We are delighted to welcome Alywin Pillai to the NFFN Scotland steering group. Alywin is an environmental lawyer and partner in family-run Kinclune Estate and Organic Farm in Angus. We caught up with Aylwin to hear more about her family farm and her thoughts on all things nature-friendly farming.
NFFN: Tell us about Kinclune Organic Farm.
Aylwin: My family farm, near Kirriemuir, is a 1100-acre mixed upland farm, but our core business is a 105 strong, organic beef suckler herd, 100 lleyn cross ewes and a small, but successful Highland pony stud. We’ve been organic for 15 years. My sister, Virginia Osborne- Antolovi, and father and mother, Rowan and Marguerite Osborne, live and work full-time on the farm, while I am part-time on the farm and part working-from-home on admin and farm planning. My brother, James Osborne, an investment banker with Julius Baer, is also fully involved in the farming partnership from his home in Edinburgh. My parents worked their way up from tenant farming a small-holding in the Highlands to buying a small farm in Midlothian before buying Kinclune in 2002. We, the next generation, are very fortunate to stand on their shoulders.
NFFN: What nature-friendly methods do you employ on the farm?
Aylwin: My parents have always farmed sensitively and the decision to farm organically was a natural fit for Kinclune. We have benefited from AECS to carry out extensive hedge planting, native tree planting, wetland and water margin management and we have enjoyed the results. We are lucky to sit between the Loch of Kinnordy RSPB nature reserve and the Lintrathen reservoir, an internationally protected wetland. In this amazing landscape, farming organically and extensively with minimal inputs and minimal interference, we have seen our biodiversity flourish. In 2020, with a bumper crop of lapwing chicks on Kinclune, I decided I wanted to find out more about our wildlife and our surroundings, so I started reaching out to environmental organisations. My sister, Virginia, and I have been on an amazing journey ever since, which has involved RSPB bird surveys, funding from Working for Waders to improve our wetland habitat for waders, learning about regenerative farming techniques, engaging with our incredible local community group, Sustainable Kirriemuir, and revisiting our farm woodland strategy to protect our native woodlands and plant more of the ‘right trees in the right place’.
NFFN: How do you feel about joining the NFFN Scotland Steering Group?
Aylwin: We are passionate about nature-friendly farming at Kinclune and I am delighted to join the steering group because it is so important that environmentally sensitive farming businesses have a voice in policy-making and in the public conversation. It is also vital to have a network of like-minded individuals for support and knowledge-sharing. The twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are the issues of our time and farmers’ twin roles as food producers and stewards of our environment are absolutely crucial. We need to make sure we prepare ourselves for the challenge and make sure our voices are heard and I’m excited about the energy NFFN brings to the table.
NFFN: Why is nature-friendly farming important to you?
Aylwin: I’m a lawyer by training and worked as an environmental law lecturer and researcher at Aberdeen University for 11 years before returning to the farm business. I have grappled with issues of land ownership and sustainability, environmental regulation, renewable energy and nature conservation, including species reintroductions, from an academic perspective, but it’s far more rewarding (and difficult), I think, to actually try to put those environmental principles into practice on the ground! Farming in upland Angus we are part of an incredible environment. We are bounded on one side by the arable fields of the fertile Vale of Strathmore and on the other by heather-clad hills at the edge of the Angus Glens and the Cairngorm National Park. It’s a landscape that is supporting our family, our rural economy, facing the blunt end of competing land use challenges, while also bursting with diverse habitats and species. On Kinclune we can boast of species rich unimproved grazing, woodland, wetland, IUCN Red List priority species (including black grouse, skylark, curlew, lapwing, redshank), and iconic mammals including red squirrels, pine marten and red deer. We want to farm in a way which is economically and environmentally sustainable for our children and our community.
We have had an amazing 12 months, which culminated with our being shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland Awards Food and Farming category, but we are really just at the start of our learning journey. We are delighted that next year our wader conservation project will extend beyond Kinclune to take in two of our neighbours and we have high hopes of working up a landscape-scale project beyond that. The last 12 months have made it clear that whatever we do on our patch is so much more impactful if we can engage with the communities around us from our local community, to NGOs, right through to Nature Scot and our local MSP. At the same time, we have been working on a major farm diversification plan, which, with luck, will future proof our farm for future generations by integrating agritourism into our business.
NFFN: What are your hopes for Scotland’s direction of travel in terms of nature recovery and climate mitigation on farms?
Aylwin: We are excited about the opportunities that an integrated and holistic approach to farming can bring and encouraged by the increasing public awareness of the many benefits that farming provides to our environment and our communities. We really couldn’t be in this at a more important or exciting time. The time is now to shape not only our own futures but also our children and grandchildrens’ futures.