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15567_0 “We need to re-think the way we farm and the way we produce food” writes NFFN Scotland steering group
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Martin Kennedy (NFU Scotland President) recently took to social media to claim environmental delivery is incompatible with food production, and NFFN Scotland responded. The Farmers Guardian published the below letter signed by NFFN’s Scotland steering group.

Dear Mr Kennedy,

We write to take issue with the views you expressed recently, in very intemperate terms, on the NFUS Facebook page. We wonder how you feel you can square them with the upcoming launch of the ABCC Network, of which NFUS is a founding partner? This is the time for moral and pragmatic leadership, not political posturing. The climate crisis is terrifying and the biodiversity crisis is very real; suggesting otherwise is likely to cause rancour and confrontation at a time when we should all be pulling together.

We are commercial farmers and crofters committed to our businesses, food production and to working with nature to achieve these objectives. We are guided by our shared, collective experiences and the evidence delivered by scientists to address and manage the stark unprecedented realities of the climate and biodiversity crises. It is not a question of “may ” for biodiversity loss. It is very real and is directly affecting our industry both above and below ground.

This is not the time to set our industry against environmental NGO’s or against “fancy” scientists, as you describe them. We need them every bit as much as they need us. It is essential that we set vested interests aside and converge our farming and land management approaches to the common cause of climate and biodiversity loss mitigation, whilst fulfilling our responsibility as food producers.

As farmers, we have considerable agency to make significant and meaningful contributions for the good of humanity and our planet for the long term. We can only do that by converging our strengths, guided by good science, which is readily available and grows clearer by the day. Farming should accept and deliver on a multiplicity of fronts, which includes exemplary food and biodiversity outputs; not to the lowest common denominator. “Business as usual” is not giving us the solution. We need to re-think the way we farm and the way we produce food.

We have sent a copy of this letter to the editors of the Scottish Farmer, Farmers Weekly and the Farmers Guardian.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Clarke (Chair NFFN Scotland)

Phil Knott (vice-Chair NFFN Scotland)

Aylwin Pillai

Becci Barr

Nikki Yoxall

Johnnie Balfour

Patrick Laurie

Denise Walton

(NFFN Scottish Steering Group)

15466_1 We’re Recruiting! MP/Farmer Engagement Officer
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Would you like to join our dynamic team and make a real difference to the future of farming?

NFFN are recruiting a full-time MP/Farmer Engagement Officer. Salary £29k per annum, with an initial 1-year contract with potential for extension.

We are seeking an inspirational and knowledgeable individual to empower farmers to engage in the political process. The successful candidate will be an excellent communicator who is able to motivate and build the confidence of our members to deliver effective advocacy. They will have experience in working with political decision-makers and in supporting others to become more involved in political engagement and campaigning. They will be able to deliver effective advocacy strategies which demonstrate the importance of farming’s role in addressing the nature and climate emergencies. Key to the role’s success will be the ability to form effective relationships with our farmer members, decision-makers and stakeholders providing a crucial link between nature-friendly farming on the ground and high-level policy making. 

This job will require regular travel to coordinate site visits between farmer members and political representatives. The role is home-based in England, with regular travel throughout the UK.

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details.

Applications close on June 26th 2022 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk.

We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 3 years experience relevant.

Thank you for your interest.

15309_2 Living Legends: Caring for old trees on farms
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NFFN have teamed up with the Woodland Trust to champion farmers who are protecting ancient & veteran trees on their land.

If you took all the old trees growing on farms in the UK and put them in one place, you would create one of the most beautiful forests in the world. Ancient old oak, rowan, hawthorn, ash, field maple, hawthorn and birch stretching to the horizon.

Traditionally, trees on farms have been managed as an important resource for timber, fuel, fodder and other tree products and used to mark land boundaries. These long-established management practices, along with reduced competition from neighbouring trees, allowed many to become ancient and veteran, so farms are home to many of the UK’s older trees.

In recent years, there has been a welcome interest in tree planting on farms, creating habitat and a natural carbon store alongside farming operations. The Woodland Trust helps farmers do this in various ways, from creating areas of new woodland to agroforestry that integrates trees into farming systems. Here, we’re sharing some advice on caring for older trees on farms.

‘Trees outside woods’ (e.g. individual trees or small groups of trees) make up about 20% of Britain’s total tree canopy cover. Farmland covers about 70% of the land area, and rough estimations show that farmers care for around 15% of Britain’s tree canopy cover and an even higher percentage of our native tree cover. No one knows the figures for definite, but the care of these trees on farms, and the planting of new ones, is a considerable contribution to the country’s wildlife habitat, carbon storage and landscape character.

Old trees in the countryside are far from invincible, although their size can sometimes give that impression. The use of large, heavy machinery and operations close to trees and around the roots can end the life of old trees prematurely. Pests and diseases can rob landscapes of trees too. In many places, ash dieback is now having a starkly visible effect. There are still many farmers old enough to remember hedges and farms rich in grand old elm trees, now gone almost everywhere.

Why are ancient and veteran trees important on farms?

Ancient and veteran trees (AVTs) are a crucial part of a nature-friendly and productive landscape. They are existing carbon stores that will continue to capture carbon in wood and in the soil around them. They stabilise soil, and are homes for species that boost or provide important farm services. They add complexity to the farm, increasing the number and variety of nests or shelter for the natural enemies of pests and beneficial pollinators. Protection and care of AVTs could be also considered part of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. Taking care of these special trees is a win-win situation.

How to recognise ancient and veteran trees:

  • Veteran trees are mature trees that share many of the features of ancient trees. They are recognised by trunk hollows, cavities and rot holes, dead or broken branches and fungal fruiting bodies that indicate wood decay.
  • Ancient trees are also veteran trees but are the very oldest examples of their kind. Some species usually live longer than others, with birches reaching around one hundred years. Others, such as oaks and yew, top the age charts at over one thousand years. An ancient tree might be distinguished from a younger veteran by a low and squat shape, and a smaller and reduced crown. They often have very wide trunks compared with similar trees growing nearby.

Farmer Andrew Brown’s 180-year-old oak tree was hit by an Avro Lancaster Bomber on the 26 April 1945 during WW2 that went on to crash near Northampton, about 20 miles away.

Andrew says: “Ancient trees are an essential part of the ecosystem, supporting species from lichens and insects to birds and even some mammals. It is important to nurture and preserve them as part of our historic landscape.”

 

Cat Frampton has a 300-year old Badger Oak on her farm. It had been growing amid enormous lumps of granite and consequently had weak roots so when a storm hit it in the wrong direction,  it couldn’t withstand it. When it fell it uprooted 8ft boulders next to it. Cat left the tree alone as it had a root still attached and wasn’t taking up too much grazing space. Five years later, it is half dead but teaming with life, including woodpeckers and beetles. It has lichen and mosses that have lived on, it is full of fungi, and in places where its bark has peeled away, it shows a maze of insect holes and runs.

Cat says: “We have a very wooded farm & our really old trees are special. The old oaks have such a strong presence and they are massively beneficial to our land.From moths and tiny insects to owls and bats, our old oaks shelter and feed a lot creatures, many of whom are beneficial to the livestock, as the small birds pick flies off the cows to feed their young nesting in the branches. The cows eat the leaves from the lower branches, getting minerals bought up from deep in the soil by the trees’ extensive root system, and the tannins help to naturally worm the cows. As we go about our daily business, our old trees remind us that this is a long game – what we do now may have repercussions for years to come. Leaving a sapling to grow today may mean a big old oak in 400 years’ time. They help us see the bigger picture.”

What are the key things farmers can do to look after the old trees on their land?

Give ancient and veteran trees as much space as possible, above and below the ground

Allow the tree crown adequate spreading room. Limited activities should occur on the land surrounding ancient and veteran trees because damage to the roots and surrounding soil through compaction, cultivation and agricultural inputs can significantly reduce their lifespan. Try to leave a root protection area – a circular area around a tree with a radius that is fifteen times the diameter of its trunk (measured at 1.3 metres above the ground). If you can accommodate a further buffer zone beyond this root protection area, do so, as this can further reduce the amount of wind-blown applications or splashing near the tree.

Retain dead trees and decaying wood

Value and keep dead trees and wood wherever possible. Decaying wood supports specialist wildlife that needs it to survive and slowly recycling valuable minerals and other nutrients back to the soil. All forms and sizes are important; dead attached branches, fallen branches and trunks lying on the ground. Even standing dead trees are rare and precious habitats. If a tree must be cut down, for example, if there are serious safety concerns, it is rarely necessary to cut it at ground level. Instead, leave tall stumps that can continue to break down gradually. Leave fallen branches uncut and where they lie – a little untidiness here can be very beneficial. Alternatively, move them to convenient spots (mix between sunny or shady), or use them to protect trunks and roots from livestock.

Identify veteran trees of the future

Trees can live for hundreds of years but are easily lost. If a veteran tree falls or is felled, its special features will disappear from the area and cannot be replaced by young trees in the short term. A continuous succession of trees representing a variety of ages is critical. Is the next generation already growing nearby? Allow these mature or existing trees to become successor trees by giving plenty of space to their roots, trunk and crown. Record or mark these on a farm plan. Establish any new trees nearby, yet far enough away from existing veteran or ancient trees to avoid creating competition for light, water or nutrients as they mature. If planting a new generation, establish a mixture of native, locally-grown species, both in fields and in hedgerows, or even better, take advantage of genetics and allow the next generation to regenerate naturally. Include flowering trees and shrubs to provide pollen and nectar sources. Create new pollards from young trees, as this practice can deliver valuable products and increase the rate at which trunk hollows develop.

Good veteran tree care focuses on providing space, valuing decaying wood and looking to the future. The rooting area is protected from daily farming operations, vehicle access across tree roots is avoided, and farming materials are stored away from trees. Decaying wood is present on the ground, and a new generation of trees is already growing nearby.

Farms need trees of all ages growing to ensure succession and continuation of canopy cover. It is essential that farmers receive support for looking after the oldest trees – those trees that have retired from active service and just need a bit of space and time to grow old. Inch for inch, these old trees – veteran and ancient – represent incredible value for wildlife. They also provide a link to the past, both genetically and culturally, and there is still much to learn about the carbon storage in the soils beneath these trees.

In England, the new Environmental Land Management Scheme must treat old trees like valuable wildlife habitats and reward farmers for looking after them – in the same way, we do for ponds, wildflower strips, hedges, and other essential wildlife habitats on farms. If you agree that farmers should be supported to care for ancient and veteran trees and receive help to create veterans of the future, please consider supporting the Woodland Trust’s new Living Legends campaign, which is calling for this. You can also download the guidance the Trust has developed with the Ancient Tree Forum on caring for veteran trees on farms.

Article author, Louise Hackett, supports farmers with the management of ancient and veteran trees in the Sherwood Forest Treescape – an area where the Woodland Trust is testing and developing approaches to tree management on farms
15282_3 Why grass is more than grass
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Written by Denise Walton, Peelham Farm, Scotland

Looking at your lovely green lawn right now made from mown and grown grasses, or even your fields of hay or silage or grazed grass, there is a great deal more there than meets the eye.

Firstly, assuming it’s a nice day – pop off your shoes and, with bare feet (yes!), stand on the grass and then on a bare surface.  Immediately notice the difference in temperature.  The grass surface will always be cooler. When grasses breathe out (transpire) into our shared atmosphere with the water they draw from their roots, their leaves’ surface temperature goes down by approximately 15degC. They have an increasingly critical role in keeping our planet cool as global temperatures rise with climate change. Long term studies show that grasslands have more of a cooling effect than woodlands.

Grasslands and pastures account for nearly 40% of UK land and act as our largest solar panel. As their green foliage absorbs sunlight (even on a dull day), they also absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to breathable oxygen. A 50ft square lawn will produce enough oxygen to meet the daily needs of a family of four!

The arrival of grasses in life’s evolutionary history on the planet is fairly recent – only approximately 30 million years. The convergence of our evolutionary history with theirs has only been in the last 8000 years. Since then, we have had a very close co-evolution involving herbivores in the mutual merry-go-round of animal and plant domestication.  However, who or which did the domesticating is open to conjecture. 

The 12,000 grass species globally (160 in the UK) continue to evolve to changing conditions of climate, soil and grazing pressures.  Their success is primarily due to this adaptability.

But not all grasslands are equal. How they are managed can profoundly impact their value for biodiversity, climate, and farming. In the UK, so-called improved grasslands now make up a large proportion of our agricultural grassland. These grasslands have been seeded to improve agricultural production and are often made up of simple mixes of fast-growing plant species such as ryegrasses. These grasslands often require significant amounts of artificial fertilisers and need to be reseeded frequently to maintain fast growth, both of which come with a carbon cost. 

More focus and understanding are being drawn to the role that more diverse grasslands, whether permanent (not reseeded) or temporary can play in securing profits and delivering environmental gain. There is a growing body of evidence highlighting that greater plant diversity can secure multiple win-wins at the farm scale. Herbal leys, for example, include a mix of deep rooting plant and herb species, which help draw down more carbon, improve soil structure, and deliver improvements to livestock health. The inclusion of leguminous plants such as clover and birdsfoot trefoil help fix nitrogen, reducing the need for artificial fertilisers and providing a nutritious food source for hungry pollinators. At the other end of the spectrum, we have species-rich grasslands, which are ecological dynamite created over thousands of years due to a symbiotic relationship between low impact grazing and the land. These so-called unimproved grasslands have never been ploughed or fertilised, meaning they are essential carbon stores. 

Benefits of some grass and plant species:

  • Birdsfoot trefoil is proven to be anthelmintic (natural wormers)
  • The long tap roots of red clover go deep down into the soil, helping draw up moisture and increase drought resilience 
  • The taproots of legumes like black medick can break through soil pans, improving soil structure
  • The root structure of grasses such as cocksfoot and timothy increases soil organic matter while boosting micro bacterial activity.
  • A diverse grassland contains essential micronutrients such as copper, cobalt, selenium, zinc and iodine, which can improve livestock health and reduce veterinary costs 
  • Species such as plantain can help reduce nitrate leaching due to a reduced nitrate concentration in livestock urine  

Our ecological partnership with grasses and herbivores has produced our native livestock breeds, an extraordinarily diverse species and ecological richness. Grasslands are some of the most important UK habitats and are vulnerable to change, requiring skilled management. Read more on how to sensitively graze.   

But the benefits of grasses aren’t just above the ground. There is a great deal more to grasses out-of-sight. Most of the benefits of grasslands are below the surface and in the soil.  Grasses in large established grassland ecosystems act as key water catchments holding water in the sponge of their root masses and as critical biodiversity reserves.  

The dynamic mutual relationship between grassroots and soil biodiversity, where grasses and soil organisms benefit, simultaneously acts as a giant carbon sink, potentially tying up between 15-30% of the world’s carbon. 

So all-in-all, grasslands are a planet-cooling, carbon-sinking, water-sponging, biodiversity-banking, food-donating life force. Whatever grassland you have at your disposal, some steps can be taken to improve their value for ecosystem health, climate and farm business resilience

Denise’s tips for thriving soils, biodiverse grasslands and profitable farming:

  1. On improved grassland, identify steps to reduce chemical inputs
  2. Rebuild and strengthen habitat infrastructure on your farm
  3. Reconsider machinery and tractor use where possible
  4. Arable farmers: consider incorporating grazing sheep or cattle and introducing herbal leys
  5. Livestock farmers: pasture-feed and use herb- and species-rich, deep rooting grass seed mixes, introduce rotational mob-grazing with periods of rest
  6. In species-rich grasslands, identify grazing regimes which will improve the ecological condition

Denise lives in the Scottish Borders where she farms in partnership with her husband and son at Peelham Farm. She studied horticulture followed by degrees at post-graduate level in Environmental Science and Landscape Ecology at the University of London. While developing the fledgling farm business with her husband she had her own practice for some 20 years as a Landscape and Ecological Advisor, during which she also lectured on conservation and wildlife management at Borders College for 9 years. In professional practice, she was a member of both the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and the Landscape Institute. She is now fully involved as a partner in the farm business, in which she is the Managing Partner. She is a Director of Pasture for Life, on the Scottish steering group of the Nature Friendly Farming Network and a Soil Association Farmer Ambassador for Agroecology.

 

 

 

 

15269_4 Grazing management to preserve pastures & grasslands
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UK grasslands are an essential cog in ecosystem function. They lock in vast amounts of carbon, accounting for one-third of the earth’s carbon storage and two billion tonnes of carbon in UK grassland soils. Above and below the surface, species-rich grasslands support diverse life, including plants, fungi, flora, bacteria, birds and mammals, pollinators, and other threatened invertebrates.

What are species-rich grasslands?

Species-rich grasslands support a wide range of wildflowers, from the bright purples of knapweed, the cool blues of harebells or the vibrant yellows of birdsfoot trefoils. They provide a kaleidoscope of colours, healthy forage for livestock and a vital food source for our threatened pollinators. 

Yet these unique grasslands are increasingly threatened by changes in land use and intensive agriculture practice, having declined by 97% in recent decades and accounting for less than 1% of UK land cover. In Scotland, around 40% of species-rich grasslands were lost between 1983-2005

Farming practices are critical in maintaining grassland’s species-richness through careful grazing management or cutting regimes. Appropriate management means allowing the sward to flower and flowering species to set seed and germinate at the right times of the year. 

Protecting and restoring these pastures is crucial for carbon storage, biodiversity recovery and landscape resilience.  Livestock play a time-honoured role in preserving grasslands, but only when managed to ensure their survival, as too much or too little grazing can quickly diminish their value. The type of livestock is critical in securing the health and vitality of these threatened farm ecosystems, with slow-maturing native breed animals particularly equipped to do this job.  

Management is a win-win for farms, returning numerous benefits, including: 

  • Enhanced pollinator populations for vital pollination and pest regulation
  • Forage provides better herd health when rotationally grazed
  • Increased biodiversity
  • Better soil function, water infiltration and nutrient cycling
  • More carbon sequestered in the soil 

Currently, there is no recognition for grassland restoration targets in the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When well managed, they act as crucial carbon stores that must be protected, yet their value is often overlooked. We would like to see governments incentivise holistic systems of grassland management that improve carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity above and below the soil line.

Nikki Yoxall, a livestock farmer in Aberdeenshire who works at Pasture for Life, shares her knowledge of managing livestock to restore and maintain species-rich grasslands:

As graziers, grazing management is a key part of our job, allowing us to feed our cattle cheaply and healthily as possible and using the process of grazing as an ecological engineering tool for nature restoration and habitat creation. 

Approaches like Holistic Management, Adaptive Multi Paddock Grazing or Mob Grazing are all based on the premise of rest to enable recovery and mimick the movement of large herbivores across open grassland.

Such management techniques don’t consider the number of animals in a field to be a limiting factor for grass productivity, but instead, recognise that time is the key determinator of successful sward restoration. This involves implementing fairly high density, short-duration grazing followed by a long rest period. Using small paddocks for short periods of time (1-3 days) and then moving animals on to the next paddock, rest and recovery in all ungrazed areas are enabled, with animals not returning for 60, 80 or even over 100 days depending on the time of year. In concentrating the grazing effort on small paddocks with as few groups as possible, the rest of the farm is given the time it needs to re-grow grass, herbs and wildflowers and leaves space for wildlife. 

Planning grazing in this way not only contributes to soil health, water infiltration and increased plant cover, but it also helps the farmer to understand their grass budget for the year, thereby reducing stress and helping develop early contingency plans creating adaptive and more resilient farm environment. 

Many farmers grazing in these ways report an extended grazing season, which reduces winter housing costs, or the capacity to outwinter all stock using silage, hay or standing hay, also known as deferred or stockpiled grass or even ‘foggage’. 

Using electric fencing, or in some cases, e-collars, to control the movement of animals is critical in managing the grazing pressure. This is also known as ‘animal impact’ and takes into account not only what is eaten by the animals but the effect of their hooves on the ground, trampling of plants and dung distribution. The amount of grass left over when animals leave a grazing area, the ‘residual’ can vary at different times of the year and under different management approaches. On our farm, we graze tall grass and leave a fairly tall residual most of the year to act as a habitat for sward dwelling insects and ground-nesting birds. Tall Grass Grazing is great for wildlife, creates lots of underground root structure which is important for soil health, keeps grazing mouths out of the parasite zone and allows flowering plants to express themselves throughout the year – it can also mean a free re-seed when plants with a seed head are trampled into the ground. Animals will be eating a varied and mixed diet, the leafy green part of the plant, the seed head and some parts that are starting to dry out, but this helps keep their rumen functioning optimally throughout the year. 

There are opportunities to be adaptive in these systems, and this can be driven by water access or the need to give animals the choice to find shade or shelter at different times of the year. Paddock sizes can change to ensure animal welfare isn’t compromised, removal of the ‘back fence’ to allow animals to move back to shelter in bad weather, or the integration of this approach into a silvopasture system where animals are mobbed under trees is all possible. Moving more frequently in wet weather reduces the risk of poaching and slowing down in very dry weather when grass growth reduces helps to maintain the feed budget ahead. 

The main limitation cited by those new to mob grazing is managing water. Mobile troughs, solar water pumps and strategic placement of water tanks can all help to address this problem. There are creative and flexible, bought and homemade options available, with the existing mob grazing community a great place to seek out help and advice. 

There are plenty of resources available for anyone thinking about moving to these grazing approaches, the Soil Association have a number of excellent playlists and the Mob Grazing Scotland Facebook page is open to all. 

Photos: Nikki Yoxall
15254_5 NFFN NI: Policy’s place in monitoring and evaluation on farms
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Written by Ruairi Brogan, Policy Officer, RSPB NI

As Northern Ireland develops domestic agriculture policies to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), there must be a greater focus on securing environmental objectives and outcomes on farms through sustainable land management. DAERA’s Green Growth Strategy has indicated that environmental schemes will sit at the heart of a future policy, with a clear focus on creating and maintaining thriving habitats for nature and meaningful carbon reductions. However, like any policy intervention, we must monitor its progress effectively to evaluate its successes.

The recent strategic review of the NI agri-food industry recognised that it doesn’t have a positive story to tell from an environmental perspective. Monitoring of the Environmental Farming Scheme did not take place in the first four years of its operation. The lack of monitoring up until this point made it difficult to assess the effectiveness of interventions and whether they are achieving their intended outcomes compared to a baseline scenario. By better understanding our impacts on the land, there is an opportunity to maintain our capacity to produce food and other commodities by restoring the natural resources that farming and land management depend upon. As momentum and interest build toward nature- and climate-friendly farming, farmers want to know precisely how they can take action.

Monitoring can come in the form of carbon and biodiversity audits which provide a vital benchmark for many farmers who want to identify the areas where they can reduce emissions and improve management. This has recently been done through NFFN NI’s Carbon and Biodiversity Auditing Project, which assessed 35 farms throughout Northern Ireland. This is the start of what we hope will be a large-scale roll-out of monitoring within future agricultural policy, beginning with DAERA’s Soil Nutrient Health Scheme. This scheme will help farmers work more efficiently and profitably while better understanding how they can improve soil quality, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

More can be done to integrate monitoring and evaluation into the existing and proposed farming schemes. The move toward a hybrid payment system for Farming with Nature proposals will see farmers rewarded for their environmental outcomes and their targeted management. However, this new scheme will only work effectively with a rigorous assessment of habitats and species to match payments to secure agreed results. Innovative technologies like remote sensing and LiDAR may play an effective role in validating this work. However, they will not be appropriate in all circumstances. They may be inconsistent with an approach which focuses on providing more advice and guidance to farmers from the regulator on how to comply.

In the future, there may be opportunities for farmers, advisers, and citizens to participate in the monitoring process to improve engagement and promote awareness. However, this will not replace the need for independent expert monitoring and reporting.

Studies have shown regular monitoring and frequent evaluation alongside robust and targeted advice produce the best results for environmental farming schemes. Monitoring should be built into the design of schemes to ensure that it takes place from the outset. Particular habitats also require tailored monitoring, and scheme management plans are often agreed upon on insufficient data or out-of-date mapping. A timescale issue may also arise in terms of monitoring, as many outcomes are only delivered after the 5-year agreement. Therefore, monitoring needs to continue after the scheme ends.

Robust and effective monitoring frameworks are essential to understanding the state of our natural world and the impact of damaging activities and management efforts to protect and restore nature, such as the Future Agriculture Policy. Failing to develop such a system risks creating a false sense of progress through erroneous reporting or the absence of measuring progress at all. Effective monitoring, evaluation, reporting and valuation framework for agriculture policy includes SMART targets, availability and use of high-quality environmental data, and regular transparent reporting on a set of indicators which are clearly linked to goals and targets set at both international and national levels. Such transparent monitoring and evaluation will allow farmers to track their efforts to help nature’s recovery and the broader landscape, in line with national commitments to protecting and improving the condition of the environment.

15236_6 Measuring Progress: Lessons learnt from NFFN NI’s auditing project
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Written by farmer Will Frazer in Northern Ireland

We have been working on a project with the Nature Friendly Farming Network to provide a farm baseline audit for soils, biodiversity and carbon. This included a whole farm biodiversity assessment, soil analysis and carbon footprinting using Agrecalc.

Below is a summary of what we’ve learned so far and what we intend to do with our results. I’m still processing much of it, and the inter-relationships at play, but below is what I’ve mulled over so far.

  1. Our hedgerows are generally poor and need a change in management away from annual flailing towards more rotational cutting. Many also need regeneration through coppicing and gapping up. We intend to start on this straight away with reduced flailing this year and coppicing a number of escaped hedges. We will also begin a process of boundary improvement, fencing off hedges to avoid over-grazing and allow full regeneration after coppicing.

 

  1. The agricultural land area has been classified as low biodiversity due to the recent history of management under conacre focused on agricultural output only. However, outside the agricultural land area, there are some more positive signs with a number of ponds, parkland areas, wood pasture, scrubby bits and woodlands providing medium to high biodiversity status. We know we have a healthy frog and newt population in the ponds, and the river is home to otter, kingfisher, heron, dippers, salmon and trout. From a biodiversity point of view, the ancient oak/hazel woodland along the river is the jewel in the crown. Our approach going forward will be to increase the agricultural land’s biodiversity status at the same time as producing food. The principal approach being considered is the integration of trees into fields to expand the area of wood pasture. This will increase habitat for biodiversity, provide shade and shelter for grazing livestock and improve soil function through greater infiltration rates and an improved bacteria to fungi ratio. We will also aim to offer more over-winter food and forage for birds by incorporating cereals back into the farm and managing our hedgerows in a rotation.

 

  1.  Our soil organic matter levels are considerably high, ranging from 17-33% in the Loss On Ignition test. This has resulted in nearly all our fields being classified as peaty. While we do have some mossy/peaty ground, it’s only a small part of the farm, and most of our soils are a heavy clay loam. We suspect the high organic matter levels result from intensive slurry applications over many years, combined with an intensive set stocking system of cattle with poor grass utilisation and a lot of trash trampled into the soil surface. As a result, we suspect most organic matter is not very deep, and near the soil surface, so we plan to adopt management practices that help cycle this organic matter deeper in the soil. This will be achieved through a combination of pasture regeneration with deeper rooting multi-species swards and more rotational grazing with more extended rest periods allowing grass plants to grow to their full potential before being grazed.

 

  1.  As a result of our soil organic matter levels, we have an estimated soil organic carbon stock of between 10-19%. Many of our pastures have not seen the plough for 30-40 years, and while this has helped the carbon stock, the above-ground pasture quality is poor due to long-term intensive stocking and farm management practices. While we are keen to keep soil disturbance to a minimum in the long term, a full cultivation re-seed will help quickly reset some of the grazing fields allowing us to establish a diverse multi-species mix. This will cycle the soil carbon deeper into the soil profile, produce more quality forage for grazing livestock, and increase our in-field biodiversity. So a short-term hit for a long-term gain, as long as we get the management right afterwards. For the silage fields which have seen the plough in the last five years, our plan is to over-seed and stitch in clover. This should help reduce the artificial nitrogen inputs required to get a 12t multi-cut silage crop and address the poor canopy cover of these high yielding PRG swards with 30-40% soil exposure leading to soil and nutrient run-off.

 

  1.  Our pH levels range from 5.37 to 6.51. 8 out of the 15 fields were below pH 6, and we will tackle some of these with lime over the coming years. However, this will only be the solution for those fields that are getting a cultivation reset due to poor pasture quality, which will then switch over to multi-species swards. Our parkland fields and a couple of other fields will remain as long-term permanent pasture. Given the natural acidity of the basalt in bedrock in the area, I’m not sure there is much we can do or need to do to improve pH in these fields.

 

  1.  Our phosphate and potash levels are high, with 11 fields at Index 3 or above. This is a consequence of a large amount of slurry spread on the land over 20 years. This means our soils will be prone to nutrient leaching and run-off, which is a concern, particularly when 11 of the fields have riparian boundaries and two have high-risk run-off points with gateways at the bottom of hills running onto a lane. In addition, many of the fields have poor canopy cover/sward density either due to poor pasture quality or thin silage PRG swards meaning excessive soil exposure to heavy rainfall events, particularly over winter months when there are low grass residuals. Some control soil samples were taken last year at a depth of 6 inches instead of 3 inches. Interestingly, they came back showing deficiency in P, with indexes of 1, demonstrating the concentration of soil nutrients and organic matter at the soil surface and not deep in the soil profile.

We will tackle this nutrient loading by:

  • Reducing slurry applications
  • Increasing canopy cover through sheep grazing of silage swards and stitching in high tillering grass varieties and clover
  • Putting in riparian buffers along field boundaries
  • Increasing nutrient cycling deeper in the soil profile through altered grazing practices that increase rest and plant root development and through introducing deeper rooting grasses and forbs into pastures.
  1.  From a carbon footprint point of view, our kgCO2e/ha is relatively high at 6234kgCO2e/ha. This is due to the intensive land management practices typically undertaken under the conacre agreements, where slurry spreading and silage offtake were the priority to comply with nitrates regulations and produce forage to support extended winter housing periods during the year. So, the nitrous oxide emissions from soil because of the high input/high output grassland management are a substantial part of the land’s carbon footprint. However, the most sizeable aspect was the methane emissions from set stocking of 140 dairy beef steers over the summer months. We have already reduced cattle numbers to a maximum of 35 heifers grazing over the summer months alongside a flock of 100 sheep. And with greater knowledge of our soils, we will now work on an improved nutrient management plan to streamline farm inputs and reduce slurry volumes onto grazing land where P offtake is minimal.

 

  1.  From a carbon sequestration point of view, the Agrecal results were interesting. The first thing that stood out was that despite entering 5.8km of hedgerows into the calculator, the carbon sequestration associated was 0. This is because all the hedges were over 30 years old (most are 150 years old!), and that is the point that the experts believe a mature hedge stops accumulating carbon. So, it looks like hedge regeneration could be an important action not just for biodiversity but also for carbon. However, as with everything, it’s all about balance so we won’t be coppicing all the hedges in one go! But rather will work around the farm, ensuring an appropriate balance of mature and regenerating hedges over time. From a soil and forestry point of view, it was interesting to compare the two approaches. Our 37 acres of woodland are sequestering approximately 4414kgCO2/acre, and our 116 acres of agricultural land are sequestering approximately 906kgCO2/acre. I had hoped the soil carbon sequestration from agricultural land could increase under alternative farm management (mob grazing, reduced tillage etc.). With our soil organic matter and soil carbon levels already so high, perhaps this is impossible and certainly not to the extent of achieving what the woodlands are currently sequestering. As described above, it feels the job at hand is to secure the soil carbon we already have in our soils deeper into the soil profile for long-term sequestration. Currently, it is vulnerable when wholly accumulated near the soil surface. And then the focus is really on driving down emissions from farm practices rather than soil carbon, as that will be where the biggest impact can be made.

Hear from some of the farmers who took part in this project, including Will, and hear their perspectives on starting out on a nature-friendly farming journey:

Photos: Will Frazer
15227_7 NFFN NI: Biodiversity & Carbon Auditing Project
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Farming is changing – from the sole purpose of producing as much food as efficiently as possible to a new future where food production works alongside climate mitigation, biodiversity restoration, improved water quality and increased soil health. There is a pathway where farming can secure these goals in tandem, but finding it is not always easy. It relies on decisions that seek to maximise benefits while avoiding trade-offs and unintended consequences. These vary from farm to farm and from landscape to landscape; what might work in one area or system could adversely impact another. Take tree planting, a vital tool in the armoury of climate action, but planted in the wrong area can lead to biodiversity net loss, crowding out rare plant species or leading to carbon losses from the soil. These unintentional outcomes highlight some of the complexities of developing an effective climate mitigation strategy at the farm level.

The project 

As many farmers begin their first steps to a climate and nature-friendly future, how can we help them make decisions that benefit their business, climate and biodiversity, and how do we measure success? These were some of the critical questions posed at the beginning of our carbon and biodiversity auditing project, which worked with 35 farmers in Northern Ireland to deliver an assessment of the carbon footprint and biodiversity value of their holdings.

Carbon audits are gaining increasing prominence across the UK, with several different tools available. These aim to indicate a farm’s emissions compared to what is being sequestered by soils and natural vegetation, offering high-level recommendations on what farms can do to reduce their emissions. Biodiversity auditing is less prominent, which assesses all existing farm habitats and consequent biodiversity value. Our project sought to provide a holistic view of the farm to help inform on-farm strategies for delivering climate mitigation and biodiversity restoration hand in hand.

We used the Agrecalc carbon calculator for our project to deliver carbon audits to provide a reading for the farm’s carbon footprint. The audit covered the total footprint, emissions per output unit, and hectare. We also completed a detailed habitat survey of each farm to highlight the full range of semi-natural habitats found on each farm, ranging from hedgerows and ponds to rare and threatened grassland habitats. The project also conducted soil analysis to provide soil pH and soil organic matter results as essential indicators of carbon storage potential. Following the development of the audits, we provided farmers with information and advice on the steps they could take to maximise their holding for climate and biodiversity and highlight any trade-offs and risks that may exist.

What we found 

  • Farmers want information 

It was clear that farmers want access to the correct information and knowledge to make informed decisions about the future. There was a demand for services which help farmers understand what steps they can take to reduce emissions and restore biodiversity. Knowledge sharing will be crucial in efforts to assist the industry in a transition to climate-friendly farming.

  • Carbon auditing is valuable, but it has limitations 

Carbon auditing provides a helpful tool in which farmers can determine where they are now, compared to where they will be in the future and where they stand compared to their counterparts. However, auditing will never be able to provide a complete picture of emissions and sequestration taking place at the farm level, as this is based on several assumptions and aggregated data. But this should not discount the role they can play in helping farmers assess where and how changes can be made.

  •  We can’t view climate mitigation in isolation 

Looking solely at reducing the carbon impact of farming could, in some areas, have adverse effects on biodiversity, which is essential for climate mitigation and adaptation and which we also have a duty to protect, enhance and restore.

Auditing tools focus heavily on emissions per unit of output, favouring production efficiency as the critical metric of success. In many cases, intensive systems score well, while extensive systems, with a higher level of emissions per output (but lower emissions per hectare), fare less favourably. However, these systems often are of immense value for biodiversity, which is often unaccounted for and would be negatively impacted by efforts to reduce emissions per unit of output. For example, the liming of semi-natural habitats, reseeding, and changes in grazing management would negatively impact biodiversity while also releasing carbon from semi-natural habitats, which are already an important carbon store.

  •  All farmers have nature value on their land 

The biodiversity audits have provided a valuable snapshot of the nature value of farms within Northern Ireland, covering a range of different systems and farm sizes spanning the country. This highlighted the diverse range of habitats in Northern Ireland, from species-rich acid grassland, blanket bog, native woodland, hedgerows, and temporary habitats such as wild bird cover, rough grass margins, pollen, and nectar mixes. The level of habitat diversity varies considerably on a regional basis, with a high proportion of priority semi-natural habitats found in low-intensity farming systems in the West to more common habitats in the South East. However, every farm surveyed had valuable habitats from a carbon and nature perspective. This is particularly relevant with hedgerows, which made up around 3% on average of participating farm holdings. This highlights the value of hedgerows as a “quick-win” habitat for biodiversity when enhanced through improved management in the future.

Meet some of the farmers who took part in this project and hear their perspectives on starting out on a nature-friendly farming journey:

What next? 

The coming years will bring significant changes for farm businesses in Northern Ireland. We have new farming policies on the horizon, ambitious climate targets to meet, and an overarching need to restore the biodiversity on which all long-term food production depends. These transitions will be challenging for many, but all farmers can move to profitable nature-friendly farming with the right schemes, knowledge, support, and advice. Enabling a better understanding of farm business from the perspective of nature and climate plays an essential role in doing this. The biodiversity and climate crisis are interlinked, and we must address them simultaneously. This twin-track approach should be reflected in future policy, especially in developing a baseline to assess progress and aid long term decision-making.

Our thanks go out to DAERA for funding this project as part of the Environment Challenge Fund and to Ulster Wildlife for delivering the carbon and biodiversity audits.

