Michael Gove returns to the uplands

Michael Gove has just delivered his keynote speech to the NFU Conference in Birmingham – you can read the full speech here. I have selected the passages which refer to the uplands.

“Rural communities depend on profitable agricultural businesses to thrive. The landscapes which draw tourists, from the Lake District to Dartmoor, the Northumberland coast to Pembrokeshire, depend on farmers for their maintenance and upkeep.”

“As does the work of organisations like the Prince’s Countryside Fund which support smaller farms, especially those in more challenging areas. I firmly believe that supporting those farmers who help keep rural life, and economies, healthy is a public good.”

“I am acutely conscious that the changes which are coming to farming leave some sectors more worried than others. And I am particularly aware that many smaller farmers, such as dairy farmers in areas like Devon or upland sheep farmers in Cumbria and Northumberland, fear that the future is particularly challenging for them. Margins are tight. Milk and lamb prices are far from generous. The risks to profitability of Bovine TB or other forces beyond the farmers’ control add to stress. And the prospect of public support diminishing or disappearing makes many wonder how they can go on. I believe we have to ensure future methods of agricultural support recognise how critical it is to value the culture in agriculture – Devon and Somerset would not be as they are – with the countryside as beautiful as it is and communities as resilient as they are – without dairy farmers. Cumbria and Northumberland, Yorkshire’s Dales and Pennine Lancashire would not be as they are – both as breathtakingly beautiful and as resilient – without upland farmers.”

“And yes, I am romantic about it. You cannot read James Rebanks’ A Shepherd’s Life, with its descriptions of life sheep farming in the Lake District, without realising how precious and valuable a link with all our pasts the continuation of farming in communities such as James’ provides. Men and women are hefted in those hills just as much as the sheep they care for. And preserving profitable farm businesses in those communities is just as much a public good as investment in anything I know.”

The specific mention of uplands and hill-farmers as ‘public goods’ therefore entitled to ‘public money’ will be seen as a big relief to many as the 25 year Environment Plan made no mention of the uplands at all and led to consternation in some quarters. e.g.

Gove did mention the uplands in his Age of Acceleration speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in January:-

On hill-farmers
So that does mean …. asking how we can support those farmers, for example upland sheep farmers, whose profit margins are more likely to be small but whose contribution to rural life and the maintenance of iconic landscapes is immense.

Rural resilience as a public good
Finally there is rural resilience. There are any number of smaller farm and rural businesses which help keep communities coherent and ensure the culture in agriculture is kept healthy. Whether it’s upland farmers in Wales or Cumbria, crofters in Scotland or small livestock farmers in Northern Ireland, we need to ensure support is there for those who keep rural life vital. The work of the Prince’s Countryside Fund has been invaluable here and the kind of enterprises that it supports are, I believe, worthy of public support.

but it was curious to say the least that they didn’t get a mention in the 25 year Environment Plan.

So Michael Gove has responded to the ‘feedback’ he has received and made specific mention. The Devil though is still in the detail which we have yet to see. This should begin to emerge once the Consultation Paper on the future of agriculture is published in a month or so.

The key questions to answer in the Consultation Paper with regards to the uplands are

will sufficient public money be made available for the uplands
and
will hill-farmers be prepared to earn it by the providing the public goods?

The end of livestock farming? A world of narratives and counter narratives

There has been a lot of coverage in the media in recent months about the global impact of the livestock industry. For example, New Scientist (27th January 2018) led with ‘Living on the veg – is veganism just a fad or should we all give up meat and dairy?’ The article states that 25% of the ice-free land on the planet is devoted to livestock grazing and on top of that 33% of all cropped land is used to produce food for livestock. It goes on to ask whether instead of producing animal food we should in fact be using that land to produce human food.

The UK Government in 2011 produced a foresight report called The Future of Food and Farming which suggested that by 2050 we needed to produce 50% more food than we do now in order to feed the growing global population and their increasing preference for a meat diet.

But Colin Tudge (the environmental journalist) and Ruth Tudge from the Campaign for Real Farming, quoting Professor Hans Herren,  Director of the Millennium Institute in Washington DC, state that globally we already produce enough food for 14 billion people i.e. twice the number of people on the planet, see here.

Producing protein via livestock production is inefficient when compared to plant production. As the graphic shows over 1 m2 of land is required to produce one gram of beef. By comparison wheat required 0.04 m2 and pulses need only 0.01 m2 – a 100 fold difference between beef and pulses.

