartmoor champion and food guru has just published a new book – A Cook’s Story –  it is a great culinary autobiography. It talks of her life starting off in the Lake District and recounts her journey which culminates in Devon, The Ashburton Cookery School and Home Farm Cafe, sprinkled amongst the story are over 100 recipes and Stella’s views on good food. It is a great book and would make an excellent Christmas present if you are still looking for one. To be honest it is a must have book either way. It is available at lots of local bookshops and of course at Home Farm Cafe.


I first met Stella West-Harling a few years ago when my colleague Gus Fergusson (the now retired Head Ranger for South Dartmoor) introduced me to her and encouraged me to think about discussing whether we might form some type of partnership to bring a cafe to Parke.

At the time I was running Castle Drogo as well as the rest of National Trust Dartmoor and although we really wanted to open a cafe at the rapidly ’emerging’ Parke I couldn’t see how we could find the capacity to set up and run a new cafe. I was already responsible through my teams for cafes at Castle Drogo, Lydford Gorge and Finch Foundry and to be honest my main preoccupations were the Castle Drogo ‘building project’ and creation of new cycle trails at Plymbridge.

So I met up with Stella and Gus to discuss Parke …….. Stella, to be honest is rather formidable and I came away from the meeting thinking she thought I was a bit of a corporate twurp – I had spent most of the meeting spluttering at Stella’s view of the world and in particular the part the National Trust played in it!


Nevertheless I liked her a lot and saw that she had the skills, experience and backing to enable us to jointly achieve what we both wanted – a first class cafe at Parke which people would love and an offer which would drive new visitors to our lovely but then ‘sleeping giant’ property. The rest is now history and it has worked brilliantly – see here.

IMG_2935All the NT staff love Home Farm cafe along with the team who work there and indeed we even had our Christmas lunch there yesterday.

IMG_2934I see at lot of Stella these days as we are both passionate promoters of Dartmoor – a really important job with a lot of work still to do



Parke’s fruit harvest

All the fruit bushes in the Walled Garden seem to be having a really good year.

NectarinesWho would have thought you could grow nectarines on Dartmoor?

PeachesPeaches too? or are they almonds …

PearsThe pears look immaculate

CherriesThose cherries look so good you could almost pick them off the page


Black currentBlack currents

A big round of applause to all the gardeners at Parke who look after all these lovely plants and make sure they flourish


Finch Foundry’s craft fair

Yesterday saw the Craft Fair at Finch Foundry – the weather was unbelievable – more beach than Dartmoor! There were about a dozen stalls offering a range of things from wine through food, woollen goods and crafts.

FF Craft stallAll the stalls on the Finch green

HoopoeInside were the works of two artists – here is Hoopoes by Diane Bailey

HareAnd here is a hare by Marielle Ebner-Rijke

MartynThe Foundry was also open – here is Martyn giving a demonstration

FoundryGarden looked fantastic in the sunshine

BottleAnd sometime later at home …. the sun set on the bottle of Eastcott sparkling wine I bought earlier ……