First photo: Will Frazer
15216_8 Changes to Farming Rules for Water in England: Fertiliser Application
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On the 30th March 2022, new statutory guidance was published supporting the Farming Rules for Water changes which are enforced by the Environment Agency on behalf of DEFRA.
A cross industry stakeholder group has been brought together (including NFFN) to discuss amendments to these rules to reduce and prevent diffuse water pollution from agricultural sources. The most recent review has encompassed reviews of the application rates and timings and storage of organic and inorganic fertlisers.
These new sections of the regulations came in at the end of March 2022 for the Environment Agency to act upon. A more farmer orientated and version is currently being written but the  full Government update can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/applying-the-farming-rules-for-water/applying-the-farming-rules-for-water
15162_9 DAERA’s decisions on future agriculture policy proposals in Northern Ireland 
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On 24 March, the decisions on proposals for future agriculture policy in Northern Ireland were published by DAERA. This followed a 12-week public consultation which finished in mid-February. The future agriculture policy framework sets out the process by which farm payments will be administered in Northern Ireland over the coming years. While we welcomed the overarching principles that the policy is aiming to achieve, we had specific concerns regarding the lack of a pre-defined transition period for policy change and proposed schemes, particularly those which would result in the return of headage payments. So, what has been decided and what are the next steps? Below we provide some key takeaway points. 

Farm sustainability payment 

DAERA will continue with the development of a farm sustainability payment. This will replace the current Basic Payment Scheme with the intention of providing a safety net for farm businesses and safeguarding against market volatility. To access the scheme, farmers will have to undertake several new requirements, such as the soil nutrient health scheme and undertaking nutrient management planning. Payments will be area based, but at a lower rate than the BPS, with funding being transferred over time to other schemes within the framework. We had called for a clear timeframe to be outlined, in which this transfer of funds would take place but this is still unclear. 

Beef sustainability package 

DAERA will continue with the development of a Beef Sustainability Package. This scheme is aimed at improving the environmental performance of the livestock sector through a range of interventions, including payments related to the early slaughter of animals, shorter calving intervals and earlier age of calving. In our response, we opposed this suite of measures, due to the proportion of funding that they would absorb and the potential negative impacts on environmental delivery. Despite opposition from the majority of stakeholders regarding this scheme, it will be rolled out as part of future policy, although some changes have been made to the technical detail. 

Farming with Nature package 

A Farming with Nature package will be rolled out as part of the future policy framework, which will provide financial incentives for the delivery of environmental land management on farms. In their consultation, DAERA proposed that Farming with Nature would become a central plank of future support. This is to be welcomed, but it remains unclear when the Farming with Nature package will be rolled out and how much funding it will receive. These factors will be key to the scheme’s success and must be outlined as a priority. In the short term, the Environmental Farming Scheme will remain the main vehicle for environmental delivery. 

Conclusion 

There is a greater degree of clarity on the future direction of travel for farm payments in Northern Ireland, but a lot remains unanswered. In particular, the long term vision for change is vague and specific detail on key schemes, particularly the farming for nature package is lacking. We will continue to push for this much-needed clarity, to help farmers plan for the future, while making the case for a policy framework which has nature-friendly farming at its heart. 

For more information, view the full decision document here. 

15127_10 Nature Friendly Farming Week – Hedges & Edges Webinar
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There is no doubt that trees play a vital role in addressing the nature and climate crisis. Woodland, agroforestry and hedgerows can make us more resilient to climate change and create a nature-rich landscape that is beneficial to both farmland and wildlife. With the Welsh Government setting the target of 180,000ha of new planting by 2050, there’s no doubt that farmers can and will play an important role in meeting this aim.

Chaired by Rhys Evans (Sustainable Farming Lead for NFFN Cymru), the session will include talks from Jerry Langford (Policy Lead at Woodland Trust/ Coed Cadw), Hilary Kehoe (NFFN Cymru Chair), Malcolm Edwards (traditional hedge-layer) and Ruth Pybus (Broadleaf Wales/ Bron Haul).

Topics under discussion will include the multiple benefits of farmland trees hedgerows and woodland, what good management looks like, as well as some of the current barriers and policy opportunities for farmland tree planting.

  1. Welcome and introduction – Rhys Evans

  2. Benefits of farmland trees and hedges: Jerry Langford

  3. What good hedgerows look like, farmer attitudes and benefits at Tyddyn Isaf – Hilary Kehoe

  4. Hedgerow management – Malcom Edwards

  5. Woodland Management at Bron Haul Farm – Ruth Pybus

  6. Q&A

Book your free place here.

Speakers:

Jerry Langford

Jerry has worked for the Woodland Trust in Wales for more than 30 years, initially as a buyer and manager of woods, then becoming team manager and Wales Director. In the last few years, he has switched to policy advocacy work.  Current work includes highlighting the value of tree cover on farmland, and in towns and cities, and promoting agroforestry and native and multipurpose woodland creation to help address the climate and biodiversity emergencies whilst retaining land productivity.  Another priority is making the case for better protection of ancient woodland and ancient trees.  Jerry is particularly interested in woodland ecology and carbon cycling and has trained as an environmental scientist and ecologist.

Hilary Kehoe 

Hilary and her husband farm at Tyddyn Isaf, which overlooks the Menai Straits near Bethesda. In addition to the farm, they also run a countryside contracting business with their children which incorporates grazing livestock into the management of the nature reserves for the Wildlife Trust, Local Councils and holiday parks. Grazing animals create conditions for a range of species and habitats such as grassland waxcap fungi, breeding waders, leeches, wildflower meadows, wetlands, sand dunes and heathland. The sheep and cattle are finished slowly and are marketed through local butchers or as premium meat through local sales.  

Ruth Pybus

Ruth Pybus has spent the last 15 years converting 20 hectares of young mixed farm woodland to continuous cover woodland growing quality hardwood timber. The woodland is managed to improve opportunities for biodiversity and beneficial rearing conditions for the small suckler herd. The woodland won the gold medal for Small and Farm Woodlands in the Royal Forestry Society’s Excellence in Forestry competition 2021 and the farm is currently hosting a trainee under the RFS Forestry Roots scheme. She and her partner have recently started a business, Broadleaf Wales. The consultancy part of the business delivers woodland management courses as well as provides mentoring through Farming Connect, woodland creation plans under Glastir and various woodland support through the Woodland Trust. They are enjoying supporting other landowners in their woodland projects. The business is also developing a local market for their timber products, including sweet chestnut cleft fence posts, stiles, field gates and planked timber. She enjoys the excitement of seeing the range of products growing in diversity alongside the rapid improvement in wildlife as the woodland develops. The cows like it too! www.broadleaf.wales 

Mal Edwards

Malcolm Edwards is a countryside management contractor based in Carmarthenshire, where parallel to working on farms, runs his own 38 acres of working coppice, conservation pasture and sustainably managed woodland. He has been involved in this field of sustainable land management for over 30years. Specialising in various styles of hedgelaying, clawdd work and the preservation of Welsh hedgelaying styles, Malcolm teaches and promotes the conservation of these uniquely Welsh elements of countryside heritage. Malcolm facilitated Carmarthen’s first hedgelaying contest in October 2021 with the help of Dyfryn Tywi project based at The National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

 

15095_11 NFFN Cymru Farm Visits May 2022
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The week commencing May 16th is Nature Friendly Farming Week and NFFN Cymru are delighted to be hosting three free farm visits.

This is a great opportunity to see farming with nature in action and hear first-hand the benefits of nature-friendly farming approaches. This is also a chance to meet other like-minded nature-friendly farmers, share knowledge and experience and learn new things.

All farm visits are free and spaces are limited. Book your place by following the Eventbrite links below.

Feel free to e-mail Rhys – rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk for more information.

Wales Farm Tour Schedule

Glanllyn Farm, St. Asaph, Denbighshire – 2pm, Tuesday 17th May

Although from a farming background, Sam didn’t start working in agriculture until her mid-thirties. Now living on the banks of the River Elwy in North Wales, Glanllyn Farm comprises of lowland fertile flood plain and ancient steep woodland where she produces high-quality lamb, goats, turkeys and eggs from pasture-fed hens.The health and biodiversity of their farmland and livestock is their top priority and they have undergone flood resilience work to repair the river’s damaged banks.

Sam believes strongly that a biodiverse and regenerative approach to farming and our soils are key to reversing the global climate crisis. By re-sowing maize fields with species rich permanent pasture mixes as well as planting hedgerows and trees, Sam is working for soil resilience, reduced erosion, increased carbon sequestration all year round and a complete regenerative system encompassing livestock and nature.  Sam has also recently established a smalls scale horticulture enterprise aimed at selling fresh produce to local residents.

For more information, or to book your place click here.

 

Troedrhiwdrain, Elan Valley, Powys – 2pm, Wednesday 18th May

Sorcha and Brian Lewis are third generation tenant farmers living at Troedrhiwdrain Farm with their two children.  Troedrhiwdrain (meaning ‘at the foot of the thorny bank’), is a 580ha family upland farm.  Over the last 10 years Brian and Sorcha have developed the productivity of the farm, whilst successfully retaining and incorporating many important habitats, including hay meadows, ffridd and rhos pasture.

Due to its location within the water catchment for the water supply to Birmingham, the farm has been managed as low impact for generations, with no inorganic fertilisation of the ground, just sheep or cattle manure. This careful management, along with the range of habitats, means the farm hosts a wealth of wildlife habitats and species.

For more information, or to book your place click here.

 

Esgairllaethdy, Myddfai, Carmarthenshire – 2pm, Thursday 19th May

Hywel farms beef and sheep at Esgairllaethdy, Myddfai, Llandovery, on the western end of the Brecon Beacons. The farm comprises 230 acres, including 50 acres of conservation grazing, plus grazing rights on the adjoining common land known as Myndd Du, where his cattle help manage the land for biodiversity. There are also 25 acres of native woodland.

Hywel believes farmers and consumers need to connect more and together, can drive change for a better planet. Hywel has planted thousands of thousands of trees on the farm, and lets his hedges grow up and out to provide shelter for livestock, plus food and shelter for wildlife. He believes biodiverse rich upland farms are underestimated for the amount of carbon they already sequester, through rich tapestries of grasses and mosses. Hywel champions a working farmed landscape, the importance of rural communities and how vital it is that we protect our farm businesses for future farming generations. 

For more information, or to book your place click here.

 

 

14980_12 Agroecology – Facilitating Mindset Change in Scotland
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Author: Kirsty Tait, Sustainable Farming Lead in Scotland

Along with the global population, Scotland is in a period of significant agricultural and land-use transition, driven by the legally binding target of reducing emissions from agriculture by 31% within the next ten years. Simultaneously, we face a biodiversity crisis and the need to prepare our landscapes for a changing climate whilst navigating rising input costs and threats of food and fuel shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

Already, this mounting pressure has had an impact on Scotland. Research recently published by the Scottish Land Commission found that farmland values rose by 31.2% in Scotland in 2021 against 6.2% across the UK due to emerging carbon and natural capital value and high timber prices. At the same time, The Trussell Trust reported an 81% increase in the need for food banks in their networks over the past five years. This surge of interest in Scotland’s land has driven up prices and increased the risks of widening rural inequality. Growing food insecurity figures reveal a systemic food crisis and a vulnerable system needing reform.

How Scotland tackles this climate of instability requires an integrated approach that meets the needs of its nation whilst addressing interconnected challenges on local and global levels. We need a solution that achieves sustainable food and agricultural systems capable of restoring ecosystems while increasing the resilience of farms to future natural or economic shocks and contributing to food security. One such solution which is steadily growing in recognition is agroecology. 

What is agroecology?

Agroecology is based on applying ecological principles to farming in sustainable and nature-friendly ways. Ecology focuses on the interactions between plants, animals, people and the environment. Agroecology focuses on applying ecological concepts to optimise and bring balance to these interactions.

Why now?

Agroecology is only just creeping into the mainstream in Scotland. Still, we have many farmers, crofters and growers working with nature here in Scotland, as our membership of the Nature Friendly Farming Network testifies.  What is changing is this growing recognition of agroecology as a solution.

“Agroecological approaches to farm management have significant potential to help Scotland tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity decline whilst building resilience into our food production systems. Additionally, through improving ecosystem health and economic/crop diversification, agroecology can help ensure that agricultural production systems are resilient to future challenges.” – ‘The potential for an agroecological approach in Scotland: Policy Brief’ 

NFFN Scotland came together in a unique partnership of organisations to run an agroecological knowledge exchange programme funded by the Scottish Government through the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF.)  Between January and March 2022, we worked with Nourish Scotland, Landworkers’ Alliance, The Food and farming Countryside Commission, Pasture for Life and Soil Association Scotland to run 15 learning events – 10 held on farms/crofts and five online. 

One of the fundamental aspects of agroecology is how traditional and community-level knowledge of farmers and crofters is central to finding practical solutions to local and global challenges, such as biodiversity loss and climate change.  Through this project, 28 participants hosted events with over 300 attendees sharing their knowledge, ideas and hopes for the future. 

Crofting Systems 

NFFN Scotland jointly facilitated three on-croft on the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Skye and Wester Ross with support from RSPB Scotland and promoted by the Scottish Crofting Federation. Crofting’s low-input and high nature value approach is vital for preserving some key species, and crofters have a unique opportunity to increase biodiversity across Scotland if the right support is available.

The first on-croft event was hosted by crofter Domhnall Macsween and Shona Morrison (RSPB Scotland) on the Isle of Lewis with discussions & demonstrations of NoFence collar technology. As part of the Corncrake Calling project, Domhnall has worked with RSPB Scotland to trial NoFence technology for conservation grazing at the Loch Stiapabhat reserve.

For the next event, we joined Helen O’Keefe and Tessa Dorrian in Elphin for an on-croft session exploring the opportunities and challenges of running a crofting township food hub.  Helen and Tessa run The Green Bowl, a group of crofters and non-crofters in Elphin and Knockan (NW Sutherland), working together to market, sell and distribute locally grown food to their community. Seven producers sell a range of meat (beef, pork and mutton), eggs, honey, vegetables, fruit, herbs, bread and other baking. Most sales are online, with weekly home deliveries to customers around Ullapool or pickups from Elphin. In the summer, they have a small farm shop, selling to tourists and residents. The session began in the Elphin Tearooms with a presentation and discussion, followed by a locally-sourced lunch with produce from The Green Bowl. The day finished with a tour around the township & individual crofts.

Crofter and NFFN Scotland Vice-Chair, Phil Knott hosted the final session on his croft at Wildlife Croft Skye, Drumfearn, Isle of Skye. This session looked at increasing fertility by working the croft regeneratively using nature-based solutions, especially with good pasture and woodland management. Phil was keen to demonstrate that biodiversity and food production aren’t mutually exclusive and that nature is a crucial ally. Everyone contributed their own stories and experiences as we looked at meadows, ponds, scrub, woodland and orchards.

As we enter the formal consultation of our new Agriculture Bill in Scotland, NFFN Scotland hopes farming and crofting in these ways will be supported by the next tranche of agricultural payments and grants. 

Agroecology: Facilitating Mindset Change Film Series

As one participant said: “There’s nothing like going into the field and seeing it and feeling it.”

As part of the project, we produced a series of short films capturing some of these farmer/crofter stories to document this stage of our agroecological transition in Scotland.

Watch all five films here:

What’s next

This project’s partners are committed to continuing to deliver this knowledge exchange programme and support farmers, crofters and growers at all stages of their agroecological journeys in Scotland.  We agree with the findings of a recent report that said: “Better recognition of current agroecological farming efforts and improved support (i.e. financial, knowledge) could encourage wider adoption of agroecological transitions.” –  The adoption of agroecological principles in Scottish farming and their contribution towards agricultural sustainability and resilience. 

Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more and getting involved: kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk

15053_13 Carbon Calling Conference – 25/26 June 2022
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Carbon Calling is a knowledge exchange initiative created by farmers to promote discussion among livestock and food producers, and help them address climate, biodiversity, societal and food security issues.  

Founded by beef and sheep consultant Liz Genever, regenerative farmers Nic and Paul Renison, and host farmer Tim Nicholson the two-day (25-26 June) conference in the Eden valley is Carbon Calling’s flagship event. 

It follows two years of live chats featuring some of the leading food producers, consultants and researchers in the regenerative farming movement. It was originally planned for 2020.

The event includes practical demonstrations, seminars and discussion panels. For more information, visit Carbon Calling.

Carbon Calling’s list of speakers includes:

  • US regenerative rancher and author, Greg Judy
  • Sheila Dillon of the BBC Food and Farming Awards
  • Defra’s Janet Hughes, programme director for the Future Farming and Countryside Programme
  • Cumbrian cheesemaker, Martin Gott
  • A farmer panel including Wiltshire farmer Andy Rumming, Perthshire farmer Alex Brewster and Charlie Walker from Duns
  • Independent soil scientist, Ian Bell
  • Organic dairy farmer, Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust

Mixed farmer and ecologist Tim Nicholson of Sleastonhow Farm in the Eden Valley will host the meeting. He has first-hand experience of water quality, soil health, biodiversity and profitability challenges on his own 300-acre farm.  

Mr Nicholson saw profit margins and biodiversity come under pressure when he took charge of the home farm in 2005, but over the five years, he has seen wildlife return as he’s adapted his conventional farming system with regenerative methods. 

But he stresses the farm is still learning about lowering inputs like synthetic fertiliser, weed killers and bought-in feed and producing healthy soils, livestock and crops.  

“As a farmer, you can’t look at the label or read the instructions for this type of farming, you have to learn from others, and we hope Carbon Calling acts as a catalyst for farmers to learn from each other,” says Tim. 

“I’ve started direct drilling, experimenting with deeper rooting plants and mob grazing sheep and cattle. We have seen grey partridges, barn owls, tree sparrows and red squirrels start to come back in the area.”

Co-organiser Nic Renison said: “Carbon Calling is a grass roots conference packed with inspirational farmer speakers, we can promise a weekend briming with innovation and positive vibes, which will enable us to farm profitability working along side nature”.

How do I buy tickets? Click on https://buytickets.at/carboncalling/653331 

For more information contact Nic Renison on nicrenison@gmail.com or Liz Genever liz@lizgenever.com 

15049_14 Join us: Nature Friendly Farming Week 16th-20th May
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Calling all nature-friendly farmers, crofters, growers, producers, movers & shakers.

NFFN’s first-ever annual #NatureFriendlyFarmingWeek is happening later this month.

We’ll be shining a spotlight on how nature-friendly farming, in all sizes and systems, is regenerating our landscape, restoring biodiversity and tackling climate change, all while putting healthy and sustainable food on the table.

We have five themed days of content:

Monday 16th – Why we need nature-friendly farming
Tuesday 17th – Hedges & Edges #HedgesAndEdges
Wednesday 18th – Biodiversity & Carbon Baselines #MeasuringProgress
Thursday 19th – Pastures & Grasslands #MoreThanGrass
Friday 20th – Ancient Trees on Farms #LivingLegends

Will you join us online in celebrating nature-friendly farming? Throughout #NFFWeek share your stories and a day in your wellies to show how nature-friendly farming is the future.

Make sure to follow us on social media – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Tag @NFFNUK and use the day’s hashtag. Let’s make some noise!

14996_15 NFFN NI Manifesto May 2022: A crucial moment for nature-friendly farming 
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The next term of the Northern Ireland Assembly will take us towards the end of this decade, when many nature and climate targets must be met. The upcoming Assembly elections will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of farming, nature and the environment in years when concerted action on these issues is imperative.

The next five years provide a unique opportunity to set Northern Ireland on a pathway that helps agriculture and land use address the climate and biodiversity crises while securing a viable farming sector. Get it right, and we can support thriving rural businesses in restoring nature, safeguarding against flooding, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and locking up more carbon in our hedgerows, woodlands and soils. Get it wrong, and we leave farming increasingly vulnerable to natural or economic shocks, such as geopolitical upheavals and extreme weather. If farming doesn’t transition to sustainable and regenerative systems, profitability, landscape resilience and long-term food security are threatened.

At the Nature Friendly Farming Network, we remain committed to securing a future for farming which delivers a thriving rural economy which works in partnership with nature to provide wide-ranging benefits to society. For agriculture to thrive, we must ensure that our soils are healthy, our waters are clean, and biodiversity is restored and protected in the farmed landscape. These aims are not an aspirational wish list for the future but the core building blocks of a sustainable food and farming system.

To build a more resilient, nature-friendly future for farming and land use, the NFFN has six key asks for the next Assembly mandate. These include:

  • Deliver a NI Agriculture Bill that underpins all future farm payments and provides a clear transition

  • Mainstream sustainable and nature-friendly farming through future farming schemes

  • Put actions that secure sustainable farm practices at the heart of a climate plan for agriculture

  • Deliver a land use strategy that presents a vision for multifunctional land use and which balances food production, rural livelihoods, nature recovery and climate mitigation

  • Invest in nature-friendly food and farming systems through the right infrastructure, local-level support and farmer-focused supply chains to make sustainable and nutritious food the norm

  • Upscale education on food, farming and nature to ensure that farmers and the public recognise how nature-friendly farming systems and practices will underpin sustainable food production

You can read our full NFFN NI Manifesto here.

A better future for farming, nature, and climate relies on transformative change. There is no time for delay. We need to see change now if we’re to successfully meet our nature and climate targets, from achieving net zero by 2050 and securing many of the commitments within Northern Ireland’s Environment Strategy. These key actions will help ensure a pathway for nature-friendly farming, but the next Assembly must be committed to delivering them.

Next week, when using your vote, please consider which parties stand ready to deliver the changes to make nature-friendly farming across Northern Ireland a reality.

For more information on NFFN NI’s work, contact: Phil Carson phil.carson@nffn.org.uk

14947_16 One Donation, Twice the Impact – Can you help us meet our target?
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In these unsettling times, the voice for nature-friendly farming has never been so important. Now is the time for regenerative and sustainable farming to become mainstream.

We’re excited to announce that we’re taking part in this year’s Big Give Green Match Challenge and every donation we receive over the next week will be doubled at no extra cost to you. Many thanks to the Gower Street Foundation who are match-funding donations received for the next 7 days and the RSPB who are our charity partner for The Big Give. Donations will go via the RSPB and you will receive a thank you from them on our behalf.

We are aiming to raise £60,000 to support our mission to make farming with nature the norm.

Donate here!

Hear from farmers all across the UK who are working together to ensure thriving nature, healthy soil and a stable climate are essential to farming’s future: 

Together we can make a difference.

14942_17 The Good Food Nation Bill – a chance to fix Scotland’s food system
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Scotland’s food system is broken, from increasing usage of food banks, workers’ rights not being adequately protected, nature being degraded and poor health in communities. We also know that farming policy, overall, doesn’t deliver enough for addressing the nature and climate crises, with a disconnect between farming and food policies. There are multiple issues facing Scotland’s food system that is leading to numerous fractures and tensions that are not sustainable. 

But Scotland has a unique opportunity to change this, with a piece of legislation going through the Scottish Parliament: The Good Food Nation Bill. This Bill, introduced by the Scottish Government, could be a truly transformative piece of legislation, ensuring the food system nourishes us and the planet. It could also allow for greater integration between Scotland’s food system and Scottish agriculture, refocussing the purpose of food production so nature and feeding people are better integrated.

But as it stands, the Bill doesn’t have all the ingredients needed to make this happen. There is a danger it will fail to live up to its name – and its promise. The Bill has currently entered what’s known in the Scottish Parliament as Stage 2 (out of 3). This means there is not much time left before it is voted on and finalised by the Scottish Parliament. The next few weeks mark a crucial period during which MSPs have the opportunity to listen to their constituents and make amendments to the Bill. 

NFFN is a member of the Scottish Food Coalition (SFC), an alliance of farmers and growers, academics, workers’ unions and charities focused on the environment, health, poverty and animal welfare. The SFC know that the challenges facing our food system are connected and that we need to work across the whole system to achieve a healthy, fair and sustainable future. The SFC has been longstanding campaigners for a GFN Bill and has been recently working on suggestions on how the Bill could be improved through amendments. You can read more about this on the Coalition’s website here, which has links to everything you need to know about the GFN Bill and recent briefings. 

Day of Action – Good Food Nation Bill

In order to help secure a transformational GFN Bill – what Scotland needs to fix the food system – the SFC organised a Day of Action outside the Scottish Parliament on 26 April to help put pressure on MSPs now to take action and push for a strong Good Food Nation Bill. 

People from across Scotland – from the Borders to the Highlands and Islands – came together outside the Scottish Parliament to meet MSPs and demand joined-up action for our food system. This was a chance for Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to hear directly from their constituents, about the importance of realising the Right to Food and the unique opportunity the Good Food Nation Bill represents for Scotland’s future as a Good Food Nation. The key amendments we are calling for are:

  • the need for the Bill to clearly state its commitment to realising the Right to Food
  • the need for clear and measurable objectives
  • the establishment of an Independent Food Commission

After the Day of Action, Stephanie Mander from SFC, said: “It was a fantastic day, really positive and energised. We were hopeful that 8 MSPs to join us and we ended up having at least 26 MSPs come out to meet us, which was absolutely fantastic – 2 party leaders (LibDem + Greens). We had about 80 campaigners and Coalition partners – some from as far as London, and North Uist – the length of the country. It was an excellent showing.”

More information on these amendments can be found on the Coalition’s website

14844_18 We’re Recruiting! NFFN Sustainable Farming Lead for England
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Would you like to join our dynamic team and make a real difference to the future of farming?

NFFN are recruiting a Sustainable Farming Lead for England to support the growth of the NFFN and nature-friendly farmers in England . Salary £33k per annum, contract till June 2024.

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Lead as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open until end of April and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk.

We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience relevant to the role or 7 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your interest.

14809_19 Defra announces plans to support farmers with fertiliser costs & reward nature-friendly practice
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Defra has reinforced its plans to reward nature-friendly farming in England and has announced five actions they will take to support farms with the availability of nutrients for the coming growing season. This comes in response to the rising costs of fertiliser, fuel and animal feed.

In the announcement, Defra outlined five areas for assisting farmers:

  • Farming Rules for Water: Clarification on what manure spreading and use of fertilisers is allowed
  • Changes to urea usage: A delay in actions to reduce ammonia emissions by 12 months to April 2023 and the introduction of two new Red Tractor standards
  • An Industry Fertiliser roundtable: Holding a roundtable to look at current issues faced by the fertiliser industry and its impact on farmers
  • Sustainable Farming Incentive: New information to prepare farmers for a new income stream, including for the Annual Health and Welfare Review
  • Farming Innovation Programme: Opening application for two “climate-smart farming” projects

There is much to welcome within these measures, including new guidance on how farmers should limit the use of slurry and other farmyard manure at certain times of the year and the introduction of new slurry storage grants later this year.

However, Defra has permitted the continued use of urea within voluntary standards audited by Red Tractor to allow farmers time to manage rising costs. This decision to administer urea through an accreditation scheme is disappointing as it overlooks many other farmers who are not Red Tractor members. As we have seen in the past, previous voluntary measures reap little environmental return in the long term and Defra has said regulation will be introduced if the scheme does not achieve the ammonia reductions needed.

Ammonia emissions

In 2020, the sector’s annual ammonia emissions across the UK were 259.2 thousand tonnes, showing only a 7 per cent reduction since 2005. Poor advice means that most farmers waste 40% of the fertiliser they apply to their fields. This causes runoff that contributes to air and water quality issues and damages ecosystems.

Should fertiliser prices remain exceptionally high, the Government will need to consider diverse and ambitious ways of supporting farmers in using fewer fertilisers, with much better access to means of applying fertiliser precisely.

As climate change advances, making the sector’s supply of global inputs even more uncertain, dependency on imported fertilisers is unlikely to improve without rapid, targeted action and collaboration. We hope to see a wider selection of farming organisations be invited to the newly launched Industry Fertiliser roundtable, including the Nature Friendly Farming Network, so that options for reducing reliance on inputs can be fairly assessed.

We are pleased to see support for the development of organic-based fertilisers in the announcement on grant payments for farmers in the Sustainable Farming Incentive. This includes covering the costs of sowing nitrogen-fixing cover crops, like clover and legumes, and utilising green manures from livestock to recycle nutrients.

Food security

Recently, we shared our response to growing concerns around food insecurity and signed Sustain’s open letter to Defra calling on measures to ensure a sustainable food and farming system.

“Farmers are constrained by soaring input prices and we recognise that the Government’s announcements will ease immediate concerns. But delaying actions to reduce ammonia emissions will do little to lessen the sector’s reliance on expensive, largely harmful and increasingly inaccessible inputs. It’s vital that we prioritise a move towards nature-friendly practices across the whole farm landscape, supported through farmer-to-farmer learning and funding for farmer-led research. The more we accelerate on-farm action to replace artificial inputs and sustain ecosystem function through cover cropping or rotational grazing, the more secure our farming systems will be in the long term.”

“Maintaining stability and UK farming’s capacity to produce food in the long term requires systemic planning on how we reduce reliance on costly inputs. We need to continue building the sector’s confidence in using nature-friendly practices so that we build a resilient landscape and improve farm business profitability.”

– Martin Lines, NFFN UK Chair

14774_20 Our Food 1200 / Ein Bwyd 1200 |
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Our Food 1200 / Ein Bwyd 1200, a locally managed community benefit society, is launching a plan to rebuild the local food economy in Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons.

Our Food 1200 is looking for farmers and landowners in Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons who have small plots of land suitable for growing fruit & veg for sale locally.

A new report published by Food Sense Wales explores how investment in a small-scale horticulture grants scheme could significantly increase the amount of veg produced in Wales.

What is Our Food 1200?

The aim of Our Food 1200 is – over 10 years – to create a network of small-scale regenerative growers serving local communities on 3-5 acre plots. The search is on for a total of 1200 acres. That’s all it would take to produce enough seasonal fruit and veg for every household in the region. This type of farming generates about 1 job per acre, so they are seeking to create at least 1200 jobs.

As well as calling on farmers and landowners to make land available, or start their own regenerative enterprises, Our Food 1200 is engaging with other people who are essential to success.

  • Existing growers and sellers of local food are invited to collaborate to grow market share for locally produced food
  • Land seekers are invited to come and farm in Monmouthshire and the Brecon Beacons
  • Residents are invited to help find land and new growers in every community across the region

1200 acres of produce, sold locally through box schemes and other outlets, would kickstart a new local food economy, keeping profits local and reducing food miles. Local supply chains would also create a foundation for other farmers and food producers to sell their products locally – for example, milk, cheese and other dairy, meat, jams, preserves and other condiments, cereals and locally processed foods including confectionery, tea and coffee.

In future, Our Food 1200 will help new enterprises to access business finance, create local supply chains, expand local markets and find suitable housing.

Our Food 1200 is eagerly awaiting news on funding from the Welsh Government’s Cooperation and Supply Chain Development Scheme. The project provides the vital local lead that Welsh Government food and farming policy depends upon. Welsh Government has stated that “a sustainable agriculture sector for current and future generations is key to meeting our commitment for Wales to be net zero by 2050 and reversing the decline of biodiversity.”

This kind of farming is a necessary response to the need to make food supply chains more resilient, to tackle climate change, to provide more healthy food and to revitalise rural communities.

Support for the project to date has come from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, the Vale of Usk Rural Development Programme, the Welsh Government, and the London-based Conservation Farming Trust.

Register for their online launch event, 11am-1pm on 30th March here.

Keep up to date with our progress and sign up for our newsletter here.

Welsh language site: EinBwyd1200.cymru

English language site: Ourfood1200.wales

For further information contact: Duncan Fisher: duncan@our-food.org / Tel: 07950028704

14749_21 England: New proposed targets to nature and environment announced 
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Many farmers see themselves primarily – or exclusively – as food producers who are engaging in land use in order to meet this goal. With this assumed responsibility comes longstanding views on what farms should produce and how farms should look, and this has often meant that the natural resources embedded within our landscapes have been pushed to the sidelines, regardless of how vital they are to the process of food production.

But farmers are increasingly needed to do more than produce food. The geopolitical upheavals of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine have shown just how vulnerable our UK food system is. Rising costs of growingly inaccessible inputs have put more strain on businesses that are struggling to be economically viable. Ongoing ecosystem breakdown, seen in rampant declines in biodiversity, poses continually threats to farming’s future. This is why long-term and ambitious policy is needed to support farmers in delivering public goods through sustainable systems and an urgent rethink of food security is needed.

Legal targets for nature and environment have been proposed

In England, long-term environmental targets to protect and enhance our natural world have been proposed as a requirement under the Environment Act 2021. As legally-binding targets, including for nature, air, water and waste, they present a first step in ensuring that the Government meets its “apex target” of halting nature’s decline by 2030 – but disappointingly they leave much to be desired. 

The suggested target to increase species abundance by 10% by 2042 – based on 2030 levels – will do little to support and protect biodiversity across farm landscapes. Basing targets on 2030 levels is working from an extremely low baseline that will struggle to put biodiversity firmly back into the heart of farming. 

Likewise, as farmers, we know that what we do has a direct impact on our land. Farmers need to be supported and encouraged to make the right changes on their land and we need clear, effective and enforced targets for water quality; that drive forward lasting changes in agricultural practices.

Fundamentally, we need far more ambitious targets that move faster in their ability to effectively enhance nature as a cornerstone of a thriving farming sector.

In response to these proposed targets and the recent calls to relax environmental delivery on farms, Marin Lines, NFFN Chair says:

“Food production is absolutely underpinned by the ability of our landscapes to sustain it. If we push our environment to its limits by opting for a short-sighted “food production at all costs” approach, then we will gravely pay the costs later.” 

“The restoration of our natural world is not an optional add on or a luxury. It’s a core building block of sustainable food production and there is a vital role that farming must play in cultivating food security and that means securing an abundant biodiversity and thriving ecosystem functions, such as soil health, flood mitigation, pollination and carbon sequestration.”

“The package of measures outlined will provide an imperative starting point in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. But we cannot stress enough the importance and necessity of these measures in going farther in driving genuine action.”

“The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68% fall in populations of multiple species between 1970 and 2016. Increasing species by 10% by 2042 is nowhere near sufficient enough to create abundance in the face of these historic and alarming declines.”

We will respond to the Government’s eight-week consultation before the targets are set in law in October 2022.

14713_22 Rethinking food security: why producing more is not the answer
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Many of us are concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and rightly so. No one can fail to be moved by these tragic events and the ongoing trail of devastation and misery. Our thoughts are with all of those whose lives are being torn apart by the conflict.

The consequences of the war in Ukraine have been felt around the world, with shocks to global supply and a surge in prices for fertiliser and animal feed. Understandably, these impacts have added increasing pressure to the discussions around sustainability and food security.

But with future food supplies brought sharply into focus, the real problem lies in the promotion of intensive food production as a fix-all solution that ignores the flawed realities of our current food production:

  • Over half the arable crops grown in the UK are for animal feed
  • In Scotland, 80% of crops are grown for alcohol or animal feed
  • Globally, 30% of total food produced is wasted
  • In the UK, food waste is around 9.5 million tonnes – 70% of which is edible and intended for consumption

The war in Ukraine has highlighted a global food system that is already in crisis

Amid growing uncertainty around the impacts on food supply, farming unions have requested a moratorium on Government environment support schemes.

What’s concerning about this knee-jerk reaction to increase food production is the blanket denial of the more severe and imminent challenges our food system is facing. Biodiversity loss, climate change and land degradation are already placing unprecedented pressures on our sector,  and without swift remedial action, these pressures will continue to worsen.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that catastrophic environmental breakdown is upon us. According to the UN’s latest assessment, society and nature are being pushed beyond their abilities to adapt. 

What is abundantly clear is that this decade is the time for action.

The war in Ukraine has not presented a need to ramp up food production, but to reframe our existing (and narrow) definition of “food security” so it encompasses the interconnected dimensions of truly sustainable food systems.

This includes ecologically functioning landscapes, access to fertile and nutrient-rich soil, ecosystem resilience to changing weather, frameworks to facilitate farmer-focused infrastructure and better support for farming practices that sincerely address the climate and nature emergency.

This – alongside robust measures to shorten the supply chain, reduce food poverty and improve accessibility so everyone can have a healthy, sustainable diet – is what qualifies as food security.

The events in Ukraine have inadvertently exposed the vulnerability of a food system that is heavily reliant on a range of inputs from around the world, which are often environmentally damaging, finite and at risk from climate change. On a farm business level, reliance on costly inputs hinders profit margins and negatively impacts environmental resilience.

If food security is to be a genuine aim, then we need to reduce reliance on these inputs. We need to urgently review what we currently produce, including where and how we manage these landscapes.

Doubling down on flawed approaches while steering away from environmental restoration will only exacerbate the frailties of our food production. It’s not about having more productive land; it’s about maintaining and protecting the natural assets that farming is inherently dependent upon and promoting agricultural diversity where nature is a valuable stakeholder. In an era of existential crisis, biodiversity and effectively functioning ecosystems are not luxuries – they are necessities.

Any call to halt ecological or environmental delivery in order to bring more land into production isn’t a response to a humanitarian crisis. It’s a stalling tactic to maintain business as usual, where rampant production maintains the status quo and undermines any attempt to build an equitable food & farming future.