George Monbiot suggests that sheep in the UK provide 1% of our diet but occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. Monbiot has also stated that as a result of the large number of sheep in our uplands they have been effectively ‘sheepwrecked’ (see here, here and here). A paper in Science of the Total Environment suggests that if we want to reduce biodiversity losses globally the answer is to reduce meat consumption as the eating of meat is increasing dramatically and as a result more ‘wild’ land is required for domestic stock..

The New Scientist article also reviews the impact of livestock farming with regard to climate change. 14.5% of global greenhouse gases are emitted by human livestock – an equivalent amount to that produced by all trains, cars, ships and planes.

The discussion around meat consumption is now to be found in the agricultural mainstream as well as the environmental arena. In January this year the topic was debated at the Oxford Farming Conference, the UK’s leading agri-business forum. The motion put forward was ‘This House Believes Eating Meat Will Be A Thing of the Past By 2100’ – you can read about it here and here and watch the debate here. Prior to the debate commencing only 20 of the audience of farmers supported this motion, but after the debate led by George Monbiot and Philip Lymbery (Compassion in World Farming) against hill-farmer Gareth Wyn Jones and farmer and researcher Emily Norton, 100 additional farmers ended up supporting the motion. The motion did fail with 276 nos and 120 ayes but it was an unexpected result considering the audience.

There is a growing and convincing body of evidence which demonstrates that intensive cattle rearing which is reliant on cereals for sustenance is damaging to the environment, detrimentally affects the climate and is ultimately unsustainable with an increasing world population where the growing ranks of the middle classes are turning to a more meat rich diet.

Running in parallel is the trend of veganism, in 2014, 1% of the US population were vegans, by 2017 this has risen to 5%. Likewise in the UK  the number of vegans has risen threefold in 10 years (New Scientist article). The UK there has also seen the emergence of a more radical form of veganism, albeit a small minority, who believe in direct action against farmers and abattoirs, to highlight what they believe as animal cruelty. In some instances, this has turned confrontational and unpleasant – see here. A topic discussed here by my colleague in the Centre for Rural Policy Research at Exeter University Charlotte-Anne Chivers.

So, should we all give up eating meat? Well, without a doubt the consumption of grain fed beef needs to decline dramatically in my view and that would mean that we would eat less meat which would probably also be quite good for us.

Or would it? Graham Harvey, the agricultural writer and script advisor for the Archers has produced a short film which argues that eating meat is actually good for us and that the increasing prevalence of cereals and sugar in our diets from the 1970s onwards is what has caused the health and obesity crisis – see here.

However, as Harvey’s film shows, grain fed beef is not the only type of meat available, there is also pasture fed meat as well. This is the prevalent type of farming that we find, for example on Dartmoor.

At Challacombe Farm on Dartmoor, Naomi Oakley and Mark Owen run a pasture fed system for their sheep and cattle under the Pasture Fed Livestock Association scheme. On their website they say:

Extensive grazing is essential to conserve the archaeological features of the farm and maintain its wildlife habitats, so the care for our livestock is at the heart of our work.

 Cattle, sheep and ponies all graze in different ways and their activities maintain a diverse range of habitats which are important for many rare species of flowers, birds and other wildlife.  Cattle graze using their rough tongues to wrap around and tear up vegetation, will eat coarse long grasses and so are particularly good at grazing our marshy areas and creating tussocky grass. Being heavier than the sheep they can push their way through scrub and get into rougher and wetter areas, opening it up and creating niches for wildlife to colonise. Sheep are nibblers, nipping grass off quite tightly and creating lawns, this can be great for fungi such as waxcaps. Much of the farm is scheduled as an Ancient Monument and without livestock grazing, features such as the medieval strip lynchets (the terraces on the hillsides) and the tin mining remains would become hidden and damaged by encroaching gorse, bracken and other scrub.

Challacombe is accredited with the Pasture Fed Livestock Association – this means our livestock only eat grass or grass products, never food, such as cereals, that could be eaten by humans. This pasture-based system means that our animals have access to grazing all year, with hay or haylage made on the farm being fed to them in winter when it is cold and wet to supplement their diets.

However, there is a counter narrative which suggests that pasture fed animals are worse for the planet as they produce more greenhouse gas emissions (see here) and of course there is George Monbiot’s counter narrative (already alluded to above) that grazing animals in the uplands – particularly sheep, destroy habitats and reduce biodiversity. As a result, the narrative goes, the uplands should be rewilded. The rewilding narrative is addressed by Naomi and Mark above and I have written about cultural landscapes before and the challenges of managing them  (see here and here).

As with so many issues to do with farming, food and the environment it is mighty complex and confusing, most people choosing the narratives which support their values and worldview to the exclusion of those that don’t.

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
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.

upland-alliance-poster
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.’

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-10-21-48
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
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.

Farmageddon

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.

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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!

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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