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Rethink Farming - Freda Scott-Park

Freda Scott-Park farms at Portnellan Farm, an organic pasture-fed beef farm in Gartocharn, Scotland.

Key Facts:

  • Portnellan Farm maintains a 100-year-old permanent pasture with no soil disturbance to restrict carbon losses
  • Soil health is a priority: they farm organically with low-nutrient inputs, only using slurry or lime application when required. As a result, they’ve seen a huge increase in nitrogen-fixing clover
  • Their ancient woodland has vast tree diversity and extensive lichen growths. They have been actively learning about the importance of mycorrhizal networks in supporting the decomposition of organic materials, which aids carbon storage

“Biodiversity supports the whole farm ecosystem (or agro-ecosystem) ensuring resilience across a wide range of climatic conditions.”

 

 

Why is biodiversity important to you?

There is room on this farm for both the cows and for a range of wildlife, although geese and deer numbers need to be controlled to ensure there is enough grazing for the cows.

We contribute to climate change mitigation by keeping our 100-year-old pasture permanent; no turning soil that releases carbon and disrupts the soil macro- and micro-systems.

How do you deliver for biodiversity on your farm?

Our most important resource is soil, a living organism, full of populations of other (macro-and micro-) organisms.  By farming organically and with low nutrient input, i.e. slurry application and application of lime only when required, there has been a huge increase of nitrogen-fixing clover in the fields over the 20 years of being organic.  The grass grows green, supported by its natural fertiliser (in keeping with recommendations in the Farming for 1.5° Report) and the roots grow strong and deep, keeping the soil open and hospitable to earthworms and microorganisms.

We have several areas of natural woodland and water meadow – lightly grazed c 2-3 times a year and otherwise untouched – there is a plethora of habitat in the veteran, hollow trees supporting a wide range of plant and animal species (including numerous species of lichen, mosses, fungi and slime moulds) in these areas. Birdlife is prolific. Red squirrels, pine martens and badgers have been captured on trail cameras.

Our ancient woodland (on maps from 1750) is an area of tree diversity, demonstrating some superb examples of tree connectivity and supporting extensive lichen growths.  We are learning about the mycorrhizal networks and the lifecycles of growth, dropping and decay, supported by the essential fungi.

We have planted new native hedges over the last 8-10 years to provide fresh habitats and add to the existing networks of ‘linear woodland’ – our previous hedges that have grown tall into young trees.

What are the benefits and how have you measured their success?

We started our organic conversion in 2000 but we’ve always farmed sympathetically with the environment, even when we were a dairy farm up until 2010.

It is difficult to definitively list the short-and long-term benefits due to the lack of a ‘scientific’ baseline. However, David’s historical memory over the last 50 years is beneficial as the farm has been in the family since 1952.

There is a positive story to tell and visitors who have been on farm tours have been open to discussion on the benefits of high nature value farming and species diversity. We have a few surveys, usually demanded as part of a planning application – bat surveys from 20 years ago and otter surveys 5 years. Trail camera footage over the last year.

Our soil health was recognised in 2015 with the ‘Overall Best Soil’ in Show by the James Hutton Institute.

With a mile of Loch Lomond shoreline to look after, in an area of relatively high rainfall and with fields with significant gradients towards the loch, our farming practices must be optimal to avoid pollution of the water.

What have been the biggest challenges?

We need better control of invasive species such as Canada geese and Himalayan balsam, which arrives at the loch margins and spread widely.

Top tips?

  • Understanding your carbon footprint by emissions and sequestration
  • Benchmarking using carbon calculators, but knowing the limitations – every farm is different. Carbon benchmarking will help improve efficiency and soil health

What support do you need from Scottish government to continue farming in a nature-friendly way?

Recognition through financial support that food production is paramount for Scottish/UK food supply, but every farm has unique circumstances. Some should be supported to produce maximal food while supporting biodiversity, but others can give more space to nature while supporting fewer numbers of livestock.  Future farm financial support must acknowledge both ends of the farming spectrum.

If we recognise that baselines and continual improvement are essential then financial support is necessary, but the systems for acquiring the data must be simple and farmer-friendly so that there is not an immediate need for using ‘consultants’, whose fees immediately gobble up financial support.

There is a need to ensure that there are sufficient experts available, at a reasonable cost, to advise on data-gathering and investment in climate change mitigation and biodiversity measures.

What would your message be to the public to encourage them to support farmers’ delivery of climate action and nature recovery? 

Farmers produce superb quality food by looking after their animals’ health and welfare to the best of their ability.  As land-owners, farmers take their responsibilities towards climate change mitigation seriously and have the capability to do much to help Government targets.  Farmers also understand the balance of nature better than most and nature-friendly famers will be looking after their soil biodiversity and looking to control species that overwhelm the agro-ecosystem.  The public can support farmers by buying local produce from Scottish farms.