14620_23 NFFN NI at FFLC: The challenges and opportunities of farming for climate action
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What are we waiting for? Farming for Climate Action

Online – Wednesday 2 March, 10am-11.30am

With Northern Ireland agriculture contributing 27% of the country’s total GhG emissions through systems that are driving rampant biodiversity loss, we need urgent on-farm solutions.

Our session at this year’s Food, Farming & Land Convention will explore ways of tackling climate change through step changes across the farm landscape that actively contribute to a nature-rich, net-zero future. Our panel discussion will discuss farming’s positive role to play in tackling global warming and will debate the ways in which agriculture can deliver meaningful climate action. Our four panellists will also share the opportunities and challenges in pushing for change at a farm level through shared first-hand experiences.

  • Be inspired by farmers who are making positive changes for the climate
  • Take the opportunity to ask our panel your questions
  • Learn more about our step-change approach
  • Hear how farms can integrate multiple actions that proactively tackle climate change

MEET OUR PANELLISTS

Michael Meharg, NI Chair of NFFN

Michael farms a 250 ha suckler cow enterprise in county Antrim which includes conservation on a number of protected sites in NI. Passionate about the environment and rare breeds and with a background in ecology Michael facilitates work with farmers in the Lough Neagh area Environmental Farming Scheme focusing on delivering for priority habitats and breeding waders. Michael is interested in how the public and the market can better support nature-friendly farming produce across Northern Ireland.

William Frazer – Farmer & partner, Hillmount Farm

William is a new entrant farmer who has recently returned to Northern Ireland to bring back under management the 60ha family farm, which has been let under conacre for the past 30 years. His aim is to transition the farm towards a more regenerative set of enterprises; incorporating a more circular farming system, more trees, more diversity and more people. Previously, William has worked for 5 years as a farm adviser with the National Farmers Union in Gloucestershire, 4 years in the farming press at Farmers Weekly and started his career at Forum for the Future developing advice on farming and climate change for the Farming Futures project. He holds a Master’s degree in Geography from the University of Bristol and in 2014 completed a 15,000 mile cycling journey around the world.

Helen Keys, farmer & co-founder of Mallon Farm & SourceGrow

Helen farms alongside her husband, Charlie, in Northern Ireland and they are the first commercial producers of Irish grown linen in forty years. Helen is a co-founder of Source Grow, an online platform to help farmers decide what to grow to suit their soil and local market demand. She is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Queen’s University Belfast and an Innovation Broker for the Water Innovation Network, working to create nature-based solutions to improve water quality. She will share her experience of nature-friendly farming and discuss her views on the marketplace and the role of supply chains in supporting the sector’s transition.

Stephen Alexander – farmer & Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year

Stephen runs a certified Pasture For Life Pedigree Dexter Herd, Ballyboley Dexters, Co. Down, N.Ireland. He produces and markets high-quality beef direct-to-consumers using nature-friendly, regenerative and innovative farming practices on both private and National Trust land. In 2021, he was a Blas na hEireann Finalist and  Farming Life’s Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year and Artisan Producer Of The Year.

David Sandford, panellist chair & arable farmer

David is an arable farmer & passionate about the environment. He was the Purdey Gold Award Winner 2016, Northern Ireland Wildlife Farmer of the Year 2015 & RFS Farm & Small Woodland Award joint winner 2021. David is also a committee member of the management body for the Strangford and Lecale AONB and advisory member for the Strangford Lough Marine Protected Area.

 

14631_24 NFFN NI: Why DAERA’s proposed headage scheme is a backwards step for farming
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NFFN NI has voiced its opposition to plans to introduce a headage payment scheme in Northern Ireland.

The proposal, contained in DAERA’s Future Agriculture Policy Framework consultation, which closed 15 February, suggests payments to farmers for cattle and an imposed 24-month target slaughter age.

In our consultation response, NFFN NI raised concerns about the negative environmental impacts associated with early calving and early slaughter, which it says promotes intensive livestock production and discourages traditional breeds, which are grass-fed and slow-growing.

It says the proposed scheme is counterproductive by promoting dependence on significant quantities of external inputs, such as imported feed, and is taking a “backwards step” from sustainable farming.

“This headage payment proposal risks doing more harm than good in its attempts to reduce farming’s impacts on the climate. It narrowly focuses on size over function and does not reflect genuinely sustainable farming practice,” says Michael Meharg, NFFN NI Chair.

 “This proposal is an oversimplification of livestock production. Focusing on shortening lifespans to reduce emissions fails to acknowledge the complexity of the food system, where intensifying inputs contributes to emissions elsewhere, such as loss of grassland for livestock feed, fossil fuel-based fertiliser use and transport emissions. It could even pass the proposed carbon savings offshore.”

He adds: “Herds give better profit and better environmental benefit when the stocking rates are matched to the natural carrying capacity of the land. Naturally reared livestock, grass-fed and outdoors, is more appealing to consumers who want increasingly choose nature-friendly, climate-conscious produce.”

Mr Meharg farms 280 hectares of grassland with his herd of traditional Irish moiled cattle, which he says are an important tool in managing the land for environmental benefits including ensuring crucial habitats that contribute to climate mitigation, such as species-rich grassland and flood plains, are maintained in a thriving condition.

“Managing land in this way is not all about nature, it also has a clear business benefit,” he says.

In moving towards a low input grazing regime, Michael has reduced costs for artificial fertilisers and contractor fees by around £4,500 per year. Each year, the enterprise brings in a healthy profit from beef weaned calves, pedigree cattle and increasingly from quality meat sales.

Mr Meharg says the headage payment proposal misses an opportunity to reduce inputs and maximise profitability by paying for production which masks any inefficiencies present within the business and shelters farmers from making decisions that boost their profit margins.

“The move towards headage payments isn’t in the long-term best interests of a farmer or the land. We need a healthy landscape to deliver a sustainable future for the sector,” says Mr Meharg.

He adds: “The £50 million earmarked for this scheme would be far better spent supporting farmers to adopt holistic practices across the whole farm landscape that build environmental resilience and promote the production of healthy foods in a nature-positive manner.”

14594_25 NFFN NI Consultation Response: Environment Strategy
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What is the consultation?

On the 11th November 2021, the Department for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs published a consultation on a draft Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland. This Strategy aims to set out a set of coherent and effective interventions which seek to deliver improvements in the quality of the environment in Northern Ireland. In doing so, it aims to improve health and well-being for everyone, elevate Northern Ireland to an environmental leader, create opportunities to develop the economy and protect the environment in the long term. 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Successful, profitable farming is utterly reliant on a clean, healthy and thriving natural environment. Northern Ireland’s first Environment Strategy sets forward a range of different recommendations interventions at improving the state and quality of the environment here. It recognises the role of farming and land management in meeting these aims, alongside the need for investment in farming practices that work to restore biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change, reduce flood risk and improve air and water quality. If appropriately designed and sufficiently ambitious, the Environment Strategy can play a key role in supporting nature-friendly farming in Northern Ireland.

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We welcome the aims of the Strategy to tackle the major challenges of biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental degradation across the breadth of the Executive. We also welcome the recognition that a healthy environment is linked with our health and well-being and that long-term planning is essential to protect and restore natural capital for future generations. Above all, we are pleased to see nature-friendly farming is seen as a key vehicle in securing the outcomes it seeks to deliver. 

However, the Executive has failed to deliver on a range of previous environmental commitments, with significant impacts on nature and the environment. Water quality is going backwards, over one in ten species faces the risk of extinction and nearly all of our best sites for nature are failing to meet good condition. This situation must not continue, if we continue to erode our natural capital, which is the foundation of a stable prosperous economy, we will all be poorer as a result. 

Although the draft Strategy contains a range of welcome strategic environmental outcomes, there is a clear need for increased ambition in order to effectively rise to the challenge of addressing the nature and climate emergency, with clear actions and targets driving this forward across the Executive. There are several improvements that must be made to ensure that the Strategy provides the required level of ambition and is focused on meeting specific and measurable environmental outcomes. 

Read our consultation response here.

14589_26 NFFN NI Consultation Response: Green Growth Strategy
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What is the consultation?

On the 21st of October, DAERA published a draft Green Growth Strategy for Northern Ireland, which aims to provide a vision and framework for delivering green growth which all other NI government policies and strategies must align. It aims to embed wider climate change, a green economy and environmental considerations into decision-making.

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

The Green Growth Strategy will play an important role in shaping the future of environmental management in Northern Ireland over decades to come. It will have a key influence on several other policy areas relevant to nature-friendly farming, such as the forthcoming Environment Strategy and a Future Agriculture Policy Framework. It is important that the Green Growth Strategy reflects the nature and climate emergency we are currently facing, providing much-needed join-up across all Government Departments.

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

The Green Growth Strategy will have significant implications for a broad range of policies influencing the management of land, nature and the environment in Northern Ireland, in relation to meeting efforts for biodiversity restoration, to improve water & air quality and other environmental commitments. Therefore, it is crucial that the Strategy contributes towards meeting these objectives, rather than undermining them.

We welcome the principle of achieving significant reductions in GHG emissions, investing in ‘green jobs’ and improving the environment. However, the definition of Green Growth is vague (particularly in a NI context) and does not safeguard against potentially perverse outcomes. It should be more clearly defined to ward off against potential unintended consequences. 

What’s next?

As the Green Growth Strategy has been developed in advance of agreed biodiversity and environment strategies, it is unclear how these will guide important decisions regarding investment. We will push for the publication of these strategies so that investments aimed at encouraging green growth serve to deliver nature’s protection and restoration and support profitable, nature-friendly farming.

Read our consultation response here.

14584_27 NFFN NI Consultation Response: Future Agricultural Policy Framework
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What is the consultation?

On the 21st of December, the Department for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs opened their consultation on a Future Agricultural Policy Framework for Northern Ireland. The proposals put forward to outline the future of agriculture policy in Northern Ireland, based around core key principles of increased resilience, productivity, environmental sustainability and an effective functioning supply chain. The consultation outlines a range of proposals including the introduction of a farm resilience scheme, a Farming for Nature package, specific schemes aimed at the beef sector and proposals for minimum sustainability standards to replace cross-compliance. 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Agricultural policy can play an important role in tackling the nature and climate crises, it can support rural economies and communities, produce healthy, sustainable foods and improve public health. We also know that inappropriate and poorly conceived policies can have negative environmental, social and economic effects. Northern Ireland’s Future Agricultural Policy Framework will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of farming for decades to come, it is vital we get it right, for farming, people, nature and climate. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations? 

The NFFN supports the high-level principles of the policy to deliver a productive, resilient and environmentally sustainable food and farming system in Northern Ireland. We also welcome proposals to move the majority of agriculture funding towards the Farming for Nature package over time. This is an important step, which should enable all farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices while reversing biodiversity decline and increasing carbon storage from our land. However, on the whole, it does not go far enough in putting farmers on the pathway to regenerative nature-friendly farming and land use. It fails to grasp the urgent need for transformational change, nor provides the clarity and certainty that farmers need to prepare for the future.

The evidence is clear: the next 10 years will be pivotal in securing a brighter, better future for farming and land use and we must begin this journey immediately. Without a clear timeline for action, this policy risks kicking the opportunity of a lifetime into the long grass. Furthermore, it lacks consistency and risks a twin-track approach, incentivising ambitious action for nature for some, while encouraging flawed approaches for others.

We are particularly concerned about the return of headage payments for livestock, which we believe is a deeply flawed approach in trying to increase farm profitability. Incremental changes to the status quo are not enough, while production-based schemes risk taking us back to the past.  We need clarity, vision and a clear purpose for the future, which ensures that nature-friendly farming is scaled up across the whole of Northern Ireland. We urge DAERA to take our comments on board and deliver a policy that reflects the scale of the challenge we are currently facing

What’s next?

Fundamental reform of agricultural policy is essential if we are to effectively address the nature and climate crises, as well as ensuring food security and profitable farm businesses. What’s been put forward so far will not bring about the changes we so desperately need. We will continue to demonstrate the benefits that a transition to nature-friendly farming can achieve and fight for a policy that makes nature friendly farming the norm.  

Read our consultation response here.

14548_28 England’s Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes
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We know that farming must play a key role in helping achieve climate and biodiversity targets, but it remains to be seen whether or not government schemes will move fast enough to support farmers in transitioning to more ambitious environmental management in time to make meaningful differences that will achieve these targets. As it stands, the schemes announced are lacking in detail, and without detail, commitment is nothing more than aspiration.

These schemes should represent the gold standard in rewarding nature-friendly farming given the Government’s commitment to halting biodiversity loss by 2030. But these schemes won’t begin until 2024, and so far, this recent announcement of policy direction is just that – an announcement with very little meat on its bones. We need greater clarity, swifter action and higher ambition if we’re to make any measurable impact in recovering nature. Already many land managers and farmers are delivering at the highest level for nature and climate, yet Government risks leaving them in limbo until these new schemes are in place.

The government has been running similar environmental stewardship schemes voluntarily for farmers wanting to do targeted nature recovery for 20 or 30 years, yet we still have seen huge declines in wildlife. We need these schemes to be bolder – not just delivering more of the same with minor improvements. In the face of a nature and climate crises, we need action instead of warm words.

The Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes are pivotal in making nature recovery possible, but to truly reform land use so it is positively impactful, for both wildlife and farmers, the government needs to move quicker than they are.

14539_29 The National Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring Programme
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Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) is introducing some exciting improvements to its survey programme. To raise the profile of amphibian and reptile monitoring work there’s a new name for ARC’s portfolio of surveys and projects that generate data for conservation – the National Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring Programme.

There are surveys suitable for beginners such as Garden Dragon Watch and others for people with more experience, including the National Amphibian Survey and National Reptile Survey. These surveys, which will be running from spring this year, are designed to determine trends in amphibian and reptile populations. They take forward and update the widespread amphibian and reptile elements of the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) which has been running since 2007. The aim is to grow a large network of long-term monitoring sites that surveyors visit several times each year.

ARC is looking for people who would like to take part as volunteer surveyors or who could offer to host a survey on their land. The National Amphibian Survey
and National Reptile Survey provide surveyors with different options for where they survey. Amphibian surveys focus on a waterbody such as a pond, reptile surveys focus on any habitat suitable for reptiles.

You can find out more about these surveys and other current projects by visiting the ARC Survey Hub. Some training information is available online and we will be running virtual and in-person training sessions on species identification and surveying, as well as training on using the Survey Hub.

The surveys make use of new technologies to help surveyors collect and submit data and new data analysis techniques. The ARC Survey Hub provides access to interactive resources including maps, survey guidance, training materials and digital forms/apps for submitting data and viewing their survey results on a mobile phone, PC or tablet.

ARC would love members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network to get involved with their surveys, so that farmed land is properly represented in the data collected and to give land managers the opportunity to find out more about the species on their land.

14531_30 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: Welsh Government’s Agriculture (Wales) White Paper
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What is the consultation?

The Welsh Government’s consultation on the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper was published on 16 December 2020. It set out the ambition to reform the way in which agriculture is supported by the Welsh Government in the future and the intention to introduce an Agriculture Bill in the Senedd.  The White Paper contained proposals for future support for agriculture; regulatory reform; future support for industry and the supply chain; and forestry and woodland management. 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Agricultural policy can play an important role in tackling the nature and climate crises, it can support rural economies and communities, produce healthy, sustainable foods and improve public health. We also know that inappropriate and poorly conceived policies can have a negative environmental, social and economic effects. With the future Wales Agricultural Bill aiming to set out the legislative and support framework for Welsh agriculture for the next fifteen to twenty years – it’s vital that we develop policies that work for farmers, the environment as well as wider society. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

NFFN Cymru support the high-level ambition outlined in the consultation, particularly the key strategic objectives for agriculture being sustainable food production, responding to the climate emergency and reversing the decline in biodiversity. We are pleased that the White Paper includes a clear nod towards the Maximum Sustainable Output approach, which encourages farmers to operate within the natural carrying capacity of their land.  

We also welcome plans to increase woodland cover on farms. Agro-forestry, silvopasture, hedgerow trees and woodland can form an important role for the environment as well as farm businesses.  However, we are concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on tree planting to tackle climate change.  NFFN Cymru advocates a policy of the right tree, right place and for the right land management reasons

The consultation also outlines to create National Minimum Standards (NMS) for agriculture.  Whilst we welcome these proposals, but stress that future schemes should pay farmers for undertaking actions that deliver outcomes at a level above those set by NMS, and that a regulatory framework should apply to all farmers, irrespective of whether they receive financial support from the Welsh Government. The strong emphasis on the importance of advice and guidance in conforming with regulation is welcome. Moving forward, we believe that the Welsh Government should undertake an audit exercise of current regulation and identify areas require strengthening. 

We agree that funding should be made available to support the wider industry and supply chain,  however this needs to be part of a wider food system vision for Wales that aligns production, supply and consumption, whilst addressing issues such as tackling the nature and climate crises;  eliminating household food insecurity; access to healthy food for all; fair income for farmers and  growers and supporting rural communities.  

What’s next?

Fundamental reform of agricultural policy is essential if we are to effectively address the nature and climate crises, as well as ensuring food security and profitable and resilient farm businesses.  Whilst we support the high-level ambition outlined in the White Paper, the devil will be in the detail. We look forward to receiving more information, particularly on the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme. We will continue to advocate policy reform that facilitates and rewards nature-friendly farming. 

Read our consultation response here.

 

14529_31 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: Priorities for the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee
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What is the consultation?

The Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee has been set up by the Senedd to look at policy and legislation, and to hold the Welsh Government to account in specific areas. These areas include climate change policy, the environment, energy, planning, transport, and connectivity. The Committee consulted with stakeholders in order help inform the Committee’s decisions on what its main priorities should be during the Sixth Senedd (2021-2026).

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Nature-friendly farming can play an important role in tackling climate change. It also supports vibrant rural communities and economies, produces plentiful healthy sustainable food and improves public health. Put simply, nature-friendly farming offers countless benefits for those areas that sit under the Committee’s remit. As such, it’s important that we raise the profile of nature-friendly farming amongst the Committee’s members.    

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We urge the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee to prioritize the following key areas.

  • The Wales Agriculture Bill and proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme
  • The proposed Community Food Strategy
  • Tree Planting and Carbon Offsetting
  • National Minimum Standards for Agriculture 

Adopting on-farm nature-based solutions to climate is something that every farm in Wales can deliver, however, urgent policy support is needed to take nature friendly farming to scale. Nature friendly farming’s role in meeting Wales’ climate change ambitions must not be overlooked – it is an area that deserves the utmost attention.

What’s next?

We sincerely hope the Committee understands the importance of nature friendly farming and its relevance to the Committees work areas. We look forward to working closely with Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee over the term of the sixth Senedd.

Read our consultation response in English and Welsh 

14527_32 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: The Control of Agricultural Pollution Consultation 
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What is the consultation?

The Welsh Government have introduced regulations, which apply to the whole of Wales, to address the significant and ongoing effect of agricultural pollution on the health and quality of our rivers, lakes and streams. Following this, the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee launched a consultation to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s new regulations to control agricultural pollution.

 
Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Whilst there are countless examples of sustainable, nature-friendly farms in Wales, we must acknowledge that agricultural pollution is an issue that needs to be addressed. Agriculture pollution affects the environment, society and our economy. As an industry, we can’t put our heads in the sand when it comes to this issue. However, nature-friendly farming particularly farming within the natural productive carrying capacity of the land is key to addressing agricultural pollution. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

A range of different interventions is required to ensure our natural resources are protected, maintained and enhanced. These will include policy support, capital investment, education, the provision of advice and clear guidance, regulation, monitoring and enforcement;

  • It can be argued that the root cause of agricultural pollution stems from stocking densities that exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land. As such we should encourage herd sizes that are compatible with the natural productive carrying capacity of the land.
  • We’re concerned that increased bureaucracy and compliance costs could lead to a reduction in extensive cattle grazing systems, particularly on hill/ upland farms where cattle can act as valuable conservation grazers. 
  • High Nature Value farming systems, characterized by extensive grazing systems, should receive priority funding support to help comply with regulation. Before we spend public money on increasing the slurry storage capacity of intensive farms, thought should be given to the size of the herd.
  • We welcome requirements for increased nutrient management planning, which can help reduce poor practices such as over application, spreading on unsuitable land and during inappropriate weather. 
  • Regulation should be better targeted at repeat offenders, with heavier handed penalties given to those that blatantly or purposefully pollute. As such, enforcement must be sufficient to eradicate this practice and change behaviour.

What’s next?

We hope the committee shares our view on the importance of nature-friendly farming in addressing agricultural pollution. Future agricultural policy and regulation can play a big role in facilitating farming systems that operate within the natural productive carrying capacity of the land, whilst rewarding farmers for the associated environmental benefits. This will need to be combined with the provision of appropriate education, support and advice to farmers. 

Read our consultation response in English and Welsh

14525_33 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: Priorities for the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee
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What is the consultation?

The Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee has been set up by the Senedd to look at policy and legislation, and to hold the Welsh Government to account in specific areas. These areas include business, economic development, skills, international trade, agriculture, fisheries and food. The Committee consulted with stakeholders in order help inform the Committee’s decisions on what its main priorities should be during the Sixth Senedd (2021-2026). 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Nature-friendly farming plays an integral part in supporting vibrant rural communities and economies, whilst producing plentiful healthy sustainable food and improving public health. Furthermore, farming with nature can be the most profitable way of producing food; the Maximum Sustainable Output approach, which encourages farmers to operate within the natural carrying capacity of their land can be a route to increasing farm business profitability, thus creating more resilient rural economies and communities. A shift towards more nature and climate-friendly farming approaches will also help tackle the climate and nature crises – arguably the biggest threat facing agriculture. 

Put simply, nature-friendly farming offers countless benefits for those areas that sit under the Committee’s remit. As such, it’s important that we raise the profile of nature-friendly farming amongst the Committee’s members.    

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We urge the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee to prioritize the following key areas.

  • The Wales Agriculture Bill and proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme
  • The proposed Community Food Strategy
  • Tree Planting and Carbon Offsetting
  • National Minimum Standards for Agriculture 
  • International Trade

Nature-friendly farming has a big role to play in ensuring a Green Recovery following Covid-19. It can help improve public health, rural economies and communities as well as underpin food security. Farmers are key to addressing these issues, and urgent policy support is needed to take nature-friendly farming to scale. 

What’s next?

We sincerely hope the Committee understands the importance of nature-friendly farming and its relevance to the Committees work areas. We look forward to working closely with Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee over the term of the sixth Senedd.

Read our consultation response in English and Welsh

14522_34 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: Welsh Government’s Net Zero Wales Plan
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What is the consultation?

In response to the Welsh Government’s Net Zero Plan, the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee issued a short consultation to gather stakeholder views on its content.  

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Whilst there are countless examples of sustainable, nature-friendly farms in Wales, we must acknowledge that agricultural pollution is an issue that needs to be addressed. Agriculture pollution affects the environment, society and our economy. As an industry, we can’t put our heads in the sand when it comes to this issue. However, nature-friendly farming particularly farming within the natural productive carrying capacity of the land is key to addressing agricultural pollution. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We welcome many of the commitments and ambitions that are relevant to the food and farming system;

  • Promoting widespread uptake of low input agroecological farming practices 
  • Investigating the merits of a transitional scheme to provide financial support to farmers who are converting their operations to organic farming. 
  • Supporting for new and existing agroecological horticulture businesses
  • Adopting a land sharing approach to food production 
  • Creating a Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) centred on rewarding the delivery of environmental outcomes 
  • Commitments to improve resource efficiency and increase circularity on farms

However, we believe the following merits further scrutiny from the Committee; 

  • What procedures does the Welsh Government have in place to ensure we plant the right tree in the right place? 
  • What practical steps are the Welsh Government going to take to ensure supply chains are stronger and more localised, whilst value will be more fairly distributed? 
  • Bearing in mind the SFS won’t be launched until 2025, is the pace and scale of action sufficient? 
  • We urge the Welsh Government to roll out a trial programme aimed at promoting the concept of maximum sustainable output (MSO) amongst farmers, which is proven to improve farm profitability and enhance nature and climate. 
  • Could WG’s peatland restoration targets be more ambitious? Bearing in mind that degraded UK peatlands emit more carbon than what even the most ambitious UK Climate Change Committee tree planting targets could capture and store.
  • What procedures does the Welsh Government have in place to ensure to safeguard rural communities, bearing in mind the rise in large-scale corporations buying farms across the country to plant trees to offset their own carbon emissions? 
  • What steps are the Welsh Government taking to enhance the poultry sector’s sustainability credentials, bearing in mind the sector’s negative effect on air and water quality, and its dependency on imported feed linked to global deforestation?
  • We would welcome further scrutiny into how selling carbon credits may impact ambition for net zero commitment from individual Welsh farm businesses, bearing in mind that sold carbon credits are no longer owned by farm businesses and thus cannot be used to offset their own emissions. Should farm business, therefore, be carbon negative prior to selling carbon credits?

What’s next?

It’s vital that we as farmers work with the Welsh Government to shape policies, regulation and schemes that help Wales’ agricultural sector meet the twin nature and climate crises. Demonstrating by doing is a great way of achieving this, therefore we will ramp up our political advocacy to ensure nature-friendly farming is a the heart of tackling climate change.

Read our consultation response here

14519_35 NFFN Cymru Consultation Response: Economic and cultural impacts of trade and environmental policy on family farms in Wales
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What is the consultation?

The UK Parliament Welsh Affairs Committee conducted a short inquiry to explore the impact of major policy changes (particularly, but not exclusively, international trade and climate change) on family farms in Wales. 

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Government environmental policies can offer huge benefits to Welsh family farm businesses, rural economies and communities. However poorly conceived and/or implemented policies could potentially threaten rural communities, the Welsh language, the wider rural economy and could in fact lead to perverse outcomes for nature and climate.

International trade policies could reduce environmental standards and the economic position of Welsh farmers by expose us to the sort of low standards, and cut-price competition that will drive farmers towards more harmful ways of farming for both land and livestock. 

 It is therefore vital that we ensure that policies are thoroughly scrutinised. 

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

  • Some of the biggest challenges facing Welsh family farm businesses include nature loss, climate change, poor market return and dependency on farming subsidies leading to negative socio-economic trends, the rewilding agenda and uncertainty over future domestic agricultural support payment. 
  • Trees play a vital role in addressing the nature and climate crises, can improve farm profitability and productivity and support rural economies. However, planting the wrong tree in the wrong place can lead to perverse outcomes for climate, nature and rural communities. As such we must plant the right tree in the right place. 
  • We are very concerned about the rise in large-scale corporations buying Welsh farms to plant trees to offset their own carbon emissions, threatening local biodiversity, culture, language, and heritage. 
  • Environmental policy must give nature restoration the same attention and urgency as climate change. 
  • Facilitating agroecological farming practices (achieving Maximum Sustainable Output) and redirecting adequate farming payments towards rewarding environmental enhancement increases income stability and raises farm income for Welsh family farm businesses. 
  • We need a transformative food system that ensures farmers earn a fair return whilst ensuring food is healthy, affordable and sustainably produced.

What’s next?

Future agricultural, climate change and trade policies are a likely to have a significant bearing on Welsh agriculture and family farm businesses. Policies that are carefully designed, well implemented and adequately funded can play a vital role in supporting a resilient, profitable, and sustainable Welsh food and farming sector, and rural communities. However, if not designed, implemented and funded properly then future government policies could undermine Welsh agriculture, and in doing so erode our environment, rural communities, economies and way of life. We urge the UK and Welsh Government to engage with NFFN farmers to help develop future policies that work for farming, rural communities, nature and climate. 

Read our consultation response here

14515_36 NFFN Cymru 2022
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By Hilary Kehoe, Chair of NFFN Cymru

Last year was an important one for farming in Wales, with food, farming and climate policies fiercely debated in the Senedd.  NFFN Cymru were very active in trying to gain political support for nature-friendly farming, engaging with 14 Welsh Members of the Senedd, including farm visits with Lesley Griffiths (Minister for Rural Affairs) and Janet Finch Saunders (Welsh Conservatives Climate Change Minister), and meetings with Lee Waters (Deputy Climate Change Minister), Cefin Campbell (Plaid Cymru Food and Farming spokesperson), as well as giving evidence to the Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee.

A joint NFFN Cymru letter (English and Welsh) was sent to the Senedd, calling for support for nature-friendly farming. Around 20 farming, consumer, environmental and community organisations put their logos to the letter, highlighting the strong cross-sector call for action. We also submitted comprehensive responses to all relevant Senedd, Welsh Government and UK Government consultations – you can read these here, here, here, here, here and here.

It’s safe to say that this year is going to be even more pivotal. The Wales Agricultural Bill is expected to be introduced to the Senedd in the Summer of 2022 – this will set the framework under which future agricultural policies and regulation will be delivered. Alongside the Bill we are expecting to see the first draft of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), which will eventually replace the Basic Payment Scheme and various agri-environment schemes currently running in Wales.

Regular meetings with the Welsh Government’s Land Management Team regarding progress and development of the proposed SFS have felt positive and the representatives seem to be listening and engaged in what NFFN Steering Group members are saying. We find ourselves having a greater say in policy development – with members sitting on various working groups such WG’s Land Management Reform Stakeholder Group and various SFS farmer co-design groups.

The SFS, which looks set to be a lot less prescriptive and rigid than Glastir, is expected to be launched in 2025.  I was reassured that there will be a phased reduction in the Basic Payment Scheme as the Sustainable Farming Scheme launches – we must avoid a pull the rug scenario and allow time for farmers to transition to new ways of working.  In the meantime, there may be opportunities for NFFN farmers to carry out trials of the scheme on their own farms as development continues. This would be welcome, as we could all learn how the payment system can work and can demonstrate success or otherwise of management options.

As we approach the scheme launch, we will see how the Welsh Government plans to deal with the practicalities of baselining farm performance (particularly what habitats and wildlife are already in place on farms and how they can be enhanced), administering the scheme and measuring and reporting on progress. Hopefully, the budget, fixed for the next three years, will be sufficient to cover the cost of the SFS.

In addition, the Senedd recently voted in favour of introducing a Food Bill which seeks to create a more sustainable and local Welsh food system.  So lots going on! This is something we really need in Wales because we lack a coherent national food vision. What we eat and what we produce as food are two very different – we need more dialogue about the integration of production, supply and consumption policies across Government, and how they address the climate and ecological emergencies, the public health crisis and the rise in food insecurity – whilst also realising better margins for producers.

We will continue to advocate the vital role of nature-friendly farming in producing sustainable and healthy food, tackling the nature and climate crises, and creating economically viable and resilient farm businesses.

If you want to be more involved with NFFN Cymru we would appreciate your support. Get in touch with hilary.kehoe@nffn.org.uk or rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk

This letter was shared in our first newsletter of 2022. Join as a free public or farmer member to receive our regular email updates.

14489_37 Can soil restoration help in the fight against climate change?
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A team of researchers from the University of Hull have been working with project partners Yorkshire Water and Future Food Solutions to understand how the application of cover crops may boost soil organic matter to deliver a range of benefits for the environment, the farmer, and wider society. Using a range of soil moisture sensors, the collection of soil cores, and laboratory techniques, the team have been assessing whether the addition of cover crops (71% oil radish, 18% gold of pleasure, 11% Placelia at 11.25 t ha -1 ) between a pea and winter wheat crop across half of a field in East Yorkshire altered soil moisture content, essential nutrient (N, P, K, NH 3) concentrations, and soil carbon when compared to the adjacent untreated field half.

The team have collected cores from across the two field zones at quarterly intervals throughout the year and have been collecting continuous soil moisture measurements at four locations on each half of the field to discern how the soil characteristics are changing as the organic matter decomposes. Preliminary results suggest that soil carbon and soil moisture both increase with the application of cover crops, while data on the retention of essential nutrients is currently being processed in the laboratory.

They will be comparing their findings on soil chemistry and moisture content to crop yields for the two field zones to assess whether the organic matter treatments stimulated an increase in productivity. Climate change is set to increase extreme weather events in the UK with agriculturally important regions like East Yorkshire likely to be affected disproportionally due to its flat and low-lying relief. Boosting soil organic matter provides a potential solution to this increasing uncertainty through improvements to soil porosity and permeability, which increase soil moisture and nutrient retention and reduce overland flows, nutrient stripping, and crop spoilage. Over time, as the soil replenishes its natural store of nutrients and increases water retention, farmers will rely less on artificial fertilisers and develop a soil that is more resilient to floods and droughts.

Ultimately, the soil will become more resilient to climate change, which will strengthen future food security, whilst also improving water quality, enhancing biodiversity, and reducing future flood risk.

Words & imagery: Dr Josh Ahmed (Postdoctoral Research Associate), Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull
14486_38 Low Carbon Agriculture: Supporting farming’s transition
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Low Carbon Agriculture show will take place in person on 8-9 March 2022, at the National Agriculture and Exhibition Centre (NAEC), to support farmers as they move through the agricultural transition. 

Supported by the Nature Friendly Farming Network, the event will provide practical guidance on sustainable land use, renewable energy generation and emission control, cutting through the noise to get to the heart of what new changes mean for farmers. It will cover specific pressing topics such as policy, carbon storage, soil health, natural capital, net zero, renewable energy, low emission vehicles and agri-tech.

Held in partnership with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Low Carbon Agriculture show incorporates four expos including:

  • Environmental Business Expo: an exhibition and conference sessions offering practical guidance to farmers on the management and reduction of harmful greenhouse gasses, carbon sequestration, regenerative farming and effective environmental land management, in preparation for the ELM scheme.
  • Farm Technology Expo: suppliers of innovative agri-tech will take part in the exhibition and workshop area within the Farm Technology Expo.
  • Energy Now Expo: an exhibition accompanied by an energy storage theatre and a cutting-edge conference programme, covering all forms of renewables.
  • Low Emission Vehicles Expo: a showcase of the latest low-carbon transport and machinery solutions, highlight the related opportunities, and feature a test track.

The Low Carbon Agriculture Show will feature its renowned multi-streamed conference, which can be viewed here. Also featured at the event are workshops, an exhibition, test drives of low emission vehicles and machinery and demonstrations of the latest innovations in agri-tech. Visitors to the event will be able to make one-to-one appointments in advance of the event, as well as attending networking roundtable discussions run by exhibitors.

Following on from the success of the virtual Low Carbon Agriculture show in March this year, and the many successful Digital Insights webinars held each month on the run-up to the show, the event continues to be ahead of the curve, evolving from its roots as Energy Now Expo, and celebrates 13 years of success next March. 

Free to attend.

Visit www.lowcarbonagricultureshow.co.uk to learn more.

14462_39 FREE webinar: Time to get counting farmland birds in Wales
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NFFN Cymru, along with GWCT Cymru and RSPB Cymru are delighted to host a free collaborative online webinar looking at how to identify and record farmland birds.

On Wednesday 9th February at 7PM, join Rhys Evans (Sustainable Farming Lead for NFFN Cymru) Matt Goodall (GWCT Head of Education and Wales Advisor) and Rhian Pierce (RSPB Cymru Conservation Officer) who will be discussing the importance of this years’ Big Farmland Bird Count and how to take part, including the birds that we might see. They will also discuss some ideas on that can be implemented on farms to further boost birdlife.

“We are delighted to be in partnership with both the NFFN and RSPB to discuss the BFBC which is in its ninth year attracting over 2,500 farmers,” says Matt, who urges more Welsh farms to record their birds so that we can highlight the great work that is being done. Recording birds in winter can really highlight what your farm is providing, and also provides a baseline which can be measured against in future years, something that will become more important as we move towards the future Sustainable Farming Scheme.

Rhys Evans from NFFN Cymru says: “Managing and creating habitats for wildlife is likely to feature prominently in future agricultural payments and schemes, so it’s important for us as farmers to know what biodiversity we have on our land – after all you can’t manage what you don’t measure! Whether you’re an avid twitcher or can’t tell your house sparrow from your dunnock – this session will offer something for all.”

Rhian Pierce from RSPB is keen to get farmers engaged. “Farmers have an excellent eye for detail, whether it is spotting illness in livestock or growth stages in their crops. Therefore, with a few tips we can help make identifying

different bird species second nature! Bird ID will be an excellent skill for future schemes where self-assessment may become more and more critical”.

Register for the FREE webinar here.

14447_40 Job Opportunity: NFFN Administrator
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The NFFN are looking for an administrator passionate about nature and farming to join our dynamic team. The contract is initially for 15 hours a week for 12 months with the salary £22.5k per annum (pro-rated to 9k).

Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till Feb 14th 2022 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted.

Thank you for your interest.

14397_41 Scotland: New Agroecology Learning Programme Launches for Farmers and Crofters
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Food campaigners and farming organisations have come together to support a unique agroecology learning programme led by farmers and crofters in Scotland.

Funded by the Scottish Government’s Knowledge and Innovation Fund, The Landworkers’ Alliance, Nature Friendly Farming Network, Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, Soil Association, The Food, Farming & Countryside Commission (FFCC) and Nourish Scotland will be facilitating 15 free events, online and in-person on farms and crofts, through January to March.

Farming and crofting is facing a period of transition in adopting systems and practices that help tackle both biodiversity breakdown and the climate emergency, and this unique partnership seeks to showcase how farmers and crofters can lead the way.

“At its core, agroecology is about the application of ecological principles to farming and land use,” says David McKay, Head of Policy at Soil Association.

“It ensures that land is managed in a way that delivers environmental benefits such as improved biodiversity, soil health, clean water and fresh air. On a practical level, this could mean the use of techniques such as nutrient cycling, ecological pest control and agroforestry.”

The potential of agroecology as a useful framework for furthering agricultural sustainability is gaining recognition and support, both among farmers and crofters, and within the wider industry. 

Lucianne Wardle, Scotland Inquiry Facilitator at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, says: “Agroecology and its regenerative practices present pathways for all Scottish farmers, growers, crofters and land managers to be a force for change, delivering for the nation on food security, climate adaptation and mitigation and for a flourishing natural environment, and as the backbone of thriving and resilient local economies.”

In support of growing awareness around agroecology’s benefits, this project is designed to help a wide range of farmers and crofters in sharing practical knowledge, from those already using agroecological approaches to those who are new to the concept and keen to learn more.

Nikki Yoxall, Research Coordinator at Pasture for Life Association, says: “We know that farmers and crofters really value seeing new ideas in practice, so we want to help explore new ways of doing things by showcasing the successes and learning experiences of others. There are lots of farmers and crofters in Scotland already well down the agroecological path, so connecting them with others is a really powerful way to help establish a supportive community.” 

This project is part of wider collaborative work amongst partner organisations which aims to further the uptake of agroecological practices in Scotland, build an evidence base for the value of agroecology and support policy reform. 

A full list of the themes and events can be found here.

If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Kirsty Tait at the Nature Friendly Farming Network kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk

Image: Kirsty Tait

14395_42 Job Opportunity: NFFN Northern Ireland Sustainable Lead
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The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for until June 2024 to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature-friendly farmers in Northern Ireland. Salary £33k per annum (pro-rated to 26.4k).

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Lead for NI as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till Feb 8th 2022 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience relevant to the role or 7 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your interest.

14281_43 Whole farm approach at the heart of agriculture’s transition, says DEFRA Minister
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Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis, has today (7 January 2022) said whole farm management is where farming is heading.

At a panel discussion organised by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Victoria Prentis said: ”The whole farm approach will be at the heart of where we go with the agriculture transition. But most farmers are not ready to do that, though we would encourage people to take the steps to get there.”

The panel event marked the launch of NFFN’s new report: Farming for Climate Action: What are we waiting for? The report outlines a comparison of devolved and UK government targets for climate and nature, alongside an overview of farming and land use across the UK and the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across each farming system.

It presents an infographic of a whole farm system approach with eight areas where practices can actively reduce GhGs and support farming businesses in becoming more resilient and protected against the effects of climate change.

During the panel discussion, Martin Lines, UK Chair of the NFFN, said: “Many farmers are waiting for schemes to come in years’ time rather than making changes now because we’ve become so bedded into a payment system that has rewarded land size instead of what we do with that land as a public benefit affecting both biodiversity and our climate.”

When asked what the government is doing to ensure farmers will not be disadvantaged in the transition between old and new schemes, Victoria Prentis said that farming has been “infantilised by BPS payments” and that farmers “will absolutely not be penalised for early [scheme] adoption.”

During the conference session, farmers Denise Walton and Hywel Morgan discussed their transitions towards a whole farm approach that mitigates climate change.

Hywel Morgan, a livestock farmer in Myddfai, farms 230 acres with no fertilisers and a reduction in chemical sprays. He has reduced bought-in feedstocks from 18 tonnes to 3-4 tonnes.

In a move away from soil disturbance, he plants herbal leys with deep rooting systems, including chicory, plantain and clovers. After “too many years” of ryegrass, he said: “As an upland grassland farmer, why would I want to kill off perennial self-seeding grass to plant new grass? I keep asking myself `why did I do this every year’?”

His efforts have resulted in higher soil pH levels and improved carbon storage, including resilience against extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods.

“My income dropped around 20%, but my profits have always gained as the less I spend the better off the farm is. I’m better off now financially than I have been for years.”

Denise Walton, a Pasture for Life farmer in Scotland, said they ditched chemical inputs in order to improve their grasslands through rotational paddock grazing, tree planting and maintaining species-rich meadows.

Denise said: “We changed our grazing system by splitting our fields into smaller paddocks where we rotational mob graze groups of 10 cattle in 10-acre paddocks with thirty days’ grazing and three days’ rest.”

“In the past, we were agrochemically dependent, but since we’ve stopped using sprays and inorganic fertilisers, we’ve seen an incredible improvement in our grass efficiency and its ability to cycle nutrients, including carbon. We’re saving nearly £70k a year with less tractor use, less fuel use and no imported feedstocks.”

Victoria Prentis spoke about her vision for UK agriculture in 10 years’ time, saying there will be a “really good labelling system” which will mean that consumers are “much more aware” of what they’re consuming and that British farming will be producing “at least 60% of the food we eat.”

“I think we will, taken as read, share space with nature on our farms. In terms of the landscape, there will be areas that are spared and much more peatland will be rewetted. I very much hope many more farms will, frankly, look like Denise’s and Hywel’s,” she said.

LINKS:

14204_44 Farming for Climate Action: What are we waiting for?
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Executive Summary

As part of our wider Rethink Farming campaign, our new report – Farming for Climate Action: What are we waiting for? – presents a useful comparison of devolved and UK government targets for climate and nature, alongside an overview of farming and land use across the UK and the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GhG) in each farming system. An infographic and a table of actions outline practical steps on how to start and continue the journey of farming for climate action with recommendations on best practices.

Our report explores how on-farm habitats can act as nature-based solutions that help reduce GhGs while supporting farming businesses in becoming more resilient and protected against the effects of climate change.

As well as offering numerous climate benefits, these actions can enhance biodiversity, create improved and more resilient ecosystem functioning, enhance human wellbeing and provide economic benefits, in terms of monetary value and job creation.

The natural assets within this table offer fundamental systems that underpin farming’s productivity and the health of these systems is vital in securing farming’s viability in the face of a changing and unpredictable climate. The provision of clean water and air, healthy and sustainable food production, lowered emissions, naturally captured and stored carbon, improved soil health and resilience against flooding and drought all benefit the farm business.

Climate action is as much in the hands of farmers, crofters and land managers as it is in the hands of decision-makers.

  • The UK is at a pivotal moment in time when momentous decisions in our food, farming and land use will dictate how effectively the urgency of the climate crisis is addressed.
  • Given the sheer size and scale of agriculture’s land use and contribution to the UK economy, the impacts of climate change will be devastating if farmland does not build effective climate resilience to changing weather.
  • Increasing the application of on-farm adaptation and mitigation strategies to manage the impact of climate change is of critical importance, with immediate inaction very likely to result in high costs later.
  • Whatever the system or approach, there are many ways to reduce GhG emissions and capture carbon in the land farmers manage.
  • The actions outlined in this report aim to help those who are unsure of where to start or where to continue and will offer some clarity on the practical steps to take.
  • To help on the journey, we have created a blank table to help get your planning started.

We hope this inspires you to take action for the climate – and in doing so for nature and for your business.

LINKS:

14149_45 NFFN at ORFC 2022
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Farming for Climate Action: What are we waiting for?

Online – Friday 7 January, 11am-12.30pm

With agriculture contributing 12% of the UK’s total GhG emissions through systems that are driving rampant biodiversity loss, we need solutions that can be scaled at pace and adopted by many.

Our session at ORFC will launch our new infographic for tackling climate change through step changes across the farm landscape that actively contribute to a nature-rich, net-zero future. Our panel discussion will explore how farming has a positive role to play in tackling global warming and will debate the ways in which agriculture can deliver meaningful climate action. Our five panellists will discuss the opportunities and challenges in pushing for change at a farm level through shared first-hand experiences from farmers across the UK and from those working on practical solutions to make wide-scale adoption of climate-friendly farming happen.

While addressing this challenge is fraught with uncertainty – from the future of agriculture regulation and payment schemes to trading negotiations and changing consumer demands – can farming really afford to wait several years for new developments to lead the way? It’s time to review and adjust our farming practices now, many of which will improve farm business resilience and profitability.

  • Be inspired by farmers who are making positive changes for the climate
  • Take the opportunity to ask our panel your questions
  • Learn more about our step-change approach
  • Discover how farms can integrate multiple actions that proactively tackle climate change

MEET OUR PANELLISTS

 

Martin Lines, UK Chair of the NFFN

Martin is an arable farmer and contractor in South Cambridgeshire with special interest in farm conservation management. He will talk about the impacts of climate change on his farm and the practices he employs to tackle this, including the scale of policy and government support that is urgently needed to make climate action happen.

 

Victoria Prentis, DEFRA

Victoria was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 16 September 2021. Her responsibilities for Defra include farming and food, and she is the lead Minister for the agri-food chain. Victoria was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 14 February 2020 to 15 September 2021. Victoria will discuss the direction of travel in agriculture policy and the sector’s role in addressing climate change.

Dr Prysor Williams, Bangor University

Prysor is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management at Bangor University. He was raised on an upland livestock farm, and is still very much a hands-on farmer. Much of his research is at the interface of agriculture and the environment, with current projects focusing on sustainable intensification of livestock systems, strategies to meet Net Zero ambitions, and the impacts of different grazing regimes on the environmental and economic performance of farms. He will discuss his experience of assessing the impacts of farming on climate change and the positive changes farming can make.

Helen Keys, farmer & enterpreneur

Helen farms alongside her husband, Charlie, in Northern Ireland and they are the first commercial producers of Irish grown linen in forty years. Helen is a co-founder of Source Grow, an online platform to help farmers decide what to grow to suit their soil and local market demand. She is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Queen’s University Belfast and an Innovation Broker for the Water Innovation Network, working to create nature-based solutions to improve water quality. She will share her experience of nature-friendly farming and discuss her views on the marketplace and the role of supply chains in supporting the sector’s transition.

Ellie Brodie, independent consultant

Ellie has over 20 years’ policy, research and campaigning experience on environment, farming, rural and community development issues. Previously she led The Wildlife Trusts’ land management policy work, SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre and citizen action research at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Ellie is a trustee of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. She will discuss policy development in governments across the UK and her views on what agriculture is waiting for in addressing climate change through farming and land use.

MEET OUR SPEAKERS

Denise Walton, Peelham Farm 

Farmer, food producer and ecologist, Denise lives in the Scottish Borders where she farms in partnership with her husband and son. Irish by nationality, Denise was born and bought up in Central Africa (Zambia). She studied horticulture in her native Ireland followed by degrees to post-graduate level in Environmental Science and Landscape Ecology at the University of London. While developing the fledgling farm business with her husband she had her own practice for some 20 years as a Landscape and Ecological Advisor, during which she also lectured on conservation and wildlife management at Borders College for 9 years. In professional practice, she was a member of both the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and the Landscape Institute. She is now fully involved as a partner in the farm business, in which she is Managing Partner with main responsibility for the diversification and development of food production from the farm’s livestock through the on-farm butchery and for the farm’s ecological management. She is a Director of the Pasture-for-Life Association, on the Scottish steering group of the Nature Friendly Farming Network and a Soil Association Farmer Ambassador for Agroecology.

Hywel Morgan, Esgairllaethdy

Hywel farms beef and sheep at Esgairllaethdy in Myddfai, Llandovery, on the western end of the Brecon Beacons. The farm comprises 230 acres, including 50 acres of conservation grazing, plus grazing rights on the adjoining common land known as Mynydd Du, where his cattle help manage the land for biodiversity. There are also 25 acres of native woodland. Hywel is passionate about selling his produce direct to customers, where he loves talking about how his animals are reared and the important role they play. He believes farmers and consumers need to connect more and together, can drive change for a better planet. After doing a Farming Connect Management exchange study trip on low input farming, Hywel decided to stop using fertiliser, chemicals and cut back on bought-in feed, working with nature not against it. He plants thousands of trees every year in hedgerows and lets these hedges grow up and out to provide shelter for livestock, plus food for wildlife. He believes biodiverse rich upland farms are underestimated for the amount of carbon they already sequester, through rich tapestries of grasses and mosses. Hywel champions a working farmed landscape, the importance of rural communities and how vital it is that we protect our farm businesses for future farming generations. Hywel is on our Welsh steering group.

To view the Oxford Real Farming Conference programme, book your ticket or join our online event, visit: https://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2022-programme/

14111_46 County Down farmers making space for nature on their farms
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Nature-friendly farmers across Northern Ireland are working hard year-round to protect and restore biodiversity. Their farms showcase nature-based solutions in action and how small changes to farming practice can help tackle the joint nature and biodiversity crisis.

NFFN NI works with farmers and landowners across Northern Ireland through knowledge-sharing, providing advice and connecting with organisations, such as RSPB NI, to support entrants to the Environmental Farming Scheme. Actions such as good hedgerow management, growing rough grass margins or winter seed crops are steps that many farmers can take to maximise the room they make for our most endangered species, whilst enhancing the natural resources that underpin our food systems. 

One of the biggest success stories is our involvement in the County Down Farmland Bird Initiative, comprising 20 farms and working alongside 80 farms in County Down. This is a group formed a few years ago within the Environmental Farming Scheme whereby farmers can access support by connecting with other farmers and receiving guidance from farm advisors to help give nature a home on their land.

NFFN and RSPB NI recently hosted a visit with the Guild of Agriculture Journalists on two farms taking part in the Environmental Farming scheme and the County Down Bird Initiative – Slievemoyle Cottages and River Farm. These two exemplary NFFN farms provided the opportunity for the Guild to see a future farming vision in which wildlife takes centre stage. Much of the conversation was focused on nature-based solutions and their feasibility on the average working farm.

One of the farmers stated, “when many people think of our landscapes, the line ‘Emerald Isle’ usually comes to mind, making it sound lush and positive, when really what we’re looking at are green deserts, miles upon miles of deforestation and species loss.”

Adopting even small changes to farms to make space for nature can halt and reverse the decline of priority species, such as farmland and wading birds. The Farmland Bird Initiative’s objective is to do just this, focusing on red-listed species (50% or more decline in 25 years, or are a species of global conservation concern) and amber listed species (25%-49% decline in the last 25 years).

River Farm, owned by the Kelly family in Downpatrick, is home to owls, hen harriers, buzzards, foxes and pine martens. The wildlife corridors and winter barley encourage smaller mammals to come in and forage, in turn, providing a vital food source for in-decline predators such as barn owls, of which there are under 30 breeding pairs in the whole of Northern Ireland.

Slievemoyle Cottages, owned by the Lowe family in Downpatrick, has areas that have been likened to a giant bird table. Crops of quinoa, beans and barley species provide pollen and nectar for pollinators in spring and summer, and seeds for birds in Autumn and Winter. This is particularly important as we move into January and February, often known as the hungry gap, as hedgerows become depleted of berries and food becomes scarce. 

Both farms also focus on mixed-species grassland and use grazing animals to roam, adding richness to the soil, spreading seeds and naturally fertilising the ground.

This landscape-scale conservation work is having amazing results.

On the Kelly family farm, the overall number of bird species has increased from 28 to 39 since 2017. Tree sparrow numbers have increased from three to five pairs and reed bunting numbers have been maintained at one pair. Given that yellowhammers are extinct as a breeding species in large parts of Northern Ireland, the Kelly’s have celebrated having 10 pairs on their land.

The Lowes Family Farm doesn’t yet have any comparative statistics as this was the first year it was surveyed, but we can already see just how biodiverse it is from the amazing work the Lowe’s are doing. At this year’s count, we recorded 47 bird species on this one farm, including five priority species such Kestrel, Lapwing, Linnet, Reed bunting and Yellowhammer. 

By making a few small changes and putting nature in focus, both farms have seen flora and fauna thrive. These comparative statistics show how nature can bounce back once given a chance.

Guest blog written by RSPB NI
Photography by Ruby Free, RSPB NI
14105_47 UK signs trade deal with Australia
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Martin Lines, UK Chair, says:

The UK has signed its trade deal with Australia – and it’s exactly what we were afraid of. Our research earlier this year found many farmers do not feel supported in upholding high environmental standards and this is another blow to their confidence.

It’s a far cry from the Government’s manifesto commitment made in 2019 and a loud call to action for consumers to back UK produce and home-reared meat. Climate change has global implications and trade liberalisation should be elevating standards to match our domestic climate & biodiversity goals – not undermine them.

The government cannot credibly support sustainable food production and champion farming’s environmental stewardship while opening the door to low-welfare, high-carbon imports which will flood a marketplace ill-equipped to differentiate between high and low standards of production. Consumers and farmers alike deserve better and now, more than ever, we need mandatory food labelling of production methods.

14091_48 Low Carbon Agriculture Show 2022
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Low Carbon Agriculture show will take place in person on 8-9 March 2022, at the National Agriculture and Exhibition Centre (NAEC, Stoneleigh) to help farmers as they move through the agricultural transition. 

The event will provide practical guidance on sustainable land use, renewable energy generation and emission control, cutting through the noise to get to the heart of what new changes mean for farmers, by covering specific pressing topics such as policy, carbon storage, natural capital, net-zero and agri-tech, as well as new topics including carbon farming, sustainable rural architecture, and water health.

Supported by the Nature Friendly Farming Network, the Low Carbon Agriculture show incorporates four expos including: ‘Environmental Business Expo’, ‘Farm Technology Expo’, ‘Energy Now Expo’ and ‘Low Emission Vehicles Expo.’

Low Carbon Agriculture show will feature its renowned multi-streamed conference, workshops, an exhibition, test drives of low emission vehicles and machinery and demonstrations of the latest innovations in agri-tech. Visitors to the event will be able to make one-to-one appointments in advance of the event, as well as attending networking roundtable discussions run by exhibitors.

Visit www.lowcarbonagricultureshow.co.uk to learn more.

14084_49 2021 – A Year in Review
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There is much that can be said about this year, and whilst we end it once again with some uncertainty, we can reflect on a strong performance by NFFN against a continued challenging backdrop.

The network has grown and developed; welcoming new members across all four nations, new members of staff and increased levels of support for our mission and our work. We have promoted nature-friendly farming in policy and practice, sharing our knowledge and vision with key stakeholders and ensuring that those making decisions on our farming future know that we are watching closely and will judge whether they deliver on their promises.

From consultation responses, committee inquiries, debates, briefings, and meetings, and more, NFFN has pushed our agenda wherever possible, and we are delighted that nature-friendly farming is increasingly becoming an accepted turn of phrase in Westminster and Whitehall, as well in the devolved administrations. We have invited and met with Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries and decision makers on our farms to see for themselves the positive changes that can be made, with the right support.

We were proud to see MPs and Lords in the Houses of Parliament mention nature-friendly farming repeatedly, alongside specific amendments on this, during debates on the Agriculture Bill (now Act) and on other occasions. Whilst many amendments were unsuccessful – and we remain disappointed that Parliamentarians did not use these, and subsequent, opportunities to enshrine high environmental and welfare standards in law – we have shifted the dial in these discussions and educated many on the importance of our work.

We have spoken up at events, both online and in-person; including attending COP26 in Glasgow, and we continue to work with organisations across the sector, and with an increasing number of government departments, to help develop policy in this area, including with ELMs, SFI, food labelling, soils, water, climate mitigation, to name but a few!

2022 will be a pivotal year for farmers and vital for our work. We end this year stronger than we started it and hungry for the opportunities that the new year presents. To this end, we have committed more resources and will be increasing the amount of activity we do in this space, with the aim of achieving even more – watch out for announcements!

Written by Robert Lingard, NFFN Parliamentary Liaison
14075_50 NFFN & Possible help local residents plant over 4,000 trees
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In partnership with climate charity, Possible, the Nature Friendly Farming Network has planted trees in two locations in England. 

This month (Dec 2021), farmers, local residents and supporters of climate charity, Possible, joined forces to plant 3,000 trees on the farm of NFFN UK Chair, Martin Lines, at Papley Grove Farm in Cambridgeshire and another 1,000 at The Grange in Cheshire as part of a campaign to regenerate hedgerows which will help take CO2 from the atmosphere as well as providing valuable refuges for wildlife.

By working with the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Possible is working to actively engage the agricultural sector in reducing its carbon emissions. A vital part of the UK’s economy and rural life, the sector has struggled to reduce its contribution to UK carbon emissions – flatlining at contributing around 10% to the national total for the last decade. Tree-planting activities like these, as well as other measures, will be essential in allowing the sector to successfully achieve the UK’s legally binding net-zero 2050 target and NFU’s ambition for UK agriculture to be net-zero carbon by 2040.

Hedgerows have a storied history in the UK. Existing since Bronze Age farming, their growth has been on and off since Roman times. Post-1945, to ensure food security in the UK, many policies were put in place to encourage their removal. Only very recently have the negative impacts of their degradation been fully understood and now initiatives all around the country are looking at how we can regenerate them in order to reduce carbon emissions and protect native wildlife.

With these events, Possible give the public real opportunities to take action on climate and wildlife – something that can feel monumentally difficult at times – while providing practical utility to farmers, increasing carbon drawdown and wildlife habitats. The events also create opportunities for the public to access the countryside, nature and green space as well as enable conversations between the wider public and farmers about their work and their responses to the climate and nature crises.

Possible has been working with local communities to deliver local tree planting since 2018. Possible links up local community members and our supporters from around the country to volunteer to plant trees and hedges. With the success of this, and other hedgerow plantings on farms across the UK, there is an opportunity for this approach to hedge restoration and planting work to be extended – unlocking benefits for farmers, the public and the environment alike.

 

Neil Jones, campaigner at climate charity Possible, said: “Tree-planting is always an enjoyable and rewarding experience for Possible and all of our volunteers. This has been a particularly successful session and local residents, as well as volunteers, all had a blast. Hedgerow regeneration will undoubtedly be a valuable tool as the UK looks to reduce its carbon emissions and restore its native wildlife. By working with the Nature Friendly Farming Network we hope we can help those in the agricultural sector who want to make a change do so and connect communities from all walks of life to the benefit of both the climate and nature.”

14014_51 Rethink Farming – Simon Best
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  • Simon Best farms at Acton House Farm in county Armagh, Northern Ireland and won this year’s Arable Farmer of the Year at the Farmers Weekly Awards 2021
  • Inconsistent and volatile weather patterns, particularly in the timing of rainfall from year-to-year, have made soil health management one of Simon’s top priorities
  • Acton House Farm has been involved in Environmental Stewardship schemes for over 20 years, which has helped Simon to broaden his understanding of how he can positively impact the environment, biodiversity and soil health whilst also managing a productive farm business

“As an arable farmer, I rely on the health of my soil to underpin the high-quality food ingredients that I grow. Long term sustainability of my farm and land for future generations is a core purpose of the business – maintaining and enhancing soil health is integral to this.”

Photo: 25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

 

How do you deliver for soil health on your farm?

The main intervention is regular application of organic matter through manure and compost. Crop rotation, careful management and selection of inputs, regular soil analysis are also integral to delivering soil health.

What have been the benefits of these systems and how do measure their success?

The use of organic manures over the past 15 years has led to significant improvements in the levels of organic matter within my soils. I measure the percentage of organic matter regularly (every three years) as part of my soil analysis suite, with 8-11% now average across the farm.

It has taken time and a long-term commitment to really see improvement, however the outcome has been having soils that are now more resilient and manageable, less prone to waterlogging and have a consistent level of macro and micronutrients, resulting in improved crop health generally.

Measurement has been key to underpinning this commitment, with regular soil analysis, as well as leaf and sap analysis of the growing crop used to measure improvements and s to identify and remedy any deficiencies. Soil carbon analysis has recently been introduced to help establish a verifiable carbon baseline for the farm.

Top tips?

  • Ensure you can measure and account for all interventions – being able to measure improvement and success will ensure commitment over the long term
  • Work hard on adding value to products by promoting environmental good practice – this will ensure a business that is capable of sustaining a positive impact
  • Source the best available advice from a number of disciplines – soil health and nutrition, biodiversity and environment

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

Government support is vital to ensure farmers are able to adapt and transition to a more nature-friendly approach. Farmers cannot be expected to fund this alone and there needs to be a clear and achievable policy that supports nature-friendly farming, sustainable production and a thriving rural economy. Better education and improved promotion of UK food produce and supply chains will be important.

It’s important to recognise the wide range of landscapes and environments that exist across the UK and to ensure that support is targeted at the regional and local levels where it will have the biggest impact. We can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach and investment in local environmental networks will not only ensure fit for purpose habitat management and intervention but will also support education and encourage collaboration.

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

It’s crucial that the public take responsibility for the food choices that they make. Understanding where their food is sourced and supporting their local producers and supply chains will in turn support our local environment.

13978_52 England’s Environmental Land Management schemes: Farmers want more ambition
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The Sustainable Farming Incentive announcement today (2 December 2021) heralds what many in the sector have been waiting for: a change in direction from land-based payments towards payments for delivering environmental benefits. It’s a move championed by Michael Gove’s post-Brexit narrative where new farming schemes would see environmental land management that enhances the environment, improves flood management, protects habitats and ensures cleaner water and air quality.

For decades, farmers have received area-based payments where the driving force has been size and scale to the detriment of our natural environment. These first standards in the SFI scheme set a new direction that will reorientate farming practices away from a production-at-all-costs mindset to delivering environmental return under public money for public goods.

As a first step in the journey towards a more sustainable and regenerative farming system, the announcement at least confirms the direction of future farming payments. But this must be a starting point and a starting point only. After the rallying call of COP26 and the Environment Act now in law, this SFI update hasn’t stoked the fires of agricultural reform quite so furiously as the rhetoric of recent months would have led us to believe.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive offers a low-ambition starting point

To some, the standards announced are missing ambition when, disappointingly, the advanced level for soil standards won’t be added until 2023 and the moorland and rough grazing standard is starting only at the introductory level. More ambition is needed if we’re to address the twin crises of climate change and nature loss – and it needs to happen faster than the introductory and intermediate levels are initiating.

Many farmers are already delivering at the starting levels of the SFI and are going beyond it. Given that the measures on offer are minimum requirements we should already be delivering as part of standard practice, farmers can – and should – do better. All farms, regardless of size, system or past, should be encouraged to scale their delivery at pace so we can recover biodiversity and urgently restore our environment. We’re at a point in time when ambition can’t falter. We can’t “cherry-pick” our way out of a climate crisis by starting on soft footing.

Our member surveys have found that farmers are, by an overwhelming majority, welcoming of ambitious schemes. But many think farmers need better encouragement to enter them and upfront clarity in signalling where the SFI will take us in the future. What has been indicated for 2023 onwards includes nutrient management plans, integrated pest management and hedgerow management. These are simple practices many farmers have already adopted and are important systems that hugely – and easily – deliver public benefits in nature recovery and ecological improvement. When we’re faced with the grim reality that farmland species are in a steep and continuing decline, we can’t wait until 2024 for farmland biodiversity to be financially incentivised. We need to start acting now.

If we don’t start delivering on a larger scale, with the twin crises of nature loss and climate change clearly linked as our main driving force for on-farm action, then we miss the mark entirely. We can’t expect to change anything to the scale it is urgently needed if environmental land management schemes are parcelling measures in low-ambition increments. Many farmers are ready and eager to do more in making better standards the norm.

We want to see future levels of SFI delivery increase in environmental output so farm businesses will have more certainty for the future. Farming systems that actively work across the whole farm landscape to recover nature and restore habitats, including soil, water and air quality, will return the benefit of long-term business resilience.

For those farming beyond the standards set, keep moving forwards. We need to show the value of what can be truly delivered from farms already on the regenerative path. For those adopting new practices, learning, trialling and switching tactics based on the outcomes they achieve for nature: keep pushing onwards. Only by demonstrating the value of public goods can we continue to advocate for them in their entirety. The SFI might be slower in acknowledging this value, but the value to farm business is incentive enough.

13973_53 England: North East Woodland Management Training Project Responds to Storm Arwen
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A partnership of organisations working with woodland owners across the North East and Yorkshire are responding to the devastation caused to the trees and woodlands of the region by Storm Arwen last weekend.

Funded by the Forestry Commission’s Forestry Innovation Fund, the Woodland Management Focus Area Pilot project has been developing a GIS-based tool to help bring woodlands into management by identifying those with the lowest barriers to being brought into management, and recently started phase two of its activities, which involves a series of online training and information webinars for woodland owners who haven’t historically managed their forests or woodlands, or don’t have the knowledge or skills to do so themselves.

With tens of thousands of trees downed in just a few hours on Friday night and Saturday morning, Arwen has presented a series of challenges to woodland owners and managers which are typically only experienced once in a generation, and rarely at this scale.

There is now a pressing need to ensure that downed and damaged trees are cleared away or made safe, whether they are individual hedgerow trees that have come down across roads, or sections of woodlands or shelterbelts that were either partially or fully felled by the hurricane-force winds.  As well as a legal duty to ensure trees are safe to be around – particularly where they are adjacent to roads or footpaths – owners also have to follow regulations around tree felling which are enforced by the Forestry Commission.

The webinar scheduled for 7th December, which would have been an Introduction to Management Planning, has now been replaced by a special session on helping woodland owners deal with the aftermath of Storm Arwen, and will include expert speakers from the area Forestry Commission team, RDI Associates and re:heat, who are running the overall programme.

The webinar will consider how to deal safely with windblown trees, the effect on timber quality and markets, potential plant health implications, felling licence requirements, insurance and replanting, and will be of benefit to a wide range of woodland owners, farmers, land agents and other land managers.

Forestry professionals are invited to join an industry event being hosted by the Forestry Commission on Monday 13th December, details from yne@forestrycommission.gov.uk.

Bookings for the webinars can be made online at: https://www.ruraldevelopment.org.uk/free-woods-into-management-webinars/

The full seminar programme is:

Tuesday 7th December

CHANGE TO ORIGINAL PROGRAMME – the Management Planning webinar will now be held on Tuesday 8th February 2022

Storm Arwen – managing the impact on trees, woodlands and forests

Tuesday 14th December

Management Operations – different ways to manage on the ground

Tuesday 11th January

Regulations and Incentives – grants, licences, tax and planning permission

Tuesday 18th January

Selling Your Timber – making sure you get the best value for your timber

Tuesday 25th January

Using Your Own Timber – firewood and woodfuel production and use

Tuesday 1st February

Woodlands and Climate Change – getting your woodlands ready and how woodlands can help you cope with a changing climate

Tuesday 8th February

An Introduction to Management Planning – setting objectives and planning operations

Tuesday 15th February

To be decided – see below*

Tuesday 22nd February

To be decided – see below*

*The subject of the two final webinars will be decided by attendees of the earlier webinars.  Attendees will be asked to nominate topics of interest and we’ll put it to a vote.

13907_54 Delivering the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ through sustainable farming
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Written by Honor Eldridge

In October, the Soil Association, Pasture For Life Association, the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and the Sustainable Food Trust published a report into how sustainable farming can deliver reduced emissions and help to meet the UK’s climate targets. 

At Glasgow’s COP26, the UK Government put forward a target for reducing emissions, known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and committed to reducing economy wide GHG emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) detailed how the UK government would achieve this climate commitment in their 6th Carbon Budget. The budget covers the entire economy, however, there are specific concerns regarding proposed changes to the farming and land-use sector. 

The primary focus of the report finds that the CCC, and by extension the UK Government, should consider taking a more holistic approach and employing agroecological principles. The potential for agroecology to reduce net emissions and improve biodiversity and nature recovery has been demonstrated by the French research group IDDRI, with initial projections estimating a 38% reduction by 2030 and 100% reduction by 2050.  Nature-based solutions (NbS) would both tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions as well as improving public and animal health, improving soil quality and enabling the creation of green jobs. Importantly, the government should also take action to highlight and adequately distinguish them rather than view all producers as a one-dimensional group. This would help inform the discussion on reduced meat and dairy consumption, developing sustainable consumer behaviour and reducing net emissions.

The second concern voiced is the CCC’s binary approach to land management. Sustainable intensification (or “land-sparing” approach) is put forward as the solution to meeting the demand for food production while reducing overall agricultural land use, a large-scale producer of GHG emissions. This is likely to drive further industrialisation on non-spared land in order to meet yield demands, with an increase in synthetic nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides as well as increasing stocking rates for livestock farmers. The projected yields used by the CCC in this land-sparing scenario fail to take into account climate change impacts on yield and productivity, so there is no guarantee that market demand would be fulfilled, even with the intensification of remaining agricultural land. 

The full report is available here.

13893_55 NI: Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year with Farming Life
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In Farming Life’s annual award ceremony, the NFFN sponsored the Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year award. Here is the lowdown on this year’s finalists.

Stephen Alexander – our Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year winner

Stephen and his family run a small herd of Pedigree Dexter cattle on the shores of Strangford Lough near Greyabbey and on tenanted National Trust ground at Groomsport, County Down. They have introduced a range of regenerative farming practices in a desire to farm with nature, and sell their high quality, affordable beef through direct selling and attending local food markets. Their cattle have won numerous awards at agricultural shows and they sell their pedigree livestock to other Dexter farmers. They are NFFN members and certified Pasture For Life Beef farmers.
They farm in a style that regenerates land that has previously been intensively farmed and their aim is to bring biodiversity back, above and below the sward, and to maintain healthy ponds and waterways.

As a result of their nature-friendly farming, the landscape benefits from enhanced biodiversity with a wider range of animal and plant life seen above and below the soil surface. Managing how and when their cattle graze has visibly opened up the sward and increased variety of clover and other plant species. Their grazing regime improves soil quality, which can be observed by higher worm populations when soil sampling is completed. Improved soil health has negated the requirement for artificial fertilisers and they don’t use synthetic fertilisers or slurry.

Leslie Ballantine – livestock farmer in County Antrim

Leslie is a hill farmer, passionate about nature. He farms 70 acres of farmland in Glenwherry, County Antrim, where he has been grazing beef cattle and sheep for 25 years. During this time, he has worked hard to give nature a home on his farm through a range of environmental practices.

As part of the group Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), he plays a central role in the RSPB’s Curlew Life conservation project, protecting one of Northern Ireland’s priority species. Prior to the nesting season, Leslie cuts the rushes on his grassland to provide prime habitat for curlew. He also grazes his sheep throughout the winter period and his cattle much later in the season to ensure the curlews are undisturbed during breeding. Leslie maintains balance on his farm, keeping stocking rates below the capacity of the land to allow nature to thrive. With 80 sheep and around 30 suckler, his herd numbers are ideal for maintaining the good condition of the land. With such emphasis on quality over quantity, the cattle perform exceptionally well at market.

No pesticides are used on the farm which also helps provide a biodiversity-rich landscape. Leslie is proud of the low intensity practices of his farm, as he sees his work as essential in restoring the good that has been lost on his land. Not only do his efforts provide leys for grazing, but this semi-natural, remote environment sees many species flourish, including curlew, snipe, hare, kestrel, buzzard, and even lapwing in previous years. Leslie’s curlew conservation efforts have faced several challenges over the years, with eggs being lost to predation. To tackle these problems, this year, Leslie facilitated the installation of fencing to protect their nests. As a result, two breeding pairs of curlews nested on his field, with two fledglings taking flight!

Greer and Maureen Lowe – livestock farmers in County Down

Greer and Maureen farm approximately 50 acres of farmland for hay/silage and livestock grazing. The farmland hosts impressive species-rich grassland and wetland habitat with nature-friendly farming at the heart of the farm’s management.

The farm participates in the County Down Farmland Bird Initiative (CDFBI) – a group project within the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) facilitated by RSPB and is a member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. Greer and Maureen are constantly looking for ways to help improve wildlife habitats on their farmland. Following site visits, RSPB NI identified that a winter food source could really improve the fortunes of a number of priority seed-eating bird species, particularly during the hungry gap, when food is most scarce. Taking this advice onboard, in 2019, the farm entered the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) at the wider level to sow a winter feed crop for wild birds (wild bird cover) providing an essential winter food source habitat.
This year the farmland has been approved for the Higher level of EFS due to the impressive species-rich grassland. The nature-friendly management of the grassland ensures a rich mixture of native flowers, grasses and sedges. The rich variety and abundance of flowering plants provide a great source of pollen and nectar for many pollinating insects such as bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies. The abundance of insects, in turn, provide food for birds, bats and other small mammals.

The farm has also been seeking advice and guidance to install a barn owl box to support this critically endangered and iconic farmland bird in Northern Ireland – contributing to a network of boxes across the Strangford Lough and Lecale landscape.

Shaw and Fiona Hanna – arable farmers in County Down

Fiona and Shaw are arable farmers growing wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape crops in County
Down. They have been working closely with RSPB NI to seek ways in which to improve habitats for nature on their farm. They participate in the County Down Farmland Bird Initiative – a group project within the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), facilitated by RSPB NI.

The farm entered the Environmental Farming Scheme creating habitats through the retention of winter stubbles and the provision of winter feed crops for wild birds. These habitats are a hugely important source of winter food for a number of priority farmland bird species. After harvest, large areas of stubbles are retained throughout the winter months. These stubble fields not only offer cover for wildlife but also provide a vital source of winter food for seed-eating birds as well as opportunities for broad-leaved arable weeds to thrive on the farmland. During the winter months, you will see birds like yellowhammers, skylarks, tree sparrows, linnets, and reed buntings all foraging throughout the fields.

Several plots of winter feed crop for wild birds (wild bird cover) has now been created on the farm to further enhance the winter food source available for farmland birds. The winter feed crop is made up of oats, barley, oil seeds and sunflowers – a diverse mix of seeds to cater for a wide variety of bird species. The inclusion of sunflowers also provides a plentiful source of pollen and nectar for pollinators on the farmland.

Shaw and Fiona have also contributed to the educational side of nature conservation this year. Their farmland was showcased in a short film about on-farm nature-based solutions to the nature and climate emergency as part of the NI Science Festival in March 2021. Due to the pandemic, the NI Science Fest was an online event this year. Guests were able to join a digital tour of Shaw and Fiona’s farmland learning about what can be done to protect and restore nature on farms.

Seamus O’Brien – livestock farmer in County Tyrone

Seamus runs a small livestock farm of approximately 25 acres, near Fintona in County Tyrone. As a farmer he is conscious of the fact that he does not ‘own’ the land, rather he is a custodian of the countryside that has been ‘lent’ to him. He has therefore adopted the ethos of trying to farm in a way that contributes to him making a living at the same time as protecting and enhancing the environment.

Under his own initiative, Seamus has integrated a wide range of nature-friendly features into his farm business. He has planted hedgerows interspersed with beech saplings and created a small area of native woodland containing approximately 200 native trees, including oak, hazel, beech and ash. This area is fenced off to prevent damage caused by livestock browsing.

There is also a small area of species-rich grassland that he grazes sensitively to promote wildflower diversity. This area supports healthy populations of various orchid species, ragged robin, vetch and bird’s foot trefoil amongst others. This year he set aside approximately half acre to provide wild bird cover, containing a mix of barley, linseed and other seed-producing plants.

Mindful of the widespread decline of pollinators and a general decrease in insect life, Seamus has cultivated a small area, planting apple and plum trees and then sowing the whole area with wildflower seed. Taking advice from a non-profit organisation named ‘Meadow in my Garden’, he has sowed one side with wildflowers design to attract bees and the other side for targeting butterflies. With the good spring and summer weather this year this proved to be a great success with an abundance of wildflowers and plenty of insect life, including grasshoppers, bees, butterflies and ladybirds. He hopes to add a small pond to this area at some point in the future to enhance the wildlife appeal further.

In addition to creating these habitat features, Seamus has built and installed his own owl box in an old byre and allows swallows to nest in some of his sheds by leaving the doors open through spring and summer to provide them with unhindered access as they rear their young.

13889_56 What is Natural Flood Management? Guest blog by Dr Kate Smith
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This guest blog was written by Dr Kate Smith, a researcher at the Flood Innovation Centre. The NFFN and the Flood Innovation Centre are offering a new online course on Natural Flood Management interventions for farmers in England. This is fully funded for those who meet the eligibility criteria.

Soil matters.  No matter what you grow, no matter what livestock you raise, no matter where you do it: if you farm, your soil is a critical part of how your business functions.  And this isn’t just because with depleted soil you need more expensive inputs to get a reliable yield.  Healthy soil doesn’t just hold on to nutrients: it holds on to carbon and, most importantly for us at the Flood Innovation Centre, it holds on to water.  This is important because the more water that good soil can hold, the less runs off the land – reducing erosion, pollution and flooding.

To help with this process, Natural Flood Management (NFM) is a key approach to flood resilience that relies on five basic principles:

  • Retaining water safely on and in the landscape
  • Providing attenuation – slowing the peak flow of floodwaters
  • Promoting and protecting the movement of sediments in river catchments, which improves both soil and water quality
  • Restoring catchments so that rivers can wiggle and marshes can re-wet
  • Promoting biodiversity and amenity through all of these activities

It’s not just by improving soil that farmers can make a real difference to the way that floods impact their businesses and communities.  As custodians of our landscape, farm businesses have the potential to transform other aspects of land and water management practices too.  In upland areas, this might include changing grazing patterns to promote hillside regeneration and making space for upstream water retention ponds.  In other areas, planting bare arable fields with cover crops could help slow run-off from fields, and re-wiggling straightened streams can slow the flow within waterways.  In coastal areas, allowing drained marshland to return to its natural state can leave space for coastal floods to spread out without impacting valuable land.

As we move into a new era of agricultural funding, farm businesses can put themselves into a strong position to take advantage of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) by working with NFM.  The move towards rewarding farmers for improving landscapes and ecosystems means that interventions like NFM are no longer a nice-to-have add-on relevant to only the most profitable farm businesses.   Including NFM strategies in your farming practices has the potential to help your business be financially and environmentally sustainable.

At the Flood Innovation Centre, we’re here to support your farm business with our in-depth, fully-funded, interactive workshop to help you identify and implement NFM interventions.  Working with the Nature Friendly Farming Network you’ll hear from our scientists about how and why NFM works, from real-life experts about their experience of working with NFM, from policymakers and industry leaders about the best ways to make NFM work on your farm.

Find out more about the upcoming NFM online course starting in January 2022.

13879_57 Apply now: Fully funded Natural Flood Management course
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The NFFN and the Flood Innovation Centre are offering a new interactive programme designed to help farmers understand, identify and implement Natural Flood Management (NFM) interventions.

Starting Wednesday 26 January 2022 and running for 5 weeks, this specialist course is fully funded and delivered online, see eligibility criteria below.

Natural Flood Management (NFM) makes use of natural environmental processes to store excess water, slow the flow of water and improve soil and water quality. Recognition is growing that a holistic approach to flood risk management is necessary, with investment in ‘natural’ flood management schemes, rather than solely relying on traditional ‘hard’ flood defences.

Natural flood management schemes can be at the scale of individual properties (e.g. farms) or at the scale of entire river systems. At each level, there is a need to design, plan, implement and maintain schemes. Our workshops include sessions with representatives of DEFRA, industry specialists and academics working at the forefront of NFM research.

Watch this video from the Flood Innovation Centre to learn more about what the course entails and how you can benefit from implementing Natural Flood Management.

ELIGIBILITY

  • Are you an SME? If you have less than 250 employees and an annual turnover with less than 50million EUR or Balance Asset with less than 43 million EUR – then yes.
  • Do you have a Companies House registration and VAT number?
  • Do you have up to date Financials/Forecasts? Opening Balance sheet and financial projection certified by an accountant if you are a new start up.
  • Do you trade or operate in one of the areas below?
    • Allerdale
    • East Staffordshire
    • North Kesteven
    • South Staffordshire
    • Barnsley
    • Eden
    • North Lincolnshire
    • St. Helens
    • Barrow-in-Furness
    • Exeter
    • Pendle
    • Stafford
    • Blackburn with Darwen
    • Fylde
    • Plymouth
    • Staffordshire Moorlands
    • Blackpool
    • Hartlepool
    • Preston
    • Stockton-on-Tees
    • Boston
    • Hyndburn
    • Redcar and Cleveland
    • Stoke-on-trent
    • Burnley
    • Kingston upon Hull, city of
    • Ribble Valley
    • Tamworth
    • Cannock Chase
    • Knowsley
    • Rossendale
    • Teignbridge
    • Carlisle
    • Lancaster
    • Rotherham
    • Telford and Wrekin
    • Chorley
    • Lichfield
    • Sefton
    • Torbay
    • Copeland
    • Lincoln
    • Sheffield
    • Torridge
    • County Durham
    • Liverpool
    • Shropshire
    • West Devon
    • Darlington
    • Mid Devon
    • South Hams
    • West Lancashire
    • Doncaster
    • Middlesbrough
    • South Holland
    • West Lindsey
    • East Devon
    • Newcastle-under-Lyme
    • South Kesteven
    • Wirral
    • East Lindsey
    • North Devon
    • South Lakeland
    • Wyre
    • East Riding of Yorkshire
    • North East Lincolnshire
    • South Ribble

Find out more here.

If you are eligible, register: https://floodinnovation.co.uk/register/

Any questions about the course, email: C.Yew@hull.ac.uk

Any questions about registration, email: A.D.James@hull.ac.uk

13847_58 NFFN NI – Free carbon & biodiversity auditing for NFFN members
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With COP26 highlighting the urgency of action needed to keep 1.5 degrees of warming within reach, the contribution required from the farming sector can’t be overstated.

This is why we’re delighted to announce that NFFN NI has been awarded funding through DAERA’s Environment Challenge Fund to deliver baseline carbon and biodiversity audits on NFFN member farms across Northern Ireland. This project is ideal for farmers of any size or system to take further steps towards becoming net-zero carbon contributors and to identify opportunities to increase biodiversity. This project will also aid the collection of important data that can help shape policy development within Northern Ireland. The approximate value of this audit is £1,700 offered free of charge.

A series of short educational videos will be produced as part of the project and will highlight measures that farmers can take to optimise soil health, carbon management and biodiversity recovery, covering a vast array of nature-friendly farming approaching including the Spade Test, rotational grazing, reduced cultivation, herbal leys, rotational hedgerow cutting, small woodland planting, winter seed mixes and winter stubble.

Spaces are limited. To register your interest, please contact info@nffn.org.uk.

13826_59 Rethink Farming – Freda Scott-Park
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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.

13810_60 Rethink Farming – Tim Scott
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Tim Scott is a tenant farmer at Lark Rise Farm, an arable farm in Cambridgeshire, owned by the Countryside Regeneration Trust (CRT).

Key Facts:

  • Tim has been a CRT tenant farmer for close to 30 years
  • At Lark Rise Farm, Tim’s nature-friendly practices have boosted insect numbers, butterfly counts and bats. From a starting point of just one bat per six hours of surveying in 1999, they recorded the equivalent of 11 bats per hour in 2019; a 70-fold increase.
  • Lark Rise’s Farmland Bird Index rose over the last 20 years, while nationally it has continued to decline, and they have seen increases in red-listed species such as a four-fold increase in Grey Partridge and the return of Lapwing as a breeding species.

“Wildlife-friendly farming is like a chair – it has four legs, and these represent food, water, habitat, and disturbance. All must be in balance for wildlife to thrive.”

 

How do you deliver for biodiversity at Lark Rise Farm?

We get the best results for biodiversity by paying attention to the details. That means creating habitats across the farm including grass margins around the edges of the fields next to large hedgerows, and by planting beetle banks that act as wildlife corridors. We also retain over-wintered stubble to feed the birds. In terms of farming processes, we adopt sympathetic methods like using fewer agricultural inputs and varying our crops. Most farming operations will have an impact on wildlife, but we want as much life on the farm as possible.

What are the benefits of these approaches, both in the short and long term?

Wildlife-friendly farming is like a chair – it has four legs, and these represent food, water, habitat, and disturbance. All must be in balance for wildlife to thrive. For example, allowing some weeds to grow supports insects, which in turn feed chicks. They also support field mice who eat the seeds, and barn owls who, in turn, eat the mice.

Having insects is beneficial because they will eat pests like aphids off the crops. This also encourages pollinators onto the farm, who we need for specific crops. Having lots of natural predators means that we don’t need to use insecticides. The CRT has a well-established and scientifically-based monitoring system for tracking the impact of nature-friendly farming practices on wildlife and have been monitoring the birds on the farm for the past twenty years. During that time, Lark Rise’s Farmland Bird Index rose, while nationally it has continued to decline. Most importantly, we have seen increases in red-listed species such as a four-fold increase in Grey Partridge, high numbers of Yellowhammer and the return of Lapwing as a breeding species. The farm has benefitted from improved soil health and having a greater abundance of soil invertebrates has encouraged lapwings back onto the farm.

We can also demonstrate high numbers of butterflies on restoration meadows, big increases in bat numbers and water voles. Restoring hay meadows has boosted insect numbers, shown by butterfly transect counts and also by bats visiting these meadows after dark. From a starting point of just one bat per six hours surveying in 1999, we recorded the equivalent of 11 bats per hour in 2019; a 70-fold increase.

What have been the biggest learnings?

The biggest learning for Tim has been making mistakes and learning from these. It has been helpful to understand what the goal is – profitable, wildlife-friendly farming – and to then adapt the farming process to reach these targets. For Tim, maintaining the quality of the soil has been the biggest challenge, and mitigating the impact of the rain on the soil.

How long have you been implementing these nature-friendly practices?

Tim has been a CRT tenant farmer for close to 30 years. He was originally invited because he was already involved in wildlife-friendly farming practices and shared the values of the CRT. One of our founding principles is to appeal to a broad church and to share education and understanding amongst the farming community about why change is important, so involving Tim at this time helped to achieve that. Looking ahead, these conversations are still very much needed to show that there are alternative ways of doing things.

 

13376_61 Rethink Farming – James Robinson
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James farms at Strickley Farm, a 300-acre organic dairy farm that has been free from artificial fertilisers or pesticides for the past 16 years. James’ approach to supporting nature includes planting woodland, leaving areas of grassland ungrazed, maintaining sensitive hedgerow management and fencing off watercourses to improve water quality, so there is less silt and soil from his cattle on the banks. His farm’s hedgerows are seven miles long, some 20-22ft tall.

Key Facts:

  • James opts for regular soil testing to maintain the right level of nutrients to benefit both his livestock and local wildlife.
  • Multi-species swards are planted to nurture biodiversity from the ground up with herbal leys – including clovers, chicory and plantain – that help to fix minerals into the soil. This diverse plant life supports insects and pollinators, which attract an abundance of birds and mammals, including breeding thrushes, finches and tree sparrows, a red-listed species.
  • The farm’s hedgerows act as necessary corridors for movement, so species, such as bats and hawks, can travel safely between habitats.

“Biodiversity is important to me because it helps create a huge cycle of life around the farm across many different habitats. When you start making room for nature, the place comes alive.”

 

How do you deliver for biodiversity on your farm?

Being organic which means no artificial fertilisers or pesticides have been used for 16 years and this allows natural predetors to control any pests we have. We also allow our hedges to grow tall, we leave areas of grassland ungrazed too. Wetland creation, ponds and scrapes. We have renaturalised becks and planted woodlands.

We have always managed our hedges in a traditional rotation of hedgelaying about every 20-25 years, so we have a full mosaic of ages and sizes, which benefits much more wildlife than a landscape covered in the same size or shaped hedge. While we trim the outer hedges alongside the roadside for safety, we don’t flail the interiors.

Within a few years, the hedges were taller and bushier and there was more fruit and nuts for wildlife to forage. It also provided greater shelter for livestock and they can always be seen behind the hedge after a stormy night.

We have also fenced off many of our watercourses, which have always been the main source of drinking for our grazing cattle. The benefits to water quality are huge, less silt and soil from the banks, no muck in the water, no disturbance in the riverbed. We have renaturalised some stretches of beck and this has created pools and bends, natural scrapes and gravel beds. It has also slowed the flow of water down and during flood events it will slow ands store water and, helping to mitigate the flooding of homes and businesses further down stream.

What have been the biggest learnings and challenges in improving biodiversity on your farm?

If you can manage without outside funding, then do it. Funding from government agencies can be incredibly slow and hard to get.

Be patient! If you build it, they will come. Sometimes wildlife will find your habitat within a few days, but sometimes it may take a few years to develop and mature.

Top tips?

  • Start small. Leave hedges around a few fields unflailed for a start. The following year leave some more – that way there is a good range of hedgerow heights across the farm.
  • Leave some awkward field corners uncut and let the grass grow long and tussocky for cover.
  • Plant a few trees, it doesn’t take many to make a small coppice and in a 10-15 years there will some nice shade underneath.
  • Fence off wet areas and create a few scrapes to hold standing water,
  • Doing a few small projects all around the farm can soon collectively make a huge difference. You store carbon, nature moves in and the place comes alive.

Have you experienced the effects of climate change on your farm?

We have a number of fields that were once cut for hay and silage and are now only suitable for grazing. Constant wet summers and milder winters are causing land to become waterlogged. Flash floods are also much more common now than they have ever been in our family’s 145-year history at Strickley.

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

We need a way for consumers to be able to recognise which foods help to protect and create important habitats for wildlife, We need the UK government to back us not just in direct support for nature-friendly farming, but also in the trade deals which they negotiate.

If farmers give up land to store and slow down flood water, if they plant trees and change the way they manage soils, if they reduce harmful emissions and improve public access, then the government should recognise and reward those farms.

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

Find out about the food you eat. Ask where it has come from, how was it grown or reared. Speak to farmers, ask them what they are doing for wildlife and biodiversity on their farm. If we all do our bit, the results will be incredible.

13374_62 Rethink Farming – Sorcha Lewis
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Sorcha farms within a conventionally managed landscape at Troedrhiwdrain in Wales. As upland farmers, Sorcha, and her husband, Brian, farm with nature to retain a traditional balance and to support biodiversity across their farm.

Key Facts:

  • After periods where the cattle are removed from the meadows, their livestock is returned to sites where they can help manage habitat for wildlife, including grazing Molinia grass which out-competes important grassland flowers.
  • Some of their nature-friendly approaches include adopting sustainable stocking rates, creating a pond, lowering inputs (including using bracken as bedding for stock and poultry, so they negate the need for straw or hay), and installing bird and bat boxes. The species benefitting from their approach includes ring ouzel, golden plover, small heath butterfly, tormentil mining bee, water vole, cuckoos and curlew, among many more.
  • They use organic manure on meadows in low quantities, manage traditional hay meadows (some a Site of Special Scientific Interest) with sensitive grazing and cutting schedules, retain rhos pasture (wet grassland), and plant ffridd trees as shelter for livestock, choosing local tree species that provide habitat and forage for birds, including rare upland invertebrates such as the Welsh clearwing moth.

“Embracing biodiversity means we retain the traditional balance between farming and nature. We play our part in combating climate change while enhancing our business and we’re able to share this with the public who come to visit and enjoy some of the precious species that can be found in an upland landscape.”

 

Why is biodiversity important to you as a farmer?

The Welsh uplands have been shaped over aeons by livestock. Many of our littler hardy Welsh Mountain sheep can be traced to the time of the Cistercian monks that farmed this landscape in harmony. Achieving this balance where nature is able to thrive is important as it provides so many benefits to society and we hope by showing the results on the ground this will help to encourage a more positive view of upland habitats and the part communities play in producing good quality slow grown food and have a positive role to play and continue to protect the environment.

How do you deliver for biodiversity on your farm?

We use only organic manure on the meadows in low quantities, managing traditional hay meadows (some a Site of Special Scientific Interest) through grazing and cutting at sympathetic cutting dates. We retain rhos (wet grassland/rush) pasture through appropriate grazing. We plant ffridd trees as shelter for stock, once established, but with tree species of local provenance that provide habitat for nesting birds, food resource for wintering birds and are good for a number of rare upland invertebrates such as the Welsh Clearwing Moth. We link together the landscape with surrounding farms to add connectivity for wildlife. We also plant hedgerows, which are soon to be laid, and manage these in a way that provides a good resource for local wildlife by over nesting and feeding in the autumn and over the winter.

We record the biodiversity and enhance where necessary – we have 20 years of orchid surveys. Understanding the importance of good soil management can encourage a wealth of wildflowers and fungi. The variety of wildflowers is beneficial in winter food for our stock. The meadows feed bugs and beasts over the summer and we can feed the stock on this species-rich mix. The variety of plant species forms a more robust soil structure that is more resilient to extreme weather.

Good grassland management is as important, too. Grasslands have such an important role to play in storing carbon and also providing for biodiversity. We feel by championing all the benefits our meadows have to the farm we can help to inspire others to create and re-establish their old meadows and ensure they are retained as an important part of the Welsh countryside. We have assisted with providing meadows for training courses and advice to groups starting their own meadow projects.

Our meadows run down to the reservoir edge and they help to slow the journey of the rainfall. The buffer between reservoir and meadow is one of the most important places for rare wildflowers and invertebrates for Wales and the UK. These are natural margins that remain uncut which is beneficial for pollinators after main meadows are cut.

The grass can out-compete other grasses and if not managed and flowers can decline, but the cattle can address a balance.

 What are some of the benefits of your approach?

In the short term, most of the approaches of farming in a nature-friendly way is that most of what we need is on the farm and we don’t need to bring things in. We use bracken as bedding for stock and poultry and dogs and we rarely ever have large bales of straw or hay brought in.

Long term, our landscape is highly designated for its importance to wildlife. It’s an extreme landscape shaped by topography and climate. The requirement and skills to live in a landscape like this have been passed on from generation to generation and lessons are passed through in stories from the generations before. Working on the catchment in a countryside management role prior to farming full-time, I noticed that much of the unique biodiversity throughout the 72 square miles I was surveying was on farm holdings. The confines of the environment had ensured that farming and nature had been working together for a long time.

We have been learning the ideal capacity for the number of cattle on the land and this makes the day-to-day management easier and within the constraints of hill life. We have seen benefits in our stock being healthier from reduced stocking numbers and from eating a diverse, herb-rich diet. We don’t suffer from foot rot or disease from holding higher stocking rates. When we introduced our cattle, we saw a huge difference in how they manage the more competitive vegetation, creating the ideal conditions for a diverse range of wildflowers to grow, which supports valuable invertebrates.

With worrying reports, such as the State of Nature report, we could see what had declined in our catchment and what we still had on our farm. Not wanting to add to more negative statistics, we made a commitment to continue to farm within the parameters of nature.

What have been the biggest learnings and challenges in improving biodiversity on your farm?

The biggest learnings have been how our farming methods can impact various species and getting our timings and grazing numbers right when the weather is erratic. The biggest challenges have been trying to access advice, which can be difficult.

I’ve learned a little bare ground isn’t a bad thing. One year I was very stressed about the mud around a cattle trough. Schemes have got you sometimes so tied up into the length of your grass and poaching is not good if you’re having an inspection. But what is the “acceptable” poaching level? However, this year I noticed that the house martins and swallows came around the trough outside the barn to feed on flies and there were lots of bees landing in the area. The martens collected their mud balls and started building a nest on the side of the house. It had been a tough year on their migration and many were killed in Greece by storms. So I have learnt that muddy areas and puddles are just as important.

Top tips?

  • Every farm has the potential to reduce its impact on the environment, as well as having areas that can be placed for nature which will benefit the farm and allow both to thrive. We all have a part to play.
  • Take a step back and look at your farm. What do you need and what can you leave for nature?  How can you connect these areas around the farm or maybe with nearby habitats?
  • Introduce herb-rich species, or if your grassland is improved, introduce herb-rich leys. Have margins for pollinating insects that stock can graze after once you get the cuts done.
  • Manage hedgerows sympathetically or restore old ones. Often I see the mushroom hedges in the countryside forgotten as an asset by the farmer. Hedgerows connect the landscape in such an important way.

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

Rewarding farmers who are delivering government goals for climate and biodiversity
is sensible. Farmers should be paid for this land management, as local knowledge is crucial in supporting any biodiversity recovery. Invest in support to local abattoirs, butcheries and community farm shops, which will put value into nature-friendly food, at the same time as shortening supply chains and reducing mileage.

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

  • Buy local produce that is fresh and sustainable and seasonal
  • Support the NFFN
  • Join farmers on open days and events to learn more and ask lots of question
  • Support farmers locally that make you proud and spread the word of farming with nature
  • Write to your local MP and ask for nature-friendly farming food to be available on plates in homes, hospitals, schools and supported in retail
All images by Sorcha Lewis
13399_63 Rethink Farming – Helen Keys
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Helen Keys, alongside her partner, Charlie Mallon, have forged innovative routes to market by selling rotational crops, like potatoes and oats, alongside developing a food production and distribution resource for local producers and growing flax which they sell as linen.

Key facts:

  • Helen and Charlie’s research into alternative systems inspired them to sell their suckler herd and begin growing diverse crops as a more profitable enterprise
  • Their scutched flax fibre returns more profit from one crop planted across three acres than the whole farm would have generated in previous years as a dairy or suckler herd farm
  • Helen and Charlie developed Source Grow – an online platform that helps farmers decide what to grow based on their soil, their location and what is in demand from local restaurants, including what other farmers are already growing to reduce competition and support more profitable, niche products. Using this platform, farmers can then sell to restaurants through a weekly pick-up and delivery service.
  • Mallon Farm implement a number of approaches to ensure they maintain optimum soil fertility, provide safe pollinator habitat and improve water quality

“We believe that our mission as farmers is to leave the place better than we found it.  If we don’t, we’re damaging our assets which makes no sense.  If we do it right, agriculture is a mutually beneficial enterprise for the farmer and nature.”

What natural assets do is water something that concerns you as a farmer?

We grow a variety of crops, so the soil is obviously our most valuable asset.  We operate a crop rotation to try to keep the soil in good condition and we also try to choose crops that suit the soil and location, so we grow the right things in the right places.

We rely on pollinators, so we don’t use any chemicals that might be damaging for them. We keep several beehives and fill the hedges with flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs to support them.  We benefit from the honey and fruit, too.

We have a couple of streams that run along the boundary of the farm, they eventually run into Lough Neagh which is one of the main sources of drinking water in Northern Ireland.  We protect the waterways by leaving wide buffer zones and not using any chemical fertiliser or pesticide.

How do you approach nature-friendly farming in the long term?

The farm was mixed two generations ago, then went to dairy, then to a suckler herd, so all the fields were grass.  Managing even a small herd was hard work and stressful. We were lucky to only have one suspected case of TB on the farm, but it was very prevalent so that was a constant worry.

We started to look into alternatives and became more and more convinced that a variety of crops could be both more profitable and better for the environment. We eventually sold the herd.  It was a real wrench at the time, but we were struggling to see a future in it and looking back we realise just how much that affected us.

Now we have a clear vision and confidence that we are working for something positive.  It probably took us about 10 years to get that clarity and sense of purpose.

We didn’t do an audit or anything so formal.  We bought a wildlife camera on a whim and got more and more interested in the wildlife on the farm.  That led to an interest in the variety of plants and insects and we started to appreciate that our unkempt hedgerows, boggy areas and old trees were actually pretty great. We just take the environment into account in our decision making and try to find the right balance.

What nature-friendly business opportunities have you identified?

We are involved with three different projects in Northern Ireland, all of which focus on nature-friendly farming that can be profitable.

With support from Innovate UK, we developed Source Grow – an online platform that helps farmers like us to decide what to grow based on their soil, their location and what is in demand from local restaurants.  Farmers receive recommendations for what to grow that are informed by what other farmers are already growing – so we can stop competing against each other and find more profitable, niche products.  We can then sell to restaurants on the platform and there is a weekly pick up and delivery service.

We are also growing flax to turn into linen.  We started a few years ago without really realising that there is a huge gap in the processing in the UK.  Bit by bit, we’ve worked out how to do it at a commercial scale – retting, scutching, spinning, weaving.  The last bits are going into place now and we have a waiting list for sustainable locally grown textile.  The interest in Mallon Linen has been huge and we are working now alongside projects in England, Scotland and Wales as well as Europe and the US to restore these local supply chains.

Finally, we have been working with the Water Innovation Network in our catchment to research how farms can improve water quality and make a profit from it.  We are looking at nature-based systems to treat dirty water using swale systems and crops like willow, miscanthus and nettles. The nettles can also be used for textiles.

What have been the biggest learnings and challenges?

We’ve made loads of mistakes.  We planted a seed variety of flax rather than a fibre variety in the first year and put it on far too sparsely so the weeds outgrew it.  Now we prepare the field a month before and use a chain harrow to knock the weeds back when we sow, that’s worked a treat.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve had from all over.  We are always asking questions and people have been really generous with their time, even giving us machinery that we can use for processing.  We’ve learned that we can’t do it on our own and building relationships with other people on the same journey is better for everyone.

It was probably easier for us as we are small and hadn’t borrowed or invested heavily.  It will be a lot more difficult for larger-scale operations, but all the more reason that those of us who can adapt quickly or need to do it as a matter of urgency.

What are your top tips for farming in ways that can mitigate climate change and restore nature?

  • Learn to be OK with an untidy farm.  Let the hedgerows go a bit wild, leave margins and a good variety of species in them.
  • Focus on profit rather than turnover – it’s not all about scale.

We can’t just point the finger at other countries or industries or the government.  We can’t wait for policies to emerge.  We all have to do what we can, right now, and that starts with the choices that we make in our own homes and businesses – we have to get on with it.

Have you experienced the effects of our climate change on your farm?

We’ve certainly seen a decline in biodiversity.  Our parents remember wildlife and plants that simply aren’t there anymore.  We’ve seen more flash flooding in the river catchment too.

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

The government could support innovative farming methods and build a culture of innovation within the agri-food sector.  Innovation is about more than new technology, it is about radically rethinking the way we do things.  Our experience has been that the traditional structures for agricultural policy and funding are unwieldy and admin heavy.  We need to allow for the risk-taking which is necessary to foster innovation.  The best support we’ve had from the government has been through Innovate UK who helped us to set up the Source Grow platform.

We need to shorten our supply chains and massively diversify our production – more fibre for textiles as well as natural fibre composites to replace plastics and building materials, more fruit and veg production to replace imports.  Support for campaigns, like Peas Please, will support farmers as well as improve health.

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

Ask questions! Consumers have real power to effect change so be conscious about where you buy your produce, when was it grown, how and where? Eat seasonally, eat locally grown, eat more veg, eat less meat and dairy, buy better meat and dairy. Similarly, for your textiles and clothes – buy less and buy better.

13693_64 NI Climate Bill Consultation Response
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What is the consultation?

In Northern Ireland, DAERA opened a consultation on the next stage of its Climate Change Bill. The bill, officially titled Climate Change Bill (No.2), is the second of the two Climate Change Bills currently making their way through Stormont. The first is the Private Members Bill, titled Climate Change Bill (No.1).

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We believe that the objectives of the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill are unacceptably weak, lacking in ambition and open to change at the sole discretion of the Department (DAERA). The bill lacks the critical components necessary for suitably ambitious climate change legislation, namely:

  1. A net-zero target for GHG emissions, preferably by 2045 or earlier but no later than 2050
  2. A requirement for Climate Action Plans (CAPs) and carbon budgets for all sectors
  3. A mechanism for independent scrutiny via a NI based Climate Office and Climate Commissioner

The GHG emission reduction target for 2030 is very close to what the latest scientific evidence suggests is necessary (i.e. a reduction of approximately 50% by 2030), and as such, is within the range of what is acceptable. However, NFFN believes that the targets for 2040 and 2050 show a lack of ambition and fall well short of what NI could and should be aiming to achieve.

Having a delivery plan to map out how targets will be achieved will also be crucial. This is the role of the Climate Action Plans, as outlined in the Private Members Climate Change Bill. Given the lack of provision for climate action plans, it is less likely that the outcomes, which are lacking in appropriate ambition, will be achieved.

However, NFFN welcomes the proposed use of carbon budgets as a well-established and necessary approach to meeting GHG reduction targets. They should specify limits to carbon emissions within the period of the commitment and be aligned with the dates of the interim targets. Carbon budgets should include the quantified contribution of nature and natural habitats to carbon sequestration.

We are concerned that the bill gives DAERA the sole authority to alter the targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 both in terms of the scale of emission reductions to be achieved and the year by which those reductions are to be achieved. In short, they have the power to change the targets as they see fit and as such the targets in the bill are not really fixed targets at all.

NFFN believes that a ensuring a just transition will be an essential component of any future Northern Ireland climate change legislation. Unlike the Private Members Bill there is no provision in the Climate Change (No. 2) Bill for such a transition. In our opinion, this is a major failing. It is disappointing that the bill does not see fit to support sustainable jobs and job growth, net-zero carbon investment and infrastructure, create work and reduce inequality, poverty and social deprivation.

Read our full consultation response here.

13372_65 Rethink Farming – Ffermwyr yr Wnion
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Ffermwyr yr Wnion is a group of ten farms, all located within the Afon Wnion catchment. Rhys Evans, one of the project’s farmers, shares the experience so far.

Key facts:

  • This landscape-scale project was set up in 2020 and aims to collaboratively address local issues of flood risk and water quality, and involves the Snowdonia National Park Authority and Gwynedd Council
  •  In Spring 2021, 3,725 metres of hedgerows were established around the 10 farms – equating to over 26,000 trees. By March 2022 a further 4,000m will be established, bringing the total number of trees planted close to 55,000.
  • This project delivers climate action through nature-based solutions that also benefit biodiversity recovery. Hedgerows provide necessary corridors of food, shelter and travel for wildlife, while flood pools support aquatic wildlife. Controlling non-native invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, allows important riparian species to re-establish, whilst blocking man-made drains on upland peatland helps restore an extremely valuable habitat.

“The work being done by each farmer not only yields positive results for water and flood protection, but it also delivers benefits for biodiversity, pollinators, air quality and helps tackle climate change.”

 

Why is water something that concerns you as a farmer?

Farming in the hills of Meirionnydd has its challenges, not least due the high rainfall we receive. If there’s one thing that’s not in short supply on these hills – it’s water! Heavy rain brings heavy floods, which we know can causes damage to farm property, infrastructure, livestock, and of course, the farmland itself. This causes stress, extra work and affects the business’ bottom line. So of course, it’s in farmers’ interest to reduce flooding as much as possible to help protect their assets. Helping to improve water quality and reduce flooding is also important from a reputational perspective.

The Merrier Webster dictionary defines a farmer as “a person who cultivates land or crops or raises animals”. Whilst this is certainly true, it’s also a very narrow definition of what farmers do. We’re also land managers responsible for looking after around 80% of Wales’s land; and in doing so we can help deliver a host of environmental and societal benefits.

Being able to evidence and demonstrate these valuable services, such as improving water quality and natural flood prevention is incredibly important.  The agriculture sector faces criticism from multiple directions, and whilst some of this may be warranted (we don’t get it right every time) there’s a hell of a lot of good work being done out there that we should be immensely proud of.

 

How does Ffermwyr yr Wnion deliver for improved water quality and flood prevention?

In Spring 2021: around 3,725 metres of hedgerows were established across the 10 farms – equating to over 26,000 trees

By March 2022: a further 4,000 metres will be established, bringing the total number of trees planted closely to 55,000.

To complement this work, small areas of woodland, orchards and parkland trees will be planted – provided of course that they don’t threaten existing valuable farmland habitats and species. Tree and hedgerow roots run deep, allowing a larger, deeper area of the soil profile to retain water. This means that the ground can infiltrate water at a greater rate. Planting hedges along a slope can be a great way of reducing and capturing water runoff which would otherwise continue its journey downstream.

The project also includes a programme of work to restore peatland up on the hills – and we know that peatland store a load of water.  Healthy, intact peatland acts like a sponge, soaking up floodwater rather than allowing it to run off the surface.  However, historic man-made peatland drainage channels have reduced the peat’s ability to act like a sponge as they help facilitate the flow of water off the mountain. The project will therefore entail blocking these mand-made drainage channels, helping to slow down the flow of water downstream.

Numerous pools and ponds have also been created across the holdings, helping to store floodwater whilst also acting as sediment traps, which again helps prevent flooding and improve water quality. Likewise, intact peatland and hedgerows also help prevent soil erosion and stop sediment and organic material from reaching our streams and rivers, thus improving water quality.

However, this work not only yields positive results for water and flood protection – it also delivers benefits for biodiversity, pollinators, air quality and helps tackle climate change.

What are the benefits of these approaches, both in the short and long term?

A large portion of the work undertaken will take time to fully establish. Trees and hedgerows don’t mature overnight, therefore it will take time for us to truly appreciate the benefits of our approaches. However, we would expect to see short term benefits from wetland creation and peatland restoration, in particular a reduction in localised flooding as the land’s ability to absorb and capture water increases over time.  Long term, this will all help with climate change mitigation, as well as adaptation.  On a more personal level, the project also increases our sense of well-being as farmers – we take pride in knowing that our little corner of the world is helping to address some very serious issues.

What are the outcomes for nature?

Hedgerows provide a home, food, shelter and corridors to travel for wildlife.  They also provide food for pollinators throughout the year when crops aren’t in flower, as well as places to nest. Over time, we expect the flood pools will develop into fascinating ecosystems that will support aquatic wildlife, whilst controlling non-native invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam will allow native riparian species to re-establish. Bog specialist plants will recolonise along the restored peatland drainage channels, whilst pockets of woodland and scattered trees will attract a variety of wildlife.

Photos: planted hedgerows taken by Alun Elidyr

Are you able to measure the impact? If so, how?

Farmers are many things – but most of us aren’t expert hydrologists! It’d be great to be able to truly quantify the benefits of our actions in terms of water quality and flood prevention.  After all, management interventions should be led by evidence and science, therefore developing a greater understanding of how our actions benefit the environment can help inform future decisions.

Hydrologists, scientists, academics and the like are more than welcome to visit our farms for monitoring purposes.  A lack of monitoring has been a regular criticism of past agri-environment schemes. This means that many farmers are unaware of how their actions benefit the environment, and as a result, become disengaged with the whole process.  Training and support for self-monitoring would be most welcomed – it’s something we as a group might explore in the future.

What is the outcome for your farm business?

Our actions deliver win-win scenarios for the farm business and the environment.

Hedges aren’t only good for the environment, but they’re also reliable field boundaries. So they’re a big help in keeping livestock where they’re supposed to be – so there’s less time spent chasing rogue cattle and sheep!  They also offer shelter and shade for livestock, helping to boost productivity. It goes without saying that reduced flood risk will help protect the farms’ infrastructure, livestock and natural assets – saving time, money and effort.

Water shortage can also be an issue during hot and dry summer months – and climate change will only exacerbate this problem, with persistent extreme weather more likely in the future.  In the short and long term, our flood pools can become very valuable water sources during periods of drought.

Photo: Llyn Dolfelili taken by Kevin Davies

The work may also help our farm businesses prepare for and access future Government farming schemes and initiatives which are likely to have increased focus on environmental management.

What have been the biggest learnings and challenges?

Due to restricted and time-limited funding, some of us have had to curb our ambitions! As a group, there are lots of things we can do on our farms that fall under the remit of the project, however, we can’t do everything at once.

Finding the time to undertake the work can be a challenge as well. For example, it takes a lot of time and effort to establish hedgerows…it entails buying the material, preparing the site, and erecting double fences to prevent livestock from eating the plants. And let’s not forget the planting work itself. We plant at a rate of seven saplings per metre – one of the farms created around 1000m of hedgerows last winter – so that’s a lot of planting!

One of the biggest downfalls of the project is that whilst it generously covers the costs associated with undertaking capital works, there is no habitat creation/ management payment, and as such, the farmer isn’t rewarded fully for the time and effort that goes into planning and implementing the work. Some of the farms are fortunate enough to have sufficient hands-on-deck to be able to undertake the work in house, whilst others have had to employ contractors to complete the work. For the latter, this means that there is very little or no profit for the farmer.  This is by no means a criticism of the partner organisations – we count ourselves fortunate to be able to partake in such a scheme – however future Government schemes must account for this and ensure that farmers are rewarded appropriately for their environmental management work.

What top tips would you recommend to another farm wanting to restore the natural environment?

  • Ask for advice – there’s no shame in doing so. There are numerous farm advisory groups and conservation organisations out there that would be more than happy to support nature-friendly farming initiatives.
  • Look for funding – there are various grants and support payments available for nature-friendly farming activities, but they’re not always well signposted.
  • The actions that we’ve undertaken for nature don’t hinder the farming enterprise – in fact, they benefit the business, livestock and the farm’s natural assets – which are of course very building blocks of food production. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that nature and food production are mutually exclusive, whereas in fact, they go hand in hand.

What would you recommend to someone who wants to work collaboratively with other farmers in a joined-up approach?

  • Go for it! There’s nothing to lose in coming together as a group of farmers to share ideas, knowledge and aspirations. Even better if there’s a cup of tea and cake involved…
  • We’d recommend a facilitator to coordinate projects. The Snowdonia National Park Authority have been excellent by providing suggestions and advice on what we can do, then arranging farm visits to ground truth some for these ideas – it’s been invaluable.
  • The Welsh Government funded Farming Connect programme offers funding to help set up farmer working groups, so there is support out there. We would call on Governments across the UK to offer such support as part of future schemes.

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

One of the things that the Welsh Government can do to facilitate collaboration would be to include a bonus payment for farmers working together to tackle issues over the wider landscape. Wildlife, climate change, flooding and water quality issues don’t stop and start at farm boundaries – they’re issues that need tackling at a landscape scale.  Funding for facilitation support would also be beneficial in future Government schemes.

Alternatively, the Welsh Government could allocate money to organisations like Local Authorities, National Parks or AONBs to act as scheme administrators.  More often than not these organisations have trusted, local staff who have experience of working with farmers over larger areas. Based on our experience to date, it’s an approach that we would certainly advocate.

How do you think the government should support farmers in climate mitigation and biodiversity recovery?

The Government must make it easy for farmers to do the right thing.  Past agri-environment schemes have been overly prescriptive, with very little room for flexibility and adaptive management. Trust in farmers is key. For some farmers, climate change mitigation and wildlife management will be an unfamiliar concept – therefore the provision of advice and guidance along the way will be vital as well.

Most importantly farmers must be rewarded appropriately for the delivery of environmental benefits. Biodiversity, water quality, flood prevention and carbon sequestration – these are all things that society need and rely on.  However, they have no, or very limited, private markets for such services. As such it makes sense to use public money to pay farmers for delivering these valuable services. But this means investing in the farmer’s time, which might include planning, mapping, monitoring, undertaking capital works and ongoing management. It’ll be worth every penny.

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

As farmers, we hold the key to tackling the nature and climate crises. We don’t pretend to be perfect, but a word of caution – don’t believe every you read about farming. There’s a lot of great stuff happening out there – let us show you what we can do. And you can always join the Nature Friendly Farming Network to show your support! 

13367_66 Rethink Farming – Sam Kenyon
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Meet Sam, who farms in Glanllyn Farm in North Wales, producing meat in her lowland farm on the banks of the River Elwy in the Vale of Clwyd. Sam’s 160-acre holding comprises 60-acres of woodland and 55-acres of permanent pasture.

Key facts:

  • Sam’s flood prevention measures are key to climate mitigation and help to protect her local community from the threat of frequent floods
  • Nature-based solutions use the tools that nature already provides to address issues resulting from poor land management in the past
  • Sam has been farming at Glanllyn for five years and has been implementing nature-friendly restoration work for three

“For me, flood prevention is the difference between my business working well or failing.”

 

 

How do you deliver flood prevention on your farm?

Through riverbank restoration work, including stopping stock from accessing the banks and degrading soil and habitat. We have increased the cover of native trees, such as willow and alder, which successfully grow more habitat for wildlife, while improving soil structure through deep roots that hold the soil in place. Using fallen trees to help capture sediment has been a turning point in some areas of the riverbank. Our future plans include the creation of a flood basin – a 27-acre field taken out of conventional crop production and made into an area where flash flood water can be held back. The basin will include a wet woodland area to help catch sediment and to create a more diverse habitat, with a shallow ditch to one corner of the site and floodplain meadow grassland, rich in diverse plant species.

Put simply, if we didn’t work with nature and didn’t try to improve water flow and quality with our “slow the flow” approach, there wouldn’t be much farm – nor access to our woodland – left. The devastation previously caused here by practices that worked against nature has meant the loss of much soil and farm infrastructure (tracks, woodland and livestock fences) so that the farm was becoming unviable.”

What are the benefits?

Benefits were seen within a year. Winter and storms always highlight how well things have worked and I measure our impact by how much farmland is save compared to that which was being lost under the conventional mismanagement. I also measure the impact by how well wildlife survives each flood. We have seen how beneficial our approaches have been for a diverse range of birds nesting here for the first time in over 40 years and some of the species thriving here include kingfishers, pied flycatchers, barn owls, collared doves, hoverflies, bees, bats and more.

“With the lack of financial support and grants available for this kind of vital work to our river valleys, we can only afford to address the worst areas ourselves. It really is a race against time for this farm, and the wildlife that calls it home, and to turn things so it is safe and sustainable.”

There are other areas of field-edge river bank which desperately need work to help save many small aquatic birds, such as the moorhens, who, along with soil at the field’s edge, get washed away with each flood. We need farm grants suited to the practicalities of slowing floodwater using nature-friendly approaches as soon as possible because good riparian works along our river is long overdue.

How do you judge water quality or monitor flood risk improvement?

Water quality visually changes with the seasons. In winter, it is brown with soil. In spring, it is clearer and fresher with meltwater from up in the hills. Summer, it is full of algae. Autumn, it is a mix of these from week-to-week. Our local angling group do monthly surveys for indicator species of water quality here and keep me informed of their findings.

Flood risk improvement is judged by whether the livestock are safe when the river is in flood and whether trees have been washed out or have been managed correctly to keep them holding the bank together. We judge the soil washed away compared to the soil retained in areas where we have carried out restoration.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is not giving up and selling up after each winter and letting the problem become someone else’s. Another challenge is trying to educate people that short-term thinking and approaches to land use are devastating our natural environment. The biggest learning has been how quickly nature and climate change are making our landscape uninhabitable – for us and nature, both in and out of the water.

Top tips?

  • Slow the flow
  • Hold water back
  • Learn about soil health, especially without chemical inputs which leak into our groundwater
  • Changing a farming mindset from intensive and nature-exclusive, to regenerative and nature-focused is absolutely necessary for the health and security of future generations
  • Growing crops, trees and habitat can repair a broken water system, but only when it’s the right crops and right trees in the right place, otherwise we will only add to the problem in the long term, not solve it
  • Create a patchwork of mixed crops to help buffer the effects of flooding and also create biodiverse habitats

Our freshwater system is only 3% of the Earth’s water. We need to prioritise solutions to fix our freshwater system, and to be able to live, grow food and support habitat more sustainably within that system. The water within our landscape should be seen as something more precious and providing than it is – not something to drain away as fast as possible so it washes everything out in its path.

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

An approach to seeing the landscape as a whole, not applying grants to farms that only think of the effects as far as that farm’s boundary. The Sustainable Production Grant, for example, is only really suited to big farms that are able to go more intensive – no matter where they sat within the landscape or at what height above sea level. Schemes shouldn’t be prescriptive and should suit farms in different geographical settings. An upland area scheme should be different to a scheme needed on lowland soils and vice versa.

By not being able to manage our woodland properly for healthy trees, due to prescriptive restrictions by an environmental agency, a flood earlier this year caused a landslide. If we’d been able to reduce the height of all the trees over a certain diameter at breast height we might have been able to save our soil and our woodland access track and stopped young trees from sliding down the bank into the river.

Secondly, encourage the public to buy direct from nature-friendly farmers and offering support for small family farms needs to be prioritised. Rural community matters – we are best placed to use local knowledge to support our natural environment.

What would your message be to the public to encourage them to support nature-friendly farmers? 

Buy local as much as possible and buy direct, where you can, from nature-friendly farmers working on climate change solutions.

13395_67 Rethink Farming – Helen O’Keefe
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Meet Helen who runs Middleton Croft in Sutherland in the Northwest Highlands. Earlier this year, she won the Scottish Crofting Federation’s Young Crofter of the Year award for her multi-hyphenated approach to crofting. She runs a tearoom, launched a local collective food hub and embraces small-scale horticulture and sheep rearing using regenerative approaches that are well suited to her croft’s diverse landscape spanning ancient woodland, hills, wetlands and grasslands. She farms seven acres across three crofts with shares in 3,700 acres of common grazing at Assynt.

Helen’s approach to crofting presents an inspiring vision for embracing diversity in land use and how collaboratively sharing the local marketplace can unlock a prosperous rural community – where a healthy landscape underpins food production to the benefit of higher quality produce and abundant wildlife.

Key facts:

  • By launching The Green Bowl to sell online and deliver locally, Helen has created an opportunity for crofters, growers and producers in nearby townships to access a local market and create viable agricultural businesses
  • She produces and sells her own meat, wool, eggs, fruit and vegetables
  • Her food hub has reduced the environmental impacts of food transport and distribution, lessening the pressure on intensive agriculture in other areas (including the “off-shoring” of their community’s food production footprint outside of the Highlands)
  • Her land management works in harmony with nature through sensitive grazing regimes and a focus on suitable timings and stocking density for the landscape, avoidance of chemical sprays and artificial fertilisers and tree planting with a right tree, right place approach

“The wellbeing of this land is important to me as I love the richness of life & diversity. I want to be able to produce food for my family & community, but I also want to protect (and improve) the incredible nature – landscapes, flora & fauna – around me.”

How can crofters help to restore nature and mitigate climate change?

Crofters manage huge areas of land, which include massive carbon stores (in the form of peat) and huge areas of globally rare and sensitive habitats which shelter many threatened species. They also produce food from this land without intensive inputs and have done for generations, in a way that not only works within environmental constraints but also helps to sustain rural communities and local economies.

Tell us about your approach to land management and nature-friendly food production.

We have huge amounts of biodiversity – insects, birds, small mammals, as well as wildflowers, grasses, sedges, mosses, lichens and fungi – across a range of different types of ecosystems (blanket bogs, limestone grassland, species-rich wet meadows, groundwater flushes). Stocking densities aren’t too high, thus avoiding either trampling damage (and resulting greenhouse gas losses from eroded peat) or overgrazing and associated eutrophication which would have considerable detrimental effects on floral and fungal diversity.

We don’t have many trees, so I’m planting more of these, both in shelterbelts and within my fields (as very low-density silvopasture), while being cognisant of not damaging other habitats (e.g. wading birds, who don’t like trees).

I’m trying to manage my grazing times to support better species diversity, allowing birds to breed successfully and to strengthen a range of habitats (long grass for some birds, short grass for others). Another reason for this is to try to cut my own hay for winter feed, which reduces the environmental impacts of brought-in feed.

“Crofting is, by its nature, low intensity, which allows more space for nature to thrive.”

I’m continuing this practice, while making small changes, including introducing some very small-scale hand-intensive horticulture and incorporating edible aspects to shelterbelts and silvopasture trees to produce more food from my croft. Crofting areas often do not have good access to fresh fruit and vegetables and, in recent history, most agricultural produce from the area (primarily livestock) has been exported, so the vast majority of food consumed here is imported (from outside the Highlands). I’m focusing on producing more food that can be sold and eaten locally.

What have the benefits been for wildlife?

Better biodiversity and better soil health. The trees will provide more habitat for woodland species, linking up with other small sections of woodland nearby to provide a more viable habitat. There is hardly any woodland here at the moment so this type of ecosystem (and therefore the species that rely on it) is sorely lacking in our area. Our soil is often poor in organic nutrients, so the trees should help improve that and also open the way for more variety of species.

Different grazing practices, and cutting hay, can provide habitats that are ideal for certain wading birds that were previously here in high numbers but are now in significant decline. But we still have better populations of several vulnerable breeding wader species than many other areas, with snipe, oystercatcher, curlew, golden plover, greenshank and dunlin all maintaining good populations thanks at least partly to extensive crofting practices. The Common Grazing (and some of the less-improved crofts) is also a remarkably rich hotspot for floral and fungal diversity, along with associated insect assemblages, with an unusual mix of temperate oceanic and boreal species which is found in only one or two other locations in the country.

How has selling The Green Bowl impacted your community?

It has increased our direct sales and doing this as a collective makes it worth doing, whereas individually, we would all be too small to be viable.

Selling our food locally has raised awareness of local produce, creating a demand and a market. Because of this, some new people in our area have started growing vegetables to sell locally. Some crofters are reducing their reliance on other employment because their croft business is becoming more economically viable. Establishing a market and system for selling local food has made it easier for new producers to get started, consumers to buy local and has increased interest, and excitement, about growing and eating locally.

Selling directly gives more control over price, so less uncertainty and a much more stable, independent market than selling into wholesalers or the normal livestock system. It provides a buffer against external market factors (like Brexit), but it is also more personally rewarding.

What have been the biggest learnings or challenges in embracing nature-friendly crofting?

Establishing a successful grazing rotation that fits with the imperatives of having enough grass for ewes during lambing (and tupping), but also doesn’t result in overgrazing while allowing waders to nest and fledge young, and later allowing flowering plants to flower and set fruit, has not been entirely easy. The supply of better quality, more productive grassland is very finite.

Also, managing the grass so some can be set aside early enough to allow a decent hay crop to grow (if the weather allows us to cut and save the hay) has not been straightforward. Hay has not been cut in our area for the past 40 years so the pasture is not in the best condition for it and we do not have the local knowledge on how to do it. We are also doing it all by hand and trying to balance this with other jobs during the busy summer tourist season which is a big challenge, but it’s also very rewarding when you see the neighbours’ kids having fun helping to carry the small, handmade bales back to the barn.

Encouraging the sheep on the hill (the Common Grazing) to make more extensive use of the ground available to them has been a challenge at times, though now that there are several generations out there, with experience acquired as to where the sweetest grass and the best shelter is, so it working better nowadays.

The attrition rate for trees – whether in shelterbelts, individual tree shelters or in the nascent orchard – has also been frustratingly high at times, and even of those that survive, thanks to great care and attention, many are not yet at a stage that could be called thriving. The deer caused significant damage until I erected a deer fence around the crofts and sheep continue to cause problems. I have had to learn a lot about how to effectively install tree guards against curious and itchy sheep! I haven’t found much information about other places trying silvopasture, and certainly not in an affordable way (until recently there has been no funding available for silvopasture on small scale) so I’ve had to learn most things myself, by trial and error.

What about the challenges in producing and selling food for local markets, including setting up The Green Bowl?

We still have a lot to learn about horticultural growing for sale, such as planning crops and predicting harvests, and we’re still learning which products are in the most demand. We have had some challenges with our meat supply, learning to accommodate long lead times for getting new meat (especially with cows – there is almost a month lead time between deciding we need more meat and actually having anything to sell) and working out which cuts we need to provide (mince vs diced vs sausages vs roasts etc). We really struggled to find butchers who could butcher our carcases for us so we have started doing our own butchery, which is also helping us tailor our product selection for our regular customers.

Starting up the food hub went very smoothly, but now we are getting to the scale where we will need to rethink our administration and delivery logistics. More fresh produce is outgrowing the size of our delivery vehicle and the way we pack our orders. We run a very low-cost, low-overhead model to keep costs down for our customers, so the challenge will be upscaling to meet demand efficiently without becoming uneconomic.

We have tried delivering further afield but found that the value of orders did not cover our delivery costs. We would like to expand our delivery range, but need to find a way to do this viably – either with a bigger market or demand or with a more efficient delivery method. Ideally, other local food hubs would start up in surrounding areas and we could coordinate with them to distribute one another’s produce.

Top tips?

  • Plant some trees, but decide where they work for you and your land. Don’t just plant a whole woodland because that’s what the grants make easy
  • Try new things…and old things! Can you grow your own winter fodder? Can you grow vegetables or fruit that your family or wider community could use?
  • Make the most of everything. Can that sheep be used for meat, wool… and milk? Can that shelterbelt also produce fruit, nuts and timber, as well as shelter?
  • Try to sell locally
  • Work with your neighbours (crofting and non-crofting)
  • Share resources, ideas and energy. Do things together for economies of scale and do things differently to not duplicate unnecessarily or compete on products
  • Can crofters work together to improve your use of Common Grazings? Can you fence some areas off for targeted grazing, plant woodland, use a section for hay or crops, or set aside an area for your community to use for local growing?
  • Learn more about the wildlife on your croftland – and not just the obvious eagles and oystercatchers, but eyebrights and eggar moths, butterworts and damselflies. Become aware of the beats of the bird breeding season, when the migrants arrive and depart. Where do they nest, where do they feed? And if you are managing hay meadows, start to identify the main grasses and tall herbs – the grasses aren’t really that difficult, once you start to look at them properly – and of course, grass is the heart of any livestock farming system.

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

Support for positive agri-environment management needs to, first of all, find out how crofters in different areas manage their land and what biodiversity resources such management can benefit, and then tailor the incentive schemes to fit them/us, rather than producing cookie-cutter schemes that are too complicated to work on the small-scale systems characteristic of most crofting models, plus they are too expensive to access.

Regulations and policies need to protect crofts from land speculation and alternative uses, such as tourism. Agricultural ground needs to be preserved as that and needs to be affordable for those who wish to use them for active land management. They also need to address the lack of affordable housing in rural areas (currently over-run by tourism – second homes, holidays lets and AirBnBs).

If there is nowhere for people to live, there won’t be any crofters, which means there won’t be any local food and there won’t be anybody to manage these huge areas of incredibly valuable habitat and biodiversity.

Regulations and bureaucratic systems need to cater for small producers in rural areas and need to be adjusted to support circular economies. It shouldn’t be onerous for a small producer to sell eggs through a local shop (currently it is). It should be possible to recycle biological waste (kitchen scraps, animal byproducts) into a useful product (e.g. animal food, energy and/or compost) at a community level (currently it is not, other than small scale garden composting).

What would your message be to the public to encourage support of climate- and nature-friendly food production?

Don’t just ask farmers to “farm with nature”. Think about how you can “eat with nature”. Support local. Support seasonal. Be aware of how your eating habits and preferences fit in with what our land can produce.

Where would you like to see crofting in 20 years’ time?

Vibrant, demographically healthy communities with active common grazings and communities working together to manage them. Crofts with a diversity of food production enterprises (not just diversified to tourism) – livestock, poultry, fruit, veg etc. A high proportion of croft produce being sold (or processed) locally. Less reliance on outside inputs (animal feed, fuel, chemical inputs). Recovery of some of the flagship species which have declined in recent decades, such as corn buntings, lapwing, curlew, corncrake, redshank, hen harrier etc. More native woodlands on common grazings, available for seasonal grazing of livestock.

Helen’s case study featured in Rethink Farming – A Practical Guide for Farming, Nature & Climate.

13488_68 Rethink Farming – A Practical Guide for Farming, Nature & Climate
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COP26 is a huge opportunity for the NFFN to demonstrate how farming can deliver for climate and nature while shortening supply chains, forging direct routes to local markets and mending a fractured food system that largely favours supermarket behemoths, with unyielding bargaining power over smaller, nature-friendly farmers.

Rethink Farming – A Practical Guide for Farming, Nature & Climate brings together resources on key areas of climate concern and highlights the golden opportunities within farming and land use management, including soil, water, biodiversity, carbon management, landscape approaches and food quality. Our report shares stories from farmers around the UK who are already acting on climate mitigation to secure a prosperous and resilient future for both their businesses and their local communities.

For our seven-week Rethink Farming campaign, we will be sharing the report’s case studies in full-length on our website. Each farmer’s journey shines a light on how adaptation can prepare our landscapes for a warming world.

Martin Lines, NFFN Chair, Nature Friendly Farming Network, says: “It’s in farmers’ best interests to act on climate change and nature recovery, so we’re in a good place for maximising opportunities for funding for public goods, and further down the line, to capitalise on returns from private markets.”

“We know that farming is contributing to ecological disruption and the science is clear – we have 10 years to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency. Simple solutions can have the greatest impacts in preparing farming for what’s to come.”

Ahead of COP26, we have written letters to UK governments to urge bolder and more ambitious leadership in setting forth the policy, funding and frameworks needed to pace and scale the transition to climate- and nature-friendly farming.

Our letters have been endorsed by: National Trust, Woodland Trust, RSPB, Soil Association, Sustain, Plantlife, The Countryside Restoration Trust, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Compassion in World Farming,  Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Ulster Wildlife, Friends of the Earth NI, Wildlife Trusts Wales

Read our letters to

13223_69 Northern Ireland: Simon Best wins Arable Farmer of the Year 2021
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NFFN NI’s steering group member, Simon Best, has won this year’s Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year award. Simon farms at Acton House Farm near Poyntzpass and his 465ha of arable land consists of feed wheat, winter and spring milling oats, oilseed rape and beans.

Simon’s “less is more” mindset has earned the respect of award judges, Robert Price (last year’s winner), Richard Allison (Farmers Weekly arable editor) and Damian McAuley (independent judge and agronomist).

The judges valued:

  • All crops are grown for a specific local market
  • Excellent integration of compost and arable business
  • The farm’s work with colleges and the government to develop new crop markets
  • Really good awareness of carbon

Simon’s long-term view of sustainability centres on nature-based farming solutions and the interventions made on his family farm includes no insecticide use for five years, the establishment of environmental habitats, focus on targeted applications and soil health. As a result, Simon’s arable farming produces high-quality food to high environmental standards.

As a LEAF farm, Simon’s farm is aligned with the natural environment with producing for the local community. Acton House Farm hosts Open Farm Weekend every year, linking up with local schools and provides compost and planting boxes to local villages.

Farmers Weekly judges say: “Simon has developed strong connections with local markets and is maximising his returns. He has successfully established an environmentally sustainable arable business on a scale not seen in Northern Ireland.”

Simon Best says: “I’m delighted to win this award and for our nature-friendly farming practices to be recognised for how they can boost farm livelihoods without compromising the environment.”

“Ensuring that we, as farmers, take a long-term view of sustainability and enhancement of our environment is critical. As an arable farmer in Northern Ireland’s livestock-dominated sector, I hope our farm can promote the opportunities that are there for retaining viable farming.”

“Soils are the key to our resilience – it’s clear how manageable our land is when weather conditions get more challenging. Monitoring water quality and conscious decision making, planning and Integrated Pest Management are simple, logical ways to ensuring our farm business is resilient and efficient.”

13193_70 Scotland – ‘It’s Not The Tree, it’s The How’
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Written by: Kirsty Tait, NFFN Sustainable Lead for Northern Ireland

Land – we don’t have a huge amount of it in Scotland. We have no vast wildernesses, deserts, or prairies. However, having so little land means we can really understand it. The groundbreaking work and maps of the James Hutton Institute give us the insight we need as crucial and difficult decisions about this finite resource are needing to be made.

Clarity on the direction forward is emerging with a very welcome open commitment to a participative, citizen-led approach to consultation on agricultural transition and local food. But there are two targets that will push us all to think creatively and compromise:

  • 30% of Scotland’s and seas to be protected (with 10% highly protected by 2030)
  • 18,000 Ha of woodland (of that 4000Ha native) created per annum by 2024/25

Here at the NFFN, a simple guiding principle often used is ‘it is not the cow, it’s the how.’  Meaning don’t blame the cows – we still need them. It’s the method of farming that contributes to climate change, rather than the farming itself.

With woodland creation, the guiding principle is ‘the right tree in the right place.’ This means being very deliberate in planning where and how woodlands are created and ensuring multiple benefits are delivered.  We could bring in a similar guiding principle to support that -‘it’s not the tree, it’s the how.’ Right tree – yes. Right place – yes. But let’s also examine how woodland creation is delivered. It is not quite as catchy as the “cow”, but bear with me.

At NFFN, we are fully supportive of the 18,000ha target of woodland creation a year. It’s the kind of ambitious target which we need in these code-red days of our climate emergency. However, we have a strong view that this target should include a higher proportion than the current 4000ha target for native woodland creation and should explicitly include targets for agroforestry.

So why should this balance matter and why include agroforestry?

Going back to ‘it’s not the tree it’s the how.’  Commercial forestry in the way it currently operates gives us precious timber, local jobs and access to green space and recreation opportunities. However, the way the investment model works, much of the wealth created is not currently retained in the areas it impacts. Similar to conventional farming, not enough livelihood opportunities are currently being created. The land-use change decisions also do not feel very participative with local communities feeling this is being done to them rather than with them. In the long- term this does not feel great for rural communities. We don’t fully understand yet what the impacts will be. But with a higher proportion of land-use change from farming to forestry, and much of that commercial forestry as opposed to native woodlands being planted in the South of Scotland, we will soon be able to assess.

Will it provide the livelihood opportunities we so desperately need to halt our growing rural depopulation? Will it provide what Magnus Davidson eloquently asks in the SEDA conversations around ‘A New Vision for Land Use in Scotland:

‘I want to see people of the landscape, not just in the landscape.’

This then brings us to our guiding principle of nature- friendly. What does that look like in the world of woodland creation? If planning was purely guided by what nature needs, what percentage of woodlands commercial/ native/ non-native would halt our biodiversity crisis? Does focusing alone on woodland creation whether native or non-native give the kind of landscape mosaic of natural habitats nature needs? Is the current UKFS guidance for managing conifers for a 75% limit for a forest area to be planted with a single species and 10% left unplanted for new woodlands enough?

RSPB Scotland believes that we will need to go beyond the UKFS minimum provisions for biodiversity to meet both climate and biodiversity goals. A target they set out, which is shared by members of the Link Food and Farming group, is that 50% of new planting should be of native tree species, which could include productive species. They also believe there is much more scope to develop and adopt more wildlife-friendly models of productive forestry compared to current standards, in the same way farmers are being pressed to produce food in more wildlife-friendly ways (Woodland Expansion in Scotland: RSPB Scotland Policy Briefing.)

So what if the 18,000ha target was reset to include 9000Ha of native (inc productive) woodlands? Or, as set out in the ‘Farming for 1.5’ report included a target of 6000ha of agroforestry to be created a year?

It is argued that this will not deliver the amount of timber we need (the UK currently imports 81% of its wood products which in itself is not sustainable and could be contributing to habitat destruction elsewhere.) But looking at this holistically, could this changed target still meet our timber needs, but, as equally important, what else could it help us work towards? If given the right support and access to land and investment, I have no doubt that a growing sector of nature-friendly farmers and crofters could go a long way to meet this annual target, whilst still producing food and local wealth to be recirculated in their communities. This is the integration of woodlands and farming. This can be done through the creation of woodier landscapes, alongside and within farmland, with native trees that do not damage other habitats or soils and through silvopasture, silvoarable and agroforestry systems including the development of woodland crofts.

Alongside the creation of livelihoods, this approach would also provide the precious habitat fragments and protection required to enable our wildlife and soils to make their slow way back to recovery.

As the consultations on delivering our agriculture and food system transitions begin, we inevitably will have to compromise on our lines in the sand. However, that should not stop the ‘what if’ questions from having a place. Nothing should be off the table.

What we decide now will have impacts lasting long into the future. Many of our threatened species have already drawn their land in the sand and this needs to be listened to.

We are calling for everyone to #RethinkFarming to support the transition to nature and people-friendly practices and to help reach net-zero.  We are aware of the pioneering practice that some land managers are already undertaking in Scotland and we would be really keen to work with the forestry industry to develop more of this. Nothing is binary when it comes to land use.

However, everything does begin with an ambitious target and the current target of 4000ha of native woodland creation, and not explicitly including agroforestry, does not feel like the level of ambition we need.

If you would like to reach out to Kirsty to discuss NFFN Scotland’s upcoming campaigns, email her via kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk

13190_71 Peatlands – our Amazon rainforest
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Written by: Jonathan Pinnick, NFFN Sustainable Lead for Northern Ireland

Peatlands are an iconic feature of the Northern Irish landscape. They perform multiple functions, including giving homes to a suite of rare, specialised forms of wildlife; storing large amounts of carbon; regulating water quality and hydrological conditions; preserving a record of our past, and providing outdoor spaces for recreation and enjoyment. They are in effect, our Amazon rainforest! However, for too long we have taken this valuable natural resource for granted.

Peatlands in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, peat soil covers approximately 12% of our land area. The raised bogs, blanket bogs and fens that make up peatland habitat have the potential to be some of the most nature-rich landscapes in the country, but as a result of decades of draining, overgrazing, burning, tree planting, and peat extraction, the majority of our peatland is in a damaged and deteriorating state. Of the 242,000 thousand hectares of peatlands in NI, an estimated 86% is degraded.

A similar pattern is found across the rest of the UK. Consequently, our peatlands overall are unable to provide their host of ecosystem benefits and are net emitters of CO2, contributing the equivalent of 5% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. This represents twice as much carbon as the tree planting targets recommended by the Committee on Climate Change are likely to capture.

In order to fully utilise the power of nature to tackle the twin climate and nature crises, it is therefore essential that we restore our peatlands.

How did we get here?

At this point you may well be asking yourself, how did we allow things to get so bad? The uncomfortable truth is that much of our peatland resource in Northern Ireland is owned or managed by farmers. However, it is ill-conceived agricultural policy, rather than any bad intent on the part of farmers that has led to much of the damage.

The current direct payment schemes created under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which account for the vast majority of agricultural subsidy support, do little to incentivise good practice or encourage farmers to view their land beyond productive output. The comparatively low payment rates which areas of actively farmed peatland attract (even through agri-environment schemes), due to their perceived lack of agricultural value, has created a legacy of poor management. Farmers have been installing drainage ditches, applying lime, fertiliser and slurry, and inappropriately grazing peatlands for decades – all in a misguided attempt to “improve” the land.

Looking ahead

A transformational change of approach to how we manage our peatlands is urgently needed. Achieving this will require a radically different system of support payments. Based upon the principal of public money for public goods, future agricultural policy must ensure that all farmers are rewarded for delivering nature-friendly farming practices and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water and air quality, and flood risk mitigation. Combined with appropriate education, support and advice, this could potentially bring about a major shift in farmers’ attitudes, as they would come to view their land as a suite of natural assets, which if carefully managed, can generate significant financial returns in addition to that which they receive for selling their produce.

We know that peatland restoration is possible through reducing (or temporarily removing) grazing pressure, covering bare peat areas with vegetation, blocking drains to raise the water table and return the waterlogged conditions and re-introducing peat-forming Sphagnum mosses into areas where they have been lost.

Restoring peatlands at a landscape scale will require time and significant government investment beyond the redirection of agricultural subsidies. However, it has cross-Departmental relevance and should be viewed as a critical component of green growth and an investment priority given its potential to create green jobs, tackle climate change, improve water quality and biodiversity and prevent flooding. Studies have shown that peatland restoration in Northern Ireland provides approximately £4 in public benefit for every £1 invested. DAERA must make the case within the NI Executive that peatland restoration is more than an ‘environmental issue’.

These arguments were central to NFFN NI’s response to the recent Northern Ireland Peatland Strategy Consultation.

13186_72 England: Farm Visits in October & November
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Book a free tour of Strickley Farm, Cannerheugh Farm or Papley Grove Farm. 

Following our Nature Means Business conference, our NFFN steering group members will be hosting farm visits across the UK. This is a great opportunity to see farming with nature in action and these tours will provide an insight into how nature can positively impact business, through reduced inputs and improved natural capital. This is also a chance to meet other like-minded nature-friendly farmers!

Farm visits are free and spaces are limited. Book your place on any of the below farm visits by emailing Alison – alison.rickett@nffn.org.uk. Name, email address and phone number will be required to book.

England Farm Tour Schedule

Strickley Farm, Cumbria – 9.30am – 1pm, 22nd October

Strickley Farm is a 145-year-old farm in Cumbria, southeast of Kendal. As an organic dairy farm, they have 300 acres made up of pastures and meadows, woodland and a pond, with some areas kept as wildlife habitats. Fields range in size from about an acre to ten acres, divided by hedges and dry stone walls.

James’ approach to supporting nature includes planting trees, leaving areas of grassland ungrazed, maintaining sensitive hedgerow management through a hedgelaying rotation every 20-25 years, and fencing off watercourses to improve water quality, so there is less silt and soil from his cattle on the banks.

Includes a light lunch.

Cannerheugh Farm, Cumbria – 10.30am – 1.30pm, 21st October

Cannerheugh Farm sits on the side of the Pennines overlooking the Lake District Fells. They rear pasture-fed cows, sheep, pigs and hens through regenerative farming approaches. Their farm business also includes glamping and accommodation. Through working with the Woodland Trust, Nic and Paul have adopted agroforestry, planting trees to produce more shelterbelts.

Includes a light lunch.

Papley Grove Farm, Cambridgeshire – 10.00pm – 1.00pm, 14th November

Come and visit the farm of NFFN’s UK Chair, Martin Lines. Papley Grove is an arable farm that grows mainly winter cereals of just over 400 acres. They also rent land and have contract farm agreements to bring the farm area up to 900 acres.  The farm is centred on an old farmstead, which dates back to at least the 11th Century. For over 10 years, Papley Grove was in the old Countryside Stewardship Scheme to try to improve the natural habitat for wildlife on the farm.  They restored many of the hedges around the fields which had previously been removed and established grass strips alongside hedges and ditches, and along field boundaries. Over this time, they saw a significant increase in wildlife, both flora and fauna. The RSPB undertook several surveys which identified the wide range of species found on the farm, including birds of high conservation concern such as turtle doves, yellow wagtails and corn buntings.

13181_73 Northern Ireland: Farm Visits in October & November
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Book a free farm tour to see Slievenacloy Nature Reserve, Mallon Farm or Portloughan Farm.

Following our Nature Means Business conference, our NFFN steering group members will be hosting farm visits across the UK. This is a great opportunity to see farming with nature in action and these tours will provide an insight into how nature can positively impact business, through reduced inputs and improved natural capital. This is also a chance to meet other like-minded nature-friendly farmers!

All farm visits are free and spaces are limited. Book your place on any of the below farm visits by emailing Jonathan – jonathan.pinnick@nffn.org.uk. Name, email address, phone number and emergency contact details will be required to book.

Northern Ireland Farm Tour Schedule

Forthouse Farm, Slievenacloy – 10am, 27th October

This farm tour offers plenty of discussion around High Nature Value (HNV) farming and ecosystem services. Across Forthouse Farm’s 120 hectares, NFFN NI’s Chair, Michael, runs a traditional ‘suckler cattle’ herd of Irish Moiled Cattle, which are a Rare Breeds Survival Trust focus species. The herd are ideally suited to graze natural grassland in a marginal setting, providing the perfect conditions for wildflowers, orchids, butterflies and moths, as well as fungi, birdlife, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Due to the species-rich grasslands and rare species found there, Fortfarm is recognised as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

Mallon Farm – 10am -12pm, Friday 5th November 

Mallon Farm is 50-acres in rural Tyrone with an ever-increasing diversity of crops, including flax (produced for fibre), oats, potatoes, apples and pears. They are the first commercial producers of Irish grown linen in forty years. During this farm visit, learn about the processing of fibre crops while enjoying a tour of traditional meadows, woodlands and mature hedgerows.

Portloughan Farm, Strangford – 10am-12pm, 2nd November 

Portloughan Farm in Strangford, Co.Down, is 80ha of arable land with forestry, rising 300 metres above sea level. David’s farming focus centres on nature-friendly approaches, including multi-species habtats, margin, wild bird cover and ponds (natural, man made and winter flooded). Along with his wife, Alison, they plant in difficult farming areas with funding from the NI Department of Agriculture’s Farm Woodland Planting Scheme. Portloughan Farm is also a TDF habitat farm and jointly won this year’s Farm Woodland Award 2021 with Royal Forestry Society.

Tea, coffee & biscuits provided.

13171_74 Cymru: Farm Visits in October
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Book a free farm tour to see Glanllyn Farm, Esgairllaethdy Farm, Henfron Farm or conservation grazing on Llanllechid common.

Following our Nature Means Business conference, our NFFN steering group members will be hosting farm visits across the UK. This is a great opportunity to see farming with nature in action and these tours will provide an insight into how nature can positively impact business, through reduced inputs and improved natural capital. This is also a chance to meet other like-minded nature-friendly farmers!

All farm visits are free and spaces are limited. Book your place on any of the below farm visits by emailing Rhys – rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk. Name, email address and phone number will be required to book.

Wales Farm Tour Schedule

Glanllyn Farm, St. Asaph, Denbighshire – 9.30am, 21st October 

Sam and Alex farm at Glanllyn Farm – a 160-acre holding comprising of 60-acres of woodland, 55-acres of permanent pasture and they rent 30-acres to a local dairy farm. Situated on the banks of the River Elwy in the Vale of Clwyd, they have an agroecological and regenerative approach to producing high-quality lamb, goats, turkeys and eggs from pasture-fed hens. The health and biodiversity of their farmland and livestock is their top priority and they have undergone flood resilience work to repair the river’s damaged banks. This is restoring valuable habitat which helps species such as moorhens and barn owls.

Esgairllaethdy, Myddfai, Carmarthenshire – 9.30am, 24th October

Esgairllaethdy is a 230-acre upland farm on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons. They graze for conservation across 50-acres, with grazing rights on the adjoining Mynydd Myddfai part of the Mynydd Du, where his cattle help manage the land for biodiversity. There are also 25 acres of native woodland. They plant thousands of trees every year in hedgerows and allow these hedges to grow up and out to provide shelter for livestock, plus food for wildlife. Farmer, Hywel, believes biodiverse-rich upland farms are underestimated for the amount of carbon they sequester through rich tapestries of grasses and mosses.

Tea, coffee and cakes on arrival.

Tyddyn Isaf & Morfa Madryn Nature Reserve, Bangor, Gwynedd – 9.30am, 30th October 

Hilary is Chair of NFFN Cymru and farms in North Wales and her main holding is a 66-acre upland farm with mountain rights on Llanllechid common. She also rents and manages the grazing on a range of SSSIs and nature reserves. Hilary is passionate about nature and wildlife and has found that it can fit into our farming system. She is keen to reduce inputs and manage the land and livestock, as naturally as possible. This tour includes a walk to look at conservation grazing at Morfa Madryn Nature Reserve.

Tea, coffee and cakes on arrival.

13157_75 Scotland: Farm Visits in October & November
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Book a free farm tour to see Peelham Farm, Balbirnie Home Farms or Williamwood Farm.

Following our Nature Means Business conference, our NFFN steering group members will be hosting farm visits across the UK. This is a great opportunity to see farming with nature in action and these tours will provide an insight into how nature can positively impact business, through reduced inputs and improved natural capital. This is also a chance to meet other like-minded nature-friendly farmers!

All farm visits are free and spaces are limited. Book your place on any of the below farm visits by emailing Kirsty – kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk. Name, email address and phone number will be required to book. Please note: booking for Peelham Farm is via their Eventbrite only.

Scotland Farm Tour Schedule

Peelham Farm, Berwickshire – morning or afternoon, 24th October

Multi-award winning Peelham is a 650-acre family-run farm located close to the Berwickshire Coast in the south-eastern Scottish Borders. It is farmed to certified Organic and Pasture-for-Life standards with an on-farm butchery and charcuterie facility. As agroecological, regenerative farmers, their motto is “love the land, love the animal, love their produce” and their philosophy is ‘sustainable self-resilience’.

They will be hosting an optional, ticketed lunch to accompany their farm tour. For booking their free tour, visit their Eventbrite. There is an option to attend in either the morning or afternoon.

Williamwood Farm, Dumfries and Galloway – time 11am-1pm, 31st October

Williamwood Farm is a 310-acre farm nestled in Dumfriesshire’s attractive countryside with views of the Solway Firth.  This award-winning farm keeps 50 Highland, Beef Shorthorn and Simmental cross cows, from which they produce 18-month-old calves for the store and breeding markets, and about 200 pedigree Lleyn ewes. They also have a small pedigree Highland pony stud. Their business model is underpinned by four on-farm self-catering cottages.

Their nature-friendly approaches include hedge planting, pond creation, nest boxes, predator control and habitat management which respects breeding birds. Tree sparrows, otters, red squirrels, lapwings, curlews, snipe, woodpeckers and brown hares are just a few of the species flourishing because of their measures.

Balbirnie Home Farms, Fife -1.30pm-4pm, 4th November 

Balbirnie has been farmed for centuries and most of the same crops are still grown today using modern farming techniques in conjunction with a varied rotation of cereals, vegetables and grass leys.  The 170-strong herd of suckler cattle spend their summers eating fresh grass and winters either outside eating forage crops and silage. This traditional mixed farm continues to provide food for the cattle and natural fertilizer for the fields.  As part of a holistic approach to environmental management, they have allowed our hedgerows to flourish and have maintained wildlife corridors between their woods.  This wildlife management has offered protection to the crops from wind and allows them to maintain their low use of insecticides and herbicides.

Kinclune Organic Farm, Angus – 10.30am, 9th November

Kinclune Organic Farm is a family farm, near Kirriemuir, and is a 1100-acre mixed upland farm. Their core business is a 105 strong, organic beef suckler herd, 100 lleyn cross ewes and a small Highland pony stud. They have been organic for 15 years and received funding from Working for Waders to improve our wetland habitat for waders. Read more about their nature-friendly approaches here.

The farm is easily accessible from the main road.  Wellies and/or waterproof trousers recommend – the walk will be a mile or two long.

13145_76 Q&A with farmer Aylwin Pillai – Scotland’s newest steering group member
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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.
13118_77 Conservative Party Conference – The Future of English Farming
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A panel discussion with NFFN’s UK Chair, Martin Lines, and Sustain’s Head of Sustainable Farming Campaign, Vicki Hird, at the Conservative Party Conference showed government interest in food and farming at an all-time high with welcomed recognition for the need to improve ELMs and a focus on better market-driven support

At the Conservative Party Conference, 3 October, Martin Lines, UK Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) and Vicki Hird, Head of Sustainable Farming Campaign at Sustain, sat on a panel discussion around the future of English farming.

Joined by Victoria Prentis MP, Chris Loder MP and Sam Hall (CEN), key topics included trade deals, investment in farmer-focused supply chains and the urgent need for clarity on future farming frameworks, but to keep the policy direction on track.

There was recognition for the need to improve ELMs and give it the budget it needs, but coming at a time when trade deals remain undefined by core standards, emphasis was placed on the urgency for greater market-driven support.

“Farmers want to confidently transition to more nature-friendly methods knowing that the right infrastructure is in place to see their ambition in environmental output be matched by fair access to the market. We need all that farming delivers to be recognisable and traceable,” says Martin.

Arguably the case was made that mandatory labelling of production would ‘even the playing field’ and give fair reward to farmers by making methods of production transparent to consumers who are eager to support farming that delivers environmental and animal welfare benefits.

With climate change impacting farms already, nature-based approaches can prove long-term resilience against the challenges ahead. Mr Lines spoke of how working with nature can reduce reliance on costly inputs, improve the ‘bottom line’ of business and create a healthier landscape fit for purpose.

But for more farmers to adopt methods of agroecology, such as agroforestry, IPM and pesticide reduction, Ms Hird argued that clear frameworks are needed, alongside an improvement to ELMs that sees schemes made as ambitious, accessible and supportive as possible. There was support for all public procurement to support UK farmers, putting sustainable, healthy food on school, hospital and armed forces’ plates.

“There has never been a more critical time to support farmers in the transition to climate and nature-friendly farming. Joining up policies that support the food system will be critical, from farm supports, to supply chains and infrastructure, to a trade policy that drives high standards everywhere.  All of this can be done with the right incentives, strong advisory support and help in the transition,” says Vicki.

Martin added: “With the current climate and nature emergencies, business as usual isn’t an option.  If the government gets this right, then we have a farming system that produces goods and services that the market needs while recovering biodiversity and tackling climate change.”

“We can’t miss this opportunity to secure future government schemes that fix the flaws of BPS, alongside options for blended private finance. It’s a chance to deliver the best of what farming can for nutritional security, public benefit and environmental health.”

The event was sponsored by Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, CLEAR, RSPB and Sustain.

Jimmy Woodrow, Executive Director, Pasture-Fed Livestock Association said: “There are so many positive things happening on the ground at the moment, both within our network and those of our partner organisations. What is needed from the government is a vision and supportive framework to encourage this to happen at scale. We can’t expect farmers in the UK to follow without the right set of incentives in place. Pasture for Life, Organic and Biodynamic are excellent examples of systems where the government’s desired outcomes are already being delivered and they should be overtly supported in future farm planning. If not now, when?”

Fidelity Weston, Chair of CLEAR – The Consortium for Labelling for the Environment, Animal welfare and Regenerative agriculture says: “We have a once in a generation opportunity, as the Government has announced its intention to call for evidence on better labelling, for the consumer to understand more about how their food is produced. This will directly link consumers with farmers and help to mitigate the substantial confusion that currently exists over the proliferation of voluntary schemes. So long as it is possible not to label food, even the voluntary schemes will remain confusing.  Mandatory labelling is cost-effective, technically possible and can lead on helping the Government to secure its commitment to the 25-year environment plan. It provides the interface so the consumer-driven market can support and drive change in farming systems. It will restore much-needed trust in labelling.”

Stephanie Morren, senior policy officer at RSPB said: “The UK’s new environmental land management schemes have the potential to play a huge role in reversing wildlife loss and reaching climate change targets. The aims of the scheme need to be clear so that farmers know they will be rewarded for the contribution they make and supported to adapt their businesses. Ensuring the schemes deliver the win-wins, such as reduced reliance on pesticides and improving soil health will benefit farmers, as well as tackling the nature and climate crisis we face.”

13039_78 Nature Means Business Conference
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Right now farm businesses are facing a multitude of challenges: climate change, unpredictable weather patterns, changes to future farm payment schemes and adjusting to new consumer demands. But as research shows, farm businesses can improve resilience by utilising the most powerful asset at their disposal: nature.

Post-war, the focus was on the volume of food production and a “dig for victory” mindset saw decades of farming intensification sweep the UK. Since then, it has been encouraged that higher levels of production can be linked to improved farm profitability, but often the role of nature has not been examined in the context of the wider farm system. In many ways, farming became divorced from the natural assets it relies on. As a result, nature has been viewed as an additional burden to be managed rather than brought in as an integral partner in the farm business.

Now, in the throes of a climate and nature emergency, there is a call on farming to work with nature so it can secure profitability, resilience and a thriving natural environment.

Nature Means Business is a farming approach based on recent studies that have shown that farm business profitability could be inextricably linked to nature. This research has shown that farmers continuously working with high-input high-output systems often experience less profit or are unable to break even financially.

If we get the balance between food production and nature right, then we get the best value from our landscape and farm businesses can be more profitable as a result.

Join us for an all-day online conference on 19 October. This will be an immersive educational experience for farmers to learn the fundamental basics of working with nature. This conference aims to give you the tools to analyse your business, so you can implement a framework for valuing your natural assets and improving profitability.

View our conference schedule or book your ticket here. Following the conference, there will be in-person farm visits across the UK. More detail to follow soon.

For more information on Nature Means Business, including the research into Maximum Sustainable Output (MSO) visit our resources page here.

13008_79 NI Rural Policy Framework Consultation Response
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What is the consultation?

In Northern Ireland, DAERA opened a consultation around the development of their Rural Policy Framework, which aims to create a sustainable rural community where people want to live,
work and be active. We see this as an excellent step towards creating sustainable rural communities.    

How does this involve farming?

With just over a third of Northern Ireland’s population living in rural areas, and rural areas making up 80% of Northern Ireland’s landmass, there is a clear requirement for any future rural development to put the environment at its core.

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We support the overarching aim of creating ‘a sustainable rural community where people want to live, work and be active’, however, this will only happen if the environment is a central pillar to this overarching aim.

The aim must also be framed within the context of a changing food and farming landscape. Agriculture accounts for 75% of all land use in Northern Ireland and is the backbone of the rural economy. For example, any changes to rural development policy must be consistent with the new funding model that will replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Our position is that future agricultural policy should be based on the concept of public money for public goods, with payment schemes that are sufficient in supporting farmers to enhance the natural environment and promote prosperous and resilient rural communities. 

This aligns with the key outcomes presented in the Future Agricultural Policy Framework, which talks about recognising and rewarding public goods provided by farmers and making agri-environment a core element of future policy.

NFFN believes that it is essential that the Rural Policy Framework commits to providing an environment in which rural innovation is encouraged and appropriately supported.

We agree that developing and maintaining a sustainable rural tourism sector in Northern Ireland can play an important role in ensuring the long-term prosperity and vitality of our rural communities. We welcome the inclusion of the environment as a priority area of intervention within tourism, but this should be approached with care. Sustainable growth within the sector must be achieved through a clear set of boundaries to prevent extractive tourism.

What’s next?

It is vital for the Rural Policy Framework to acknowledge the challenges faced by farmers and the wider rural population, and the impact that this can have on health and wellbeing. Structures should be created for the provision of local services and support within rural communities to address issues of social exclusion, isolation and loneliness.

Read our consultation response here.

12908_80 NFFN’s Nikki Yoxall wins in Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards
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NFFN Scotland Steering Group member, Nikki Yoxall, and her partner, James, graze beef cattle in trees at Howemill, Huntly, and were winners in the Young People’s Farm Woodland Award. The awards are supported by SAC Consulting and Scottish Woodlands Ltd.

James and Nikki were praised by judges for their “highly impressive approach to setting up a grazing system where few would even consider it possible” at Howemill Farm in Aberdeenshire. They said it was “a wonderful example of a unique integration of trees and farming” on the Yoxalls’ own 7 hectares and through grazing agreements with neighbours on a further 32 hectares.

The judges concluded: “This business will go from strength to strength and is to be held up as a great example of “it’s not what you hae, but what you do with what you hae”.

Nikki said the trees gave their cattle shelter all year round – offering shade in summer and shelter in winter. “This means the cattle can live outside all year with minimal inputs and we can produce fantastic beef in a way that is totally harmonious with the natural surroundings,” she added. See video here.

We grabbed Nikki for a quick Q&A on her farm woodland approach…

What woodlands do you have on your farm?

We have around 11 acres of woodland on our own holding which is a mix of older birch woodland and more recently planted mixed native woodland. As graziers, we work with a range of landowners and about 80% of our grazing is in mixed native woodland and wood pasture.

What biodiversity and wildlife habits have these woodlands created?

Woodlands offer a range of biodiversity benefits – nesting habitat for birds and bats, huge numbers of insects helping to cycle nutrients from deadwood, as well as foxes, badgers, red squirrels and pine martens. We have noticed an increase in woodland floor flowering plants since we have been grazing through the woodlands, and this year we have found nesting woodcock in our cattle grazed woodlands which was really exciting.

How does your silvopasture system fit into the bigger picture of your farm business?

Silvopasture is absolutely central to our farm business. Trees enable us to graze outside all year round by providing excellent shelter in winter, which is critical in NE Scotland. Year-round grazing means our cattle are healthier, costs are lower and we are providing winter manure to help feed bugs like dung beetles and other soil microbes. This helps us maintain soil and wider ecosystem health.

Moving forward in Scotland, how do you think future woodland planting can maximise outcomes for both nature and farm business?

We have big tree planting targets in Scotland, which is great, but we need to make sure this incorporates ‘right tree, right place’ and that support is available for farmers and crofters to understand, plan and fund agroforestry projects on their land. In addition, there are plenty of field edges and corners that are less productive but would be ideal tree planting ground on every farm.

If you want to learn more about nature-friendly farming in Scotland, email Kirsty at kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk

12750_81 What Nature Friendly Farming means to us at Balbirnie Home Farms
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Written by: Johnnie Balfour

At Balbirnie Home Farms, we farm a large mixed lowland farm in Fife, Scotland, with combinable crops, vegetables, cattle and forestry.  Our aim over the past few years has been to regenerate the soil and to work with nature to provide the nutrients our plants need to grow as well as integrating our enterprises as much as possible.  We use the principles of regenerative agriculture to guide our decision making.

Reduce disturbance

We reduce tillage as much as possible to keep the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil alive and we are reducing chemical disturbance across the farm too including no insecticides and only 1 fungicide on 1 of our 4 combinable crops.  This all keeps the soil more active and provides food for wildlife further up the food chain.

Keep the soil covered

Soil erosion kills life.  By keeping the soil covered, soil erosion is reduced and life can flourish.  We do not plough and reseed our pastures anymore meaning that our pastures are always covered.  Anecdotally, we see more birds when walking around the cattle.

Living roots

Living roots in the soil exchange nutrients and contribute to the life of the soil.  We have broadcast seeds into our cereal crops which are growing at the bottom when the crop is harvested.  This relay of growing plants means that we can harvest more sunlight and water and contribute to increasing the soil life.

Photo by Johnnie Balfour

Diversity

We have increased the length of our rotation and the number of break crops over the last few years.  This has given us better temporal diversity.  In addition, we have changed the way that we graze our pastures which has given us better structural diversity between paddocks.  Finally, we have grown companion crops with our cash crops as well as multi-species cover crops which have given us better spatial diversity throughout the fields.  All of these practices increase the habitats available for wildlife and the food available for insects and pollinators.

Integrate livestock

Over the past few decades, our cattle have been marginalised to less productive fields while arable fields have intensively grown crops every year.  We have re-introduced short term leys and forage crops to our arable rotation so that cattle can be used to fertilise the fields and cycle the nutrients.  This brings different wildlife to different parts of the farm and contributes to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Above photo by Graeme Mowat at Cinecosse

These environmental practices would not be worthwhile if they were not profitable for the business and many involve spending less money by allowing nature to do some of the work that we used to do from a bag.  This holistic approach means that economic net margins are maintained, and in some cases, improved due to the savings in overheads particularly on sheds and winter feed for cattle.  Nature-friendly farming means business-friendly farming to us.

12755_82 NI Peatland Strategy Consultation Response
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What is the consultation?

In Northern Ireland, DAERA opened a consultation around the development of their Peatland Strategy and we see this as a crucial first step towards protecting, restoring and enhancing our peatland habitats and peat soils for their nature value and carbon sequestration potential.

Why should nature-friendly farming be concerned?

Restoring peatland has huge benefits to the natural environment, including providing diverse habitats, natural flood prevention and carbon storage. If Northern Ireland is to take serious steps towards reaching a future net-zero target, then peatland restoration is crucial.

Approximately 12% of Northern Ireland is covered by peat, but for decades, NI’s peatlands have been exploited.  It is estimated that around 86% is in a degraded state due to drainage, overgrazing, afforestation, burning and extraction. A complete and enforced phasing out of all peat extraction in Northern Ireland is essential and we believe the Government must lead the way on this issue.

In the midst of the twin climate and nature crises, we think it is imperative to stop peat extraction on publicly owned land, including no new licenses for peat extraction being be granted or extended and any existing licenses being revoked.

What are the NFFN’s key recommendations?

We believe that the wording of the draft strategy does not demonstrate the levels of ambition, urgency or commitment that will be essential if we are to deliver a landscape-scale recovery of our peatland resource in Northern Ireland.

As part of the drive to combat the global emergencies of nature loss and climate change, the peatland strategy should give a stronger commitment to restoration and enhancement, including an ambitious overarching target for all peatlands to be “well managed” for their peatland biodiversity and ecosystem function by 2040.

The NFFN recommends that the strategy and its associated targets should be embedded within the policies and programmes resulting from a future Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill and subsequent Climate Action Plan, as well as any future review of the WANE Act.

We think a mix of funding from public and private (as well as EU and other external funding sources) will be required if we are to deliver ambitious, large-scale peatland restoration across the country. For this to be achievable, the Government needs to show real leadership by allocating significant sums of public funding to deliver peatland restoration.

What’s next?

Fundamental reform of agricultural policy is essential if we are to effectively address the threats to our peatlands and begin restoring them to their natural state. The historically low payment rates which areas of actively farmed peatland have attracted (even through agri-environment schemes), due to their perceived lack of agricultural value, has created a legacy of poor management.

Future agricultural policy must ensure that all farmers are rewarded for delivering nature-friendly farming practices and environmental public goods such as carbon sequestration, water and air quality, and flood risk mitigation. This will need to be combined with the provision of appropriate education, support and advice to farmers.

Read our consultation response here.

12671_83 NFFN NI: David Sandford wins joint Farm Woodland Award 2021 with Royal Forestry Society
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NFFN steering group member, David Sandford, has jointly won the Royal Forestry Society’s Small & Farm Woodland Award 2021 which was open to entries from Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Wales.

David farms at Portloughan Farm in Strangford, Co.Down, and his 80ha of arable land with forestry is typically on rocky outcrops and steep slopes rising 300 metres above sea level.

David, previously the NI Chair of the NFFN NI, has a farming focus that centres on nature-friendly approaches. Along with his wife, Alison, the couple set out to undertake a comprehensive planting and woodland rejuvenation scheme around 25 years ago. They planted in difficult farming areas with funding from the NI Department of Agriculture’s Farm Woodland Planting Scheme.

David says: “With this particular planting, we decided to learn from all our previous mistakes and really plan properly for what we wanted to achieve. We wanted a warm wood, well-populated with shrubs and undergrowth, that would be a haven for wildlife and that could grow good timber to also have firewood from thinnings.”

“We surrounded the wood with a hedge to add to the aesthetic appeal and to keep the wood warm. It is also a fantastic source of food & nesting for small birds – comprising hawthorn, guelder rose, rosa rugosa, privet and blackthorn. We left a strip in the centre unplanted to provide open space and sunlight, which makes the perfect conditions for native wildlife.”

The judges of the Small & Farm Woodland Award were impressed by how David has shared the benefits of their farm’s forestry with a wider audience, including giving evidence to a Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly and becoming a Farm Habitat demonstration farm to showcase what can be achieved through agri-environment schemes. Previously, David was the Purdey Gold Award Winner 2016 and the Northern Ireland Wildlife Farmer of the Year 2016.

David says: “We are delighted to win this award and to be acknowledged for the hard work that went into establishing this woodland on our farm. Being a RFS member for 15 years, the society has been a great source of information and advice, which has furthered my knowledge at every step and made this woodland possible.”

Impressively, David has created at home for resident barn owls to nest, an endangered species in Northern Ireland, and he credits this to his mixed species woodland which provides suitable habitat for diverse species and helps barn owls to thrive.

David says: “The right tree in the right place is important when it comes to tree planting. If you plant the wrong tree in an unsuitable environment, you could have a negative knock-on effect to existing biodiversity. It’s important that any farmers planning woodland get advice from people who have done it before, so they get the right desired outcome that is fit for purpose.”

If you are passionate about farming with nature, become a free NFFN member or contact Jonathan at jonathan.pinnick@nffn.org.uk to hear more about our upcoming plans in Northern Ireland.

12620_84 Scotland sets its agenda for climate and nature action
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The Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party coalition are preparing to deliver on their manifesto to support farmers to produce more of our own food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature after the first steps have been taken towards a National Policy.

The SNP-Greens coalition draft policy programme is set to put Scotland in a favourable position just at the onset of COP26 with a transformative climate and nature agenda that puts farming and crofting at its core. The document outlines a commitment to a new Nature Environment Bill from 2023 and a new Bill to replace the current Common Agricultural Policy framework for agriculture and land use support.

A transition to nature-friendly agriculture

The NFFN welcomes much of the coalition’s proposed developments, including:

  • targets on restoring wildlife and nature declines by 2030;
  • targets on lowering emissions and achieving carbon sequestration, where carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in soil or plants.;
  • the provision of a new support framework for delivering climate mitigation and nature restoration;
  • funding to support land management that delivers public benefits under climate and nature outcomes;
  • the objective to support rural communities alongside nature-based solutions

These developments would enable farmers, crofters and land managers to transition towards more climate- and nature-friendly systems that are proven to deliver on climate mitigation, carbon storage and biodiversity recovery, at the same time as producing high-quality and sustainable food.

Collectively moving forward

On 25th August, Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, wrote:

We all know we have to change the way we farm, produce our food and use our land and I am confident that we will be able to collectively deliver and ensure Scottish farming maintains its world leading credentials in an ever-changing environment.”

This way of collectively moving forward has been put in action through the opening of the Agriculture in Transition consultation and the set-up of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) to help Government develop new proposals for sustainable farming support. This will play a crucial role in driving forward the recommendations made by Farmer Led Groups.

Farmer Led Groups were established across all sectors- suckler beef, arable, hill, upland and crofting, dairy and the Scottish pig industry- with the aim of developing advice and practical recommendations to help drive the change needed to help us meet these challenges.” 

This participative, citizen-centred approach gives an excellent opportunity to have the needs of nature-friendly farmers and crofters heard during the creation of future agricultural policies and we look forward to participating in the process.

Good news for the NFFN

We are delighted that Nikki Yoxall, a NFFN Scotland steering group member, has been appointed to a position on the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board and will advocate for the best outcomes for nature-friendly farming, including highlighting what farmers need to make change possible.

Nikki says: “I am delighted to have been invited to join the board and am looking forward to supporting the work to shape future Agriculture policy in Scotland. Collectively, we are at a critical point in history where we have an opportunity to take action to address climate change and biodiversity loss, with farmers, crofters and land managers having a key role to play in that challenge.”

What’s next?

While the NFFN supports woodland creation targets of 18,000 hectares per year by 2024/25, we would like to see a better balance between commercial woodland and native woodland, with a higher percentage for annual native woodland creation, which is currently set at 4,000 hectares per year, within the overall target. NFFN Scotland are in favour of a better-balanced mix within commercial plantations, so we have a diversity of habitat and tree species providing a mixed landscape alongside timber production.

Practices for integrating tree planting with farming can bring multiple benefits to farmers alongside contributing to Government objectives. Agroforestry – whether as trees with crops or livestock – can improve soil, water and air quality, store carbon, create more space for wildlife habitats, increase productivity by improving conditions for livestock and plants, and offer diverse income streams by offering alternative products to market, such as fruit or nuts.

The Farming for 1.5 report, an independent inquiry on farming and climate change in Scotland, encourages a multifaceted farming landscape where forestry has its rightful place. The report calls for 6,000ha per year within the overall tree planting target and suggests a dedicated 10-year programme with a budget for farmers and crofters to deliver agroforestry. It also proposes effective measures to ensure biodiversity net gain is measured alongside net carbon storage in forestry applications over 20 hectares – a recommendation we fully endorse as a means of balancing the outcomes for both climate and nature. The report proposes that a public interest test be applied if more than 50% of a holding is planned to be afforested – an approach NFFN Scotland believe to be a positive step in evaluating the needs of our landscape.

We plan to encourage the adoption of these recommendations to the Government and to showcase why these proposals will greatly deliver on what the Government has outlined in their draft policy programme.

For farmers and crofters, Mairi Gougeon has announced that early action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will take shape as quickly as possible through the roll-out of funding to farms and crofts to progress to net-zero. This will set in motion the plan to reduce emissions by 31% from current levels by 2032, as outlined in the Climate Change Plan Update in December 2020.

These measures are shaped around the key issues highlighted by Farmer Led Groups with an early focus on livestock emissions. The groups noted the importance of woodland, agroforestry and hedgerows, plus peatland and wetland restoration, in successful carbon sequestration. Key to the adoption of these practices is the message from farmers and crofters that the right tree in the right place is vital in achieving the best returns for both climate and nature simultaneously.

How can NFFN members get involved?

We will fully engage in all upcoming processes, including responding to the Agriculture Transition consultation due 17th November. We will keep our members updated as to how you can support our advocacy around nature-friendly systems that can help to deliver on the Scottish Government’s climate and nature ambitions.

What is central to making this transition as accessible and inclusive for all of Scotland’s farmers, crofters and land managers is demonstrating best practice through those already delivering in these areas. For Government targets to be achievable, collaboration between farmers and crofters will be necessary for evolving the role of a farmer to one where environmental stewardship is integral.

Sign up to become a NFFN member for free and receive updates to your inbox.

Read more on the NFFN’s position on net-zero farming here.

Watch Nikki talk through the benefits of agroforestry on her farm in Aberdeenshire.

12595_85 Cymru: Plannu Coed a Newid Hinsawdd…Rhaid Troedio’n Ofalus
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Gan: Rhys Evans, Prif Swyddog Ffermio Cynaliadwy Rhwydwaith Ffermio Er Lles Natur Cymru

Ar 12fed o Orffennaf 2021, cyhoeddodd Llywodraeth Cymru gynlluniau i greu coetir yng Nghymru. Mae Datganiad y Cabinet gan Lee Waters AS, y Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd, yn amlinellu’r angen i blannu 43,000ha o goetir newydd erbyn 2030 a 180,000ha erbyn 2050.

Er mwyn hwyluso plannu coed, mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi lansio’r Cynllun Grant Buddsoddi mewn Coetir (TWIG). Bydd y cynllun hwn yn darparu grantiau i wella ac ehangu coetiroedd presennol a chreu coetiroedd newydd yng Nghymru yn unol â Safon Coedwigaeth y DU.

Yn ôl yr adroddiad: “Mae plannu mwy o goed yn hanfodol i osgoi newid trychinebus yn yr hinsawdd a gall esgor hefyd ar amrywiaeth eang o fanteision i Gymru, gan gynnwys creu swyddi ‘gwyrdd’, helpu i daclo’r argyfwng natur, gwella lles a lleihau problemau llifogydd ac ansawdd aer. Bydd llawer o’r coed a blennir yn dod yn rhan o’r Goedwig Genedlaethol newydd i Gymru.”

Pwyntiau allweddol:

  • Plannu 43,000 hectar o goetir newydd erbyn 2030, a 180,000 hectar erbyn 2050.
  • Cymunedau, ffermwyr a pherchenogion tir ym mhob rhan o Gymru fydd yn plannu’r rhan fwyaf o’r coetir newydd, nid Llywodraeth Cymru.
  • Bydd Llywodraeth Cymru yn ceisio osgoi plannu ar dir sydd fwyaf cynhyrchiol i ffermwyr.
  • Ar ffermydd, mae angen nid yn unig i blannu coetiroedd newydd ond hefyd plannu perthi ac ymylon, megis coed ar hyd ffiniau caeau, coed gwasgaredig a lleiniau cysgodi.
  • Mae Llywodraeth Cymru wedi ymrwymo £17m i blannu coed dros y ddwy flynedd nesaf drwy gynllun Creu Coetir Glastir. Bydd cyfnod ymgeisio newydd yn dechrau cyn gynted â phosibl er mwyn i fwy fedru ceisio am yr arian hwn a sicrhau bod y gyllideb lawn yn cael ei gwario.
  • Bydd angen sicrhau bod unrhyw newidiadau i’r cymorth ar gyfer creu coetiroedd yn gyson â’r Cynllun Ffermio Cynaliadwy arfaethedig.
  • Mae’n bwysig bod coed a choetiroedd yn cael eu rheoli’n dda ar ôl eu plannu a bod ein coetiroedd a’n coed hynafol yn cael eu diogelu a’u gwarchod.
  • Bydd bod yn sero net, yn enwedig yn y sector adeiladu, yn golygu defnyddio llawer mwy o bren yng Nghymru. Mae yna wir gyfle i broseswyr a gweithgynhyrchwyr pren yng Nghymru gyfrannu at ‘economi bren’ yng Nghymru.
  • Bydd Llywodraeth Cymru yn sefydlu gweithgor i ystyried modelau i ddenu buddsoddiad i greu coetiroedd heb amharu ar gymunedau a phatrymau perchenogaeth tir.

Does dim dwywaith bod coed yn chwarae rhan hanfodol wrth fynd i’r afael â’r argyfwng natur a hinsawdd – mae coetiroedd yn ein gallu i wrthsefyll yn well y newid yn yr hinsawdd a gallent greu tirwedd llawn natur sy’n fuddiol i dir fferm a bywyd gwyllt. Ond, o edrych yn fanylach ar gynnig y Llywodraeth, mae ei nod yn golygu y bydd angen plannu o leiaf 5,000ha y flwyddyn. Llynedd, dim ond 290 o hectarau gafodd eu plannu yng Nghymru ac nid oes mwy na 2,000 o hectarau wedi’u plannu mewn unrhyw flwyddyn ers 1975. O’i chymharu â hynny, mae’r nod hon yn dra uchelgeisiol a gallai ei chyflwyno ar raddfa mor fawr arwain at ganlyniadau anfwriadol os na weithredir yn ofalus.

 

Beth yw’r goblygiadau?

Gyda dros 80% o dir y wlad yn cael ei reoli gan ffermwyr, gall y sector ddisgwyl chwarae rhan ganolog wrth gyflenwi’r gwaith o blannu coed ac nid yw’n syndod bod rhai am droedio’n ofalus. Yr hyn nad yw llawer o ffermwyr yn amau yw bod angen mwy o goed yn ein tirwedd er mwyn mynd i’r afael â’r argyfwng natur a’r hinsawdd – ond dim ond rhan o’r ateb yw plannu coed.

Dylid rhoi ystyriaeth gyfartal i gynefinoedd amaethyddol eraill sy’n llawn carbon fel gwrychoedd, rhostiroedd, mawndiroedd, glaswelltiroedd llawn rhywogaethau, dolydd gwair a gwyndonnydd amlrywogaeth. Fel y mae ar hyn o bryd, mae mawndiroedd diraddiedig y DU yn allyrru mwy o garbon nag y gallai hyd yn oed targedau plannu coed mwyaf uchelgeisiol Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd y DU eu dal a’u storio. Oni ddylai Llywodraeth Cymru fod yr un mor daer a chynnig yr un flaenoriaeth i adfer ein mawndiroedd? Oni fyddai gosod targedau ar gyfer adfer dolydd gwair a glaswelltiroedd llawn rhywogaethau yng Nghymru yn ategiad gwell i greu coetir? Ar hyn o bryd, nid yw’r naill weithred na’r llall yn cael eu hannog gan dargedau ledled y wlad.

O ran plannu coed, mae’n rhaid i ni blannu’r goeden iawn yn y man iawn ac osgoi bwrw ati ag agwedd ffwrdd-â-hi a allai effeithio’n negyddol ar fioamrywiaeth werthfawr. Er enghraifft, arweiniodd polisïau a ysgogodd cynnydd mewn cynhyrchu coed yn y wlad hon yn dilyn y Rhyfeloedd Byd at ddarnau mawr o dirwedd Cymru yn cael eu dominyddu gan goedwigaeth fasnachol, a gafodd effaith anfwriadol ar fywyd gwyllt. Mae’r planhigfeydd masnachol hyn, sydd fel arfer yn cael eu dominyddu gan y befrwydden Sitka anfrodorol, yn amlach na pheidio o werth bioamrywiaeth cyfyngedig. Ac i wneud pethau’n waeth, plannwyd miloedd o hectarau fel coedwigoedd un rhywogaeth ar gynefinoedd bywyd gwyllt yn yr ucheldir. Yn sicr, cyfrannodd hyn at golli 44% o’n gweundiroedd yr ucheldir rhwng y 1940au a diwedd yr 1980au.

Gall coetiroedd sydd wedi’u plannu mewn mannau amhriodol hefyd effeithio ar rai o’n hadar mwyaf eiconig. Mae’r gylfinir, rhywogaeth sydd dan fygythiad difrifol yng Nghymru, yn tueddu i beidio â nythu o fewn 200m i goedwigaeth gan fod yn well ganddyn nhw dirweddau agored, tra bod y cynnydd ym mhoblogaethau ysglyfaethwyr (yn enwedig llwynogod a brain) sy’n gysylltiedig â choedwigaeth yn effeithio ar y nifer o gywion sy’n goroesi. Weithiau, mae’r gwrthwyneb i blannu coed yn fwy priodol ar gyfer cyfrannu at y darlun ehangach o liniaru newid hinsawdd ac adfer natur, lle dylem fod yn torri coed i lawr ar fawndiroedd neu leiniau cysgodi (shelter belts) ger ardaloedd sy’n cael eu defnyddio gan adar sy’n nythu ar y ddaear.

Sut gall ffermio a chreu coetir gydfodoli?

Ar fy fferm deuluol yn Rhyd-y-main ger Dolgellau mae gennym yn agos at 750 erw o dir uchel a mynyddig. Mae gennym goetir sydd wedi’i bori’n ysgafn sy’n caniatáu i arlleg gwyllt a chlychau’r gog ffynnu a, thrwy eu rheoli fel hyn, y mae adar fel y gwybedog brith a’r tingoch yn gallu nythu yma.

Rydyn ni wedi ffensio tir serth anghynhyrchiol i helpu i leihau llifogydd, gwella’r pridd, storio carbon ac i fod o fudd i fywyd gwyllt. Rydym wedi mabwysiadu system coedamaeth ar rai o’n caeau, lle mae coed parcdir a da byw sy’n pori yn bodoli ochr yn ochr.

System coedamaeth: plannu coed mewn tiroedd pori da byw i hybu gwerth naturiol a masnachol trwy gynnig cysgod a lloches i dda byw mewn tywydd garw a darparu maetholion iddynt.

Mae coed ar wasgar ar draws y ffridd yn creu cynefin gwerthfawr i fywyd gwyllt ac rydym yn sicrhau bod gennym dirweddau agored ar ein rhostir a’n dolydd gwair, fel y gallant storio carbon a chynnig lleoliadau allweddol i fioamrywiaeth ffynnu.

Er ein bod yn croesawu cynlluniau sy’n cefnogi ac yn gwobrwyo ffermwyr am blannu coed, gwrychoedd, lleiniau cysgodi a hwyluso aildyfiant coetir yn naturiol – mae angen dulliau holistig arnom o fynd i’r afael â newid yn yr hinsawdd. Mae angen i ni sicrhau bod ein hymdrechion i fynd i’r afael â newid yn yr hinsawdd hefyd o fudd i fywyd gwyllt, ffermwyr a’n cymunedau gwledig.

Hoffwn glywed eich barn ynghylch targedau plannu coed diweddar Llywodraeth Cymru. Ydych chi wedi’ch cyffroi? Yn bryderus? Yn wyliadwrus? Gadewch imi wybod beth yw eich barn chi …rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk

Lluniau: Rhys Evans

12568_86 Wales: Have Your Say on the Welsh Government’s Agricultural Pollution Regulations
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NFFN Cymru will be responding to an upcoming consultation and we would like to invite our members to contribute their views and comments.

The Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee is gathering views on The Welsh Government’s new regulations to control agricultural pollution.

The Committee would welcome views on the following questions:

  • the positive aspects of the current all-Wales approach;
  • the negative aspects of the current all-Wales approach;
  • the process for developing the current approach;
  • the alternatives to the current approach; and
  • if an all-Wales approach were to be retained, how the current approach could be improved.

Please send any comments and thoughts on this consultation to rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk by 7 September 2021.

For more information regarding the Regulations, please click here.

 

Dweud eich dweud ynglŷn â Rheoliadau Llygredd Amaethyddol Llywodraeth Cymru

Mae Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig yn casglu barn ar reoliadau llygredd amaethyddol Llywodraeth Cymru.

Byddai’r Pwyllgor yn croesawu sylwadau ar y cwestiynau canlynol:

  • yr agweddau cadarnhaol ar y dull Cymru gyfan cyfredol;
  • yr agweddau negyddol ar y dull Cymru gyfan cyfredol;
  • y broses ar gyfer datblygu’r dull cyfredol;
  • y dewisiadau amgen i’r dull cyfredol; a
  • pe bai dull Cymru gyfan yn cael ei gadw, sut y gellid gwella’r dull cyfredol.

Bydd y Rhwydwaith yn ymateb i’r ymgynghoriad.  Er mwyn siapio ein ymateb dymunwn glywed barn ein haelodau. Gyrrwch eich sylwadau at rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk erbyn 7fed Medi 2021.

Am fwy o wybodaeth ynglŷn â’r Rheoliadau, gwasgwch yma.

12555_87 Net-Zero Farming Solutions for Climate Action
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Written by: Jonathan Pinnick, NFFN Sustainable Lead for Northern Ireland

As I write this blog, large parts of the area where I live in County Fermanagh lie underwater, following several days of fairly incessant, heavy rain. People’s homes and businesses have been inundated, and roads blocked by floodwaters, threatening livelihoods and causing untold stress and anxiety for those affected. 

Whilst out for a walk in the countryside yesterday, during a brief interlude in the deluge, I came across numerous fields that had been transformed into lakes, where cattle would have been happily grazing just a few short days ago. 

Meanwhile, on the news, we hear of the terrible wildfires ravaging parts of Greece, in tinder-dry conditions that have persisted in the region throughout the summer. These two examples are just the latest in a string of similar incidents that have occurred in recent months across the globe. And the chief suspect behind these seemingly ever-increasing extreme events – climate change.

Working together 

The science behind climate change and the role that we, as humans, have played in destabilising our planet’s weather patterns and long-term climatic conditions are thankfully now virtually universally accepted. This shared understanding of the scale of the threat we face means that we are now in a position to take radical action to address this global challenge. 

However, the questions of how quickly we shift towards a net-zero future and how this will be funded are still bones of contention. Reaching an international consensus on these issues will be critical to the success or failure of the upcoming COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. The release of the first of a series of reports by the IPCC, warning of the dire consequences of our continued inaction, will prove to be something of a wake-up call.

In 2019, the UK Climate Change Committee estimated that agriculture accounted for almost 30% of Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. The farming sector is in a pretty unique position – being one of the industries that has arguably contributed most to causing climate change – but at the same time has the greatest potential for providing solutions to this existential problem.

Farming’s potential 

Technology will undoubtedly provide some of the answers through the increasing supply of renewable energy, low or no emission farm vehicles or carbon and methane capture and storage devices. However, there is a whole suite of cost-effective measures that farmers can employ to not only reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but also to lock away carbon on their farms. 

Emissions reduction measures, depending on the nature of the farm enterprise, can include but are not limited to: 

  • improving slurry/manure storage and spreading methods
  • optimising nitrogen fertiliser application
  • minimising the use of concentrated feed mixes
  • adopting a minimum or no-till approach
  • growing cover crops
  • minimising or eliminating the use of pesticide products in favour of an integrated pest management approach
  • reducing stocking density matching the carrying capacity of the land

Nature means business

Whilst employing some or all of these measures may result in yield reductions, the associated cost savings would in many cases offset these, enabling farmers to maintain their profit margins whilst reducing their carbon footprint. This is a framework that our England Chair, Chris Clark, has captured through his work on MSO (maximum sustainable output) – where farmers work to achieve MSO and get maximum returns for nature and business as a result. We have a Nature Means Business conference coming up on 19th October, when we’ll explore the “less is more” approach with workshops and discussions on working with nature to the mutual benefit of farming viability. More on this coming soon, but until then, check out our Nature Means Business report to learn more about MSO.

By adopting nature-friendly farming practices such as hedgerow planting, agroforestry, peatland or species-rich grassland restoration, or wetland creation, farmers have the potential to transform their businesses from being ‘net carbon emitters’ to ‘net carbon sequesters’.

Climate action closer to home

NFFN NI recently responded to the AERA committee’s consultation on the Private Members Climate Change Bill, calling for a net-zero emissions target for agriculture and associated land management across Northern Ireland by 2045. We recognise that this is a very ambitious target and is counter to the UK Climate Change Committee’s opinion that an 82% reduction by 2050 would be a stretch. However, we believe that the more ambitious target of net-zero by 2045 is appropriate given the urgency of the situation that we find ourselves in and is likely to drive more rapid changes within the agricultural industry and other land management sectors.

As an industry we have many of the solutions at our fingertips – what’s needed now is decisive political leadership, practical and financial support for farmers in Northern Ireland, the UK and across the world to make shifting to a net-zero farming future a reality. 

12514_88 Updates from Scotland: Pollinators, IPCC & Farming Together
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Written by: Kirsty Tait, NFFN Sustainable Lead for Scotland

‘Butterflies and moths!’ – we exclaim when we finally spot one. We urge the kids to look and tell us what colours and patterns they see. But despite our hard efforts, we didn’t spot many when we visited our tenanted family farm in Scotland. There has been a noticeable decline of butterflies and moths in our landscape and spotting them now has become a special occasion.

Last month’s team visit to Cambridgeshire was a memorable experience, owing to the spectacular display of pollinators on the farm of our UK Chair, Martin Lines, including at nearby Hope Farm.  There were hundreds of butterflies and moths working hard to help pollinate crops, working alongside many other insects and bugs who have a home on these nature-friendly farms. Fields were humming with life and buzzing with the sounds of busy pollinators and it fondly takes me back to my memories of harvest time as a child. Sadly, the air feels thinner with their growing loss.

The recent publications of the UN’s IPCC report – the first major review of our climate since 2013 – states the change in our climate as “unequivocal”. The report states that the Gulf Stream – upon which all farmers and crofters in Scotland rely upon – is weakening and it spells out an urgency for action that the world can surely no longer ignore

Before joining the NFFN as Sustainable Lead for Scotland, I worked with rural and urban communities, and in land-use, for two decades and I know all too well that we need solutions where humans and nature can thrive together. Farming with nature is a chance to mitigate climate change, but first, we need to recognise farmers and their time-honoured relationship with the land. Farmers and land managers play a vital role in ensuring natural habitats and carbon stores are returned to good condition.

Nature-friendly farming, in diverse ways, has the potential to make lasting changes for the good of people, nature and our planet. But to farm or produce food in a nature-friendly way requires security and longevity. Agricultural change can be daunting for existing landowners, farmers and crofters who work under tight financial margins and change can be difficult unless you own land or have the certainty of tenure. 

As we live in a time of short- and medium-term farms and smallhold tenancies, solutions need to be found that don’t just result in a higher concentration of land ownership & management. There are many farmers, crofters and growers who have the drive, passion and knowledge required, but no land security to put this into practice. As the recent Farming for 1.5 report: From Here to 2045 argues – we must find ways to transition that ‘leaves no one behind.’

I’m delighted to join the pioneering & creative farmers, crofters and growers of the NFFN to support and grow the network in Scotland. Change only happens through collaboration; by pulling together and collectively influencing policy change. NFFN is not just nature-friendly, it is people-friendly and is based on encouragement and sharing of skills, knowledge and experience.

Above all else, NFFN has hope and vision, and although the change required can seem daunting, the impact is almost immediately visible. I’m looking forward to working with our existing partnerships, forging new ones and supporting more farmers, crofters and growers to rediscover how working alongside nature can directly tackle our climate emergency. 

Join the network to find out more or get in touch for a chat: kirsty.tait@nffn.org.uk

12502_89 COME TO A FARM VISIT at Michael Meharg’s Forthouse Farm, an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
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COME TO OUR FARM VISIT at Michael Meharg’s farm.

  • Where? Slievenacloy

  • When? 25th August at 6pm

The visit includes a walking tour to see the farm’s habitat management in action, including insight into a range of nature-friendly approaches with prescriptions under the Environmental Farming Scheme.

Across Forthouse Farm’s 120 hectares, Michael runs a traditional ‘suckler cattle’ herd of Irish Moiled Cattle, which are a Rare Breeds Survival Trust focus species. The herd are ideally suited to graze natural grassland in a marginal setting, providing the perfect conditions for wildflowers, orchids, butterflies and moths, as well as fungi, birdlife, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Due to the species-rich grasslands and rare species found there, Fortfarm is recognised as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

Situated in the Belfast Hills with plenty of off-road parking, this farm visit offers superb views to the Mourne Mountains across Strangford Lough and it’s a great opportunity to meet other nature-friendly farmers.

This NFFN NI’s farm visit is the first in a series of on-farm tours available to our members. If you are not an NFNN member, sign up for free here.

To confirm your attendance, please email Jonathan at jonathan.pinnick@nffn.org.uk

12474_90 Are You Northern Ireland’s “Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year”?
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As part of this year’s Farming Life Awards, the NFFN are sponsoring a brand new award for a “Nature Friendly Farmer of the Year”.

Photo: Sorcha Lewis
  • Are you a farmer who champions a way of farming that is sustainable and good for nature?
  • Do you believe that farming and nature can go hand in hand?
  • Do enjoy raising awareness of nature-friendly farming by sharing insights and experience?
  • Do you work with your local community for better food and farming policies?

Whatever your farming background, big or small, organic or conventional, if you are passionate about restoring our countryside, reversing declines in nature and creating a thriving & sustainable farming business – then you could be the farmer we are looking for!

Nominations close on Monday 20th September, with the winner to be announced at an awards ceremony at the La Mon Hotel & Country Club in Newtownards on Thursday 28th October.

Entry is via self-nomination on the Farming Life Awards website.

NFFN offers their support to farmers with the application process. For more information on completing your application, contact Jonathan Pinnick – NFFN Sustainable Farming Lead for Northern Ireland. Email: jonathan.pinnick@nffn.org.uk

12435_91 England: Get Involved With BEESPOKE
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The government is developing the new Environmental Land Management Schemes and associated payments and an important feature will be actions and payments to encourage active pollinator management.

BEESPOKE is developing bespoke wildflower mixes to deliver services to crops, both pollination and natural pest control, and to provide guides and training for farmers on the management of pollinators and measurement of pollination.

To help ensure effective policy design to benefit growers and farmers, it is important to understand which interventions are attractive, which are not and what are the current barriers to uptake. To better understand farmer and grower attitudes, plus issues regarding pollinator management, we invite you to participate in this short survey.

Your responses will also inform the design of farm-level guides and training materials to support practical pollinator management.

Finally, the results of the survey will be shared with Natural England to positively inform future policy design. The survey should only take 5-10 minutes to complete.

Survey closes 31st August

12425_92 Farmer Success Story: The Joys of Making Space for Nature
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Written by Colin Strang Steel

On our farm in the Scottish Borders, the excitement starts to build in the early part of the year when waders and lapwings start to arrive. Ever since we ploughed out a 30-acre field from grass to put it through a rotation some 12 years ago lapwings have been coming to this same field every year, with a result that the field has not been put back to grass. When the lapwings arrive from early February the field is “bare” – either from stubble or a root crop having been eaten down by sheep during the winter. The lapwings nest in this field and once their young have fledged they move a short distance to an area where there are a series of interconnecting ponds surrounded by grass and rushes. The grass beside the ponds is kept short, which is what the lapwings like, and an area of about 1 acre close by is ploughed out and left fallow for the lapwings to forage in.

This year Working for Waders provided us with a nest camera so that we could monitor a lapwing on her nest. Despite enduring rain, snow and a lot of cold weather, the lapwing, which the nest camera was focused on, hatched two chicks. This was a success story as so many ground-nesting birds fail to hatch due to the major problem of predation.  Predator control is an essential part of realistic conservation,  and unless it is carried out effectively, providing the right habitat and food source are largely wasted. It was a real pleasure to see so many lapwing chicks in the field during the early part of the summer.

In our area, we have an informal group of seven farms covering an area of around 7,000 acres to try and work together to improve conditions for all waders (including curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers). There is much work that could be undertaken to provide the right sort of habitats, such as the creation of wader scrapes and the management of grassland and rushes, largely funded by the Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) which has now finished. It is vital that a new scheme is rolled out very shortly if all the good work undertaken through the previous schemes is not to be undone, and with so much potential to do more for waders (and indeed farmland and songbirds) a new support scheme is urgently required.

Photos by Colin Strang Steel
12418_93 Senedd Consultations
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The Senedd’s Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee is gathering views on the priority issues to consider when planning its future work and we would like to hear your views on two upcoming consultations.

The Committee has been set up by the Senedd to look at policy and legislation, and to hold the Welsh Government to account in areas relating to business, economic development, skills, international trade, agriculture, fisheries and food. For more information: Priorities for the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

Deadline: Wednesday 1st September

Likewise, the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee is also consulting on their priorities issues. The committee covers areas relating to climate change policy, the environment, energy, planning, transport, and connectivity.  Click the link for more information – Priorities for the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

Deadline: Friday 10th September

NFFN Cymru will be responding to both consultations.  To help inform our responses, please send your thoughts and comments to rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk

12405_94 Welcome Jonathan & Kirsty – Our Two New Sustainable Farming Leads!
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We’re delighted to announce we have appointed two new members to our team: Jonathan Pinnick and Kirsty Tait. Jonathan is our Sustainable Farming Lead for Northern Ireland and Kirsty is our Sustainable Farming Lead for Scotland.

Both Jonathan and Kirsty will be working with their country NFFN farmer steering groups, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions.

Jonathan Pinnick

Jonathan comes with a wealth of experience in conservation and agriculture, having spent nearly 4
years working alongside crofters and farmers in the Shetland Islands, as an Agricultural Officer for
the Scottish Government. Prior to this, he spent 7 years working for the Scottish Wildlife Trust,
including as Visitor Centre Manager of their Loch of the Lowes nature reserve in Perthshire.
More recently, he has been working with farmers around Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh as a monitoring officer for the RSPB’s Curlew LIFE species recovery project.

Jonathan has an MSc in Wildlife Conservation and Management and is particularly interested in
organic food production, peatland restoration, integrated pest management and agri-environment
scheme development. He is a strong supporter of local, high-quality food production and developing short supply chains to minimise food miles.

Jonathan grew up in the rural county of Northamptonshire and has always had a passion for nature and the
countryside, and a respect for the hard work undertaken by farmers and landowners managing
conservation areas and the wider countryside. He relocated to Northern Ireland earlier this year with his wife, who has family farming connections in Fermanagh and Tyrone. He is looking forward to working with and supporting the nature-friendly farming community in Northern Ireland.

 

Kirsty Tait

Kirsty is an experienced urban and rural community practice developer and enjoys supporting action on the ground and shaping policy based on real life experiences. She has had an interest in the connection and relationship between people, land and nature for many years stemming from her upbringing on a tenant farm in Perthshire. She studied History at the University of Edinburgh and Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

She has previously worked for the Scottish Land Commission as their Good Practice Adviser, implementing Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS). Carnegie UK Trust, delivering their rural community development programme and community land ownership support and the land-based community charity, the Ecology Centre in Fife. She is also passionate about storytelling and media – film making for Weeflee Productions and writing beginnings with the Pen and Plough Writing Programme.

She lives beside the Firth of Forth in Burntisland with her husband and two young children and is a bit obsessed with the whales and dolphins that visit and has an allotment which never quite gets enough attention.
12401_95 Knowledge is power – let’s share it for a better farming future
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Written by: Alison Rickett, NFFN Sustainable Lead for England

We never stop learning if we keep our minds open to new information. This I have experienced time and again as a student, work colleague, trainer, facilitator, and most recently, I have had the privilege of working with so many knowledgeable nature-friendly farmers through NFFN. Their passion for their farms and the role nature plays in it as a major stakeholder and the sharing of their experiences with others to continually challenge and learn more is infectious.

The need to pass on knowledge and skills to and between farmers is key, but the world around us is changing rapidly, not only for the farming business itself, but across the wider arena. There is the need to act for climate change and reach Net or even Sub-Zero, while achieving sustainable and profitable farm businesses. The principal common factor is farming with nature can provide many of the answers.

This is a big ask and a juggling act as we all continually reevaluate our businesses. We try to make sense of new information from within and outside the industry, via the farming press, social media, peer-to-peer and reviews of the latest Government associated papers and new schemes, such as SFI and ELMS. It is keeping all of us on high alert and anxious not to miss the next piece of vital information. 

If many of us feel like this working within the industry, how does it make those feel at the early part of their career or those looking for sound information to change their businesses working more with nature? On a positive point, we now have an incredible opportunity to set a more complete overview of what farming could and should look like in the future and play our part in quenching this new thirst for knowledge. It is up to us to help deliver this whilst we can.

One way of helping is to share this mass of collective knowledge between farmers, but we must also look to helping those who are turning to a variety of routes such as land-based colleges and universities, traineeships, work placements, farming conferences and short courses. It always takes time to rewrite training materials and get them accredited, but time is not on our side. We need to be able to act quickly and this will show itself in a variety of ways.

NFFN plans to play a major role in this knowledge transfer by sharing the latest research, channelling new ways of working by facilitating farmers sharing with other farmers, policymakers and training providers, so there is a space for sharing the things that have worked, challenges faced and lessons learnt. We have to help speed up this process and to support this, NFFN is in talks with colleges, universities and other training establishments to potentially support this knowledge transfer to all. The next generation and those with farming businesses need good, sound information readily available and within a supportive environment.

Farming is changing, the voice and role of nature is showing its true potential and we actively encourage NFFN members to play a key role within this knowledge transfer work. 

12392_96 Free ICT Training for Farming Connect Members in Wales
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Farming Connect provides fully-funded computer training for all eligible farm and forestry businesses registered with Farming Connect. It won’t cost you anything but your time!

Whatever your skill level, computer training could help you…
 
•    Manage your business more efficiently
•    Reduce your paperwork
•    Save you time and mone

If you are unsure on which level of training you require or need to further discuss any of the ICT training provisions, please email Catherine Hughes at catherine.hughes2@lantra.co.uk or call 01982 552646.

Support is currently available until the end of December 2021. For more information, click here.  

12366_97 Wales: Tree planting Not a Silver Bullet for Tackling Climate Change
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Written by: Rhys Evans, NFFN Sustainable Lead for Wales

On 12th July 2021, the Welsh Government announced plans for woodland creation in Wales. The Cabinet Statement by Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, outlines the need to plant 43,000ha of new woodland by 2030 and 180,000ha by 2050.

To help facilitate tree planting, the Welsh Government has launched The Woodland Investment Grant (TWIG) Scheme.  The scheme will provide grants to enhance and expand existing woodlands and create new woodlands in Wales in accordance with the UK Forestry Standard.  

The report reads: “Planting more trees is not only essential to help avoid catastrophic climate change but will provide a wide range of other benefits to Wales, including creating ‘green’ jobs, helping to address the nature emergency, increasing well-being, and mitigating flooding and air quality issues. Many of the trees planted will contribute to the new National Forest for Wales.”

Key points:

  • 43,000ha of new woodland by 2030 and 180,000ha by 2050.
  • The vast majority of new woodland won’t be planted by WG, but by communities, farmers and other landowners across Wales.  
  • WG will look to avoid planting on more productive farmland.
  • On farms, focus shouldn’t be solely on the planting of new woodlands, but also the planting of ‘hedges and edges’, such as trees along field boundaries, scattered trees and shelterbelts. 
  • WG has committed £17m to tree planting over the next two years through the Glastir Woodland Creation scheme. They’ll open a new window as soon as possible to allow more applications for this funding and ensure the full budget is spent.
  • Changes to woodland creation support will need to be consistent with plans to transition to the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme.
  • It’s important to ensure good ongoing management of trees and woodlands and that there are continued strong protections for our ancient woodlands and trees
  • Meeting net-zero, particularly in the construction sector, will also mean using much more timber in Wales.   There is a real opportunity for timber processors and manufacturers in Wales to contribute to a ‘wood economy’ in Wales.
  • WG will establish a working group to consider models to attract investment in woodland creation without disrupting existing communities and patterns of land ownership.

There is no doubt that trees play a vital role in addressing the nature and climate crisis – woodland makes us more resilient to climate change and can create a nature-rich landscape that is beneficial to both farmland and wildlife. But when you drill down on the Government’s proposal, their target is the equivalent of planting at least 5,000ha per year. Last year, only 290ha of new woodland was planted in Wales, and annual woodland creation has not exceeded 2,000ha since 1975. In comparison, this is an ambitious stretch and a roll-out to this magnitude could have unintended consequences if not actioned cautiously. 

What are the implications?

With over 80% of the country’s land managed by farmers, the sector can expect to play a pivotal role in tree planting’s delivery and it’s not unsurprising that some are treading with caution. What many farmers don’t doubt is that we need more trees in our landscape in order to tackle the nature and climate emergency – but trees are only part of the solution.  

Equal consideration should be given to other carbon-rich agricultural habitats such as hedgerows, heathlands, peatlands, species-rich grasslands, hay meadows and multispecies leys. As it stands, degraded UK peatlands emit more carbon than what even the most ambitious UK Climate Change Committee tree planting targets could capture and store.  Should the Welsh Government not offer peatland restoration the same priority and urgency?  Would woodland creation not be better supplemented by targets for restoring hay meadows and species-rich grasslands in Wales? Right now, neither actions are encouraged by nationwide targets.

When it comes to tree planting, we must plant the right tree in the right place and avoid a cavalier attitude that could negatively impact valuable biodiversity. For example, policies that supported a post-war drive for domestic timber production led to large swathes of commercial forestry dominating the Welsh landscape, unintentionally affecting wildlife. These commercial plantations, usually dominated by the non-native Sitka spruce, are more often than not of limited biodiversity value. And to make matters worse, thousands of hectares were planted as single-species forests on upland wildlife habitats.  This most certainly contributed towards losing 44% of our upland heathland between the 1940s and late 1980s.   

Inappropriately placed woodlands can also affect some of our most iconic ground-nesting birds. Curlews, a severely threatened species in Wales, tend not to use areas within 200m of forestry as they prefer open landscapes, whilst the associated increase in predator populations (in particular foxes and crows) affects chick survival rates In some instances, the opposite of tree planting is more appropriate for contributing to the bigger picture of climate mitigation and nature restoration, where we should be felling trees on peatland or shelterbelts near areas used by ground-nesting birds.

How can farming and woodland creation coexist?

On my family farm in Rhyd-y-main near Dolgellau, North Wales, we have close to 750 acres of hill and mountain land. We have lightly grazed woodland that allows wild garlic and bluebells to thrive and managed in this way means that birds, like pied flycatchers and redstarts, can nest here. 

We’ve fenced off unproductive steep hill land to help reduce flooding, improve the soil, store carbon and benefit wildlife. We have embraced a silvopasture approach in some of our fields, where parkland trees and grazing livestock co-exist.

Silvopastureplanting trees in livestock pastures to boost natural and commercial value by offering shade and shelter for livestock in adverse weather and providing nutrients for the livestock. 

Scattered trees on the ffridd provide valuable wildlife habitat and we ensure we have open landscapes on our heathland and hay meadows, so it can store carbon and provide a key area for biodiversity to flourish. 

Whilst we greatly welcome plans that support and reward farmers for planting trees, hedgerows, shelterbelts and facilitating natural regeneration of woodland – we need a holistic approach to tackling climate change.  We need to ensure that our efforts to tackle climate change also benefit wildlife, farmers and our rural communities. 

I’d like to hear your views regarding the Welsh Government’s recent tree planting targets.  Are you excited? Concerned? Cautious? Let me know what you think…rhys.evans@nffn.org.uk

Photos: Rhys Evans
12339_98 Mob Grazing for Diversity: Enabling Natural Meadow Regeneration Through Adaptations to Grazing Management
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Enabling Natural Meadow Regeneration Through Adaptations to Grazing Management

The first event of this flagship project – Mob Grazing for Diversity – took place in the Cairngorms National Park this week, bringing farmers and plant species monitoring volunteers together for their initial training session. The project seeks to help farmers increase pasture plant species diversity on their farms through adaptive grazing management. 

Photo credit: Nikki Yoxall

The project, which is supported by the Cairngorms Green Recovery Fund 2021, brought participants together at Croft of Clachaig near Nethy Bridge for botanical training with botanist Ben Averis as well as a grazing discussion with NFFN Scotland Steering Group member Nikki Yoxall and PFLA Scotland Regional Facilitator Clem Sandison. The project is a collaboration between the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Plantlife Scotland, the Nature Friendly Farming Network and the PFLA. 

Farmer Andy Duffus, from Mains of Auchriachan Farm,said he was looking forward to seeing if mob grazing might help restore some ground that is currently predominantly tufted grasses that he would like to see become more species-rich and productive. 

The next stage of the project will be a series of workshops, mentoring and facilitated support for the participating farmers to plan for mob grazing on their farms in the future. 

12328_99 The Farming for 1.5 Report: Scotland’s opportunity to radically reshape farming’s future
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Written by: Michael Clarke, NFFN Scotland Chair 

As a farmer, I know we need to be looking at ways that tree planting can be an effective nature and climate-friendly on-farm solution. In my recent experience, increasing broadleaf trees on our 300-acre lowland farm in Dumfriesshire has given our biodiversity a much-needed boost. In due course, once the trees are bigger and livestock-ready, they will provide shade from the sun sought out by our cattle and sheep in the summer’s soaring temperatures. Temperatures that are, undoubtedly, linked to climate change and the increasing extremities of our weather patterns.

But farmland tree cover can reward even greater return.

In the past, investor-led afforestation has often been at the expense of farming. We’ve seen commercial forestry planted in areas – including peatlands – that contradict our nature and climate ambitions. A blanket approach, similar to what was adopted in the 1980s, only results in huge swathes of conifers that dominate the landscape at the expense of biodiversity.

Integrating more native woodland onto the farm, whether through agroforestry or the creation of small broadleaf woods has been proven to prevent soil erosion, improve water management, boost wildlife and provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects – all to the benefit of the farming business.

The recent release of the final ‘Farming for 1.5’ report is calling on nature-friendly farming as a means of tackling nature and climate together. Agriculture, the report argues, is a driving force behind tackling the climate and nature emergencies, meeting Scotland’s net-zero targets and maintaining food production.

But looking at the recent ‘Agriculture in the United Kingdom’ report, it becomes apparent that the sector has a blind spot in its approach to change. Since 1990, nitrous oxide emissions have fallen by 9.6%, methane emissions by 9.9% and ammonia by 5.6%, yet despite this headway, biodiversity remains in steep decline. Looking at bird populations as a general indicator of the state of wildlife, bird species have declined to less than half since 1970.

If we’re to truly progress the vision of Scotland’s Environment Strategy, Farming for 1.5 suggests 30% of land should be managed for nature:

“Land use change should as far as possible be planned to optimise economic, environmental and social outcomes rather than be purely market-driven,” the report reads.

The report argues that reducing emissions, increasing biodiversity and maintaining food production is possible – but only if we do it right. As nature-friendly farmers on the ground, we know that transforming the farming landscape into one which reverses the loss of nature and mitigates climate change is a system that many Scottish farmers have already begun to implement. For this to be a nationwide system, we need land-use policies to do more in avoiding the perverse outcomes of afforestation so we can create a genuinely multifunctional landscape.

What I, like many nature-friendly farmers, have found is that a holistic approach can reduce costs, boost nature and increase sustainability. A recent report found that reducing stocking levels on upland farms in line with the natural carrying capacity of the land can reduce input costs. A healthy ecosystem means a healthy bottom line and greater farm resilience. In other words: a farming system that “optimises” rather than “maximises” and stores natural capital in the process. Shared evidence-based learning is key to making this happen. What farming needs is more farmers having the courage to work together and find nature-based solutions at their fingertips.

While COP26 has set the stage for Scotland to remind the world of its global-leader-status, it’s time for the Government to put this into action. Without increased opportunities for new entrants or certainty around future environmental support, Scotland risks missing its opportunity to radically reshape farming’s future and Scotland’s land use pattern for the better.

12312_100 Northern Ireland: The Growing Interest in Homegrown Flax
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Written by: Helen Keys, Steering Group member for Northern Ireland

Helen Keys and Charlie Mallon, both members of the NFFN, farm 50 acres in Northern Ireland’s Moneymore.  The farm was traditionally dairy then livestock, but in the last few years, they have diversified into flax, potatoes, oats and hemp.“

Northern Ireland used to be full of flax fields – ‘the wee blue blossom’ appeared in mid-summer to such an extent that people said it looked like the sky had fallen.  The Irish Linen industry was one of the biggest employers and flax was a hugely profitable crop.  

Talk to any of the older farmers in Northern Ireland and they will tell you they remember working the flax, especially the smell of the flax dam.  Flax was retted in these dams – or ‘lint-holes’ – usually beside a river.  This was one of the major issues with the industry, when the water was let away after retting, it had a toxic effect on nearby waterways.

This environmental issue, combined with the rise in cotton and synthetic textiles, was the death knell for the linen industry in Northern Ireland. But with an increasing demand for sustainable textiles and new technologies becoming available, could the blue blossom return?

For the last three years, we’ve grown flax while working with a growing community of people from all over the world who are interested in flax and linen.  We quickly learned flax is an easy crop to grow. We planted seed from The Netherlands, and 100 days later, we had a lovely crop. No need for fertilisers or sprays, plus our bees loved it and we had flocks of linnets arrive.

Although simple to grow, it’s not so easy to harvest.  We did it by hand with a lot of help from friends and neighbours and the odd stranger who just wanted to see what we were up to.  The tradition was that five men could pull an acre in a day, while we haven’t managed that yet, we’re certainly getting better at it.

The retting is done in an upcycled cheese vat, and afterwards, we draw the water out with a slurry tank and use it as a low-cost fertiliser on the fields – an easy solution that most farms could implement.

The big challenge is in getting to the next stages so we can operate at a commercial and sustainable level, but we’ve discovered some pretty large gaps in the rest of the supply chain. Up until the 1950s, there were scutching, spinning, weaving and beetling mills all over the country.  Now we have hand spinners, some weavers and just one beetler.

But with such a demand for homegrown flax, we’ve persevered with filling in the gaps.  We were surprised to discover there was a market just for the raw stooks of flax from florists and interior designers, we’ve hand-processed some small quantities through to fibre which hand spinners are keen to buy.

We are just finishing the restoration of an old 1940s scutching turbine which will allow us to process much bigger quantities that can be handspun and woven into finished linen.  We’re delighted to report that we have a lengthy waiting list for the linen – a sure sign of the growing demand for homegrown linen!

There is a move towards using flax and hemp to make composite materials to replace the use of plastics or building materials.  Flax-based surfboards, furniture and musical instruments are in production and there is now a Natural Fibre Composites Collective in Northern Ireland.  Demand for fibre crops is likely to increase as more of these products reach the market and we might see more of the ‘wee blue blossom’ returning to our fields.

I don’t doubt that this surge of interest in flax is driven by a growing awareness of issues in the textile industry around waste, welfare, water and energy use.  The opportunity to move back to a nature-friendly crop – one which can be grown with no fertiliser or pesticide, can be processed using harvested rainwater and could potentially be entirely produced within a 30-mile radius – is very appealing.

Follow our journey through the growing world of flax here.

12251_101 NI: AERA Committee Climate Change Bill Consultation Response
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Earlier this month, we submitted our Consultation Response to a call for views on the Private Members Climate Change Bill for Northern Ireland.

To date, Northern Ireland is the only country within the UK without statutory emissions reduction targets. Agricultural policy will play a vital role in addressing the threats currently facing our environment and nature-based solutions will be key in how we work towards achieving net-zero.

With a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the nature and climate emergencies, our call is on the NI Government to action an ambitious Climate Action Bill policy. With a nature-friendly farming system at the heart of policy reform, net-zero by 2045 can be made possible with adequate financial support afforded to farmers, clear direction and suffiicient timelines outlined.

We hope the outcomes of the AERA Committee will positively shape the future of nature-friendly farming in Northern Ireland for years to come. Have a read of our consultation response here.

 

– July 2021

12223_102 The NFS, Prince Charles & the North Yorkshire Rural Commission – a push for agroecology
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It’s been a landmark week on the nature-friendly farming front with the release of the National Food Strategy, the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission’s final report and the North Yorkshire Rural Commission report – and the call for nature-friendly farming has never been louder.

“Conversations are moving in the right direction, but there’s still work to be done,” says Chris Clark, NFFN’s England Chair. “For these conversations to mean anything we need to have the proper framework put in place to give farmers the confidence to embrace nature-friendly farming.”

The National Food Strategy, which is the first independent review of English food policy in nearly 75 years, commissioned by the government and authored by Henry Dimbleby, offers a new way forward. Nature-friendly farming, the report argues, has the potential to transform our food system if adopted at a countrywide scale.

Dimbleby recommends measures to restore and protect our natural environment, including investing in farmer-led innovation and sustainable farming techniques. The report also suggests the creation of a Rural Land Use Framework to inform payments that are designed to help farmers in England transition to nature-friendly farming. This Framework is based on a “three-compartment model”, in which some areas are used chiefly for food production, some for nature and carbon sequestration, and some for low-intensity, nature-friendly farmland.

The report urges the Government to protect farmers by meeting its manifesto commitment on free trade and setting a core list of minimum standards for agriculture, so farmers are not undermined by unfair competition through cheaper imports with lesser environmental standards.

“The National Food Strategy makes the case for a farming system the NFFN champions: one where farmers put the nation’s health and the natural environment at the core, while still having a profitable farming business,” says NFFN UK Chair, Martin Lines.

Other key farming recommendations include guaranteeing the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use and calling on the Government to fairly recompense farmers on the delivery of public goods, including improving soil health, restoring biodiversity and storing carbon.

On Wednesday morning, on the eve of the NFS’s launch, Prince Charles weighed in on the state of farming’s future, warning of how modern farming’s intensive practices have caused damage to our soils, watercourses and emissions. “We must put nature back at the heart of the equation,” he urged.

“With roughly half of all habitable land on earth used for agriculture, I cannot think of a sector more central to the survival of the planet. How we produce food has a direct impact on the earth’s capacity to sustain us, which has a direct impact on human health and economic prosperity. As we profit from nature, so nature must profit from us. But our current approach will lead to a dead-end, no matter how cost-effective intensive production appears to be,” says Prince Charles.

In response to Prince Charles citing small farms at risk of closing if not protected, Chris says: “What we at NFFN know is that there’s a sweet spot where nature and farming coincide to their mutual benefit, so farming is at its most profitable and nature is at its best.”

The North Yorkshire Rural Commission report says: “Contrary to the conventional approach to farm economics, which is based on the instinctive idea of scaling up the farming business in order to increase income and profits, the Commission encourages farm businesses to concentrate on driving margin rather than output in order to improve the viability of farm businesses.”

The NFFN will continue to champion this as a sound nature-friendly way of farming. For smaller farm businesses grappling with post-Brexit policy reforms and changes to subsidies, the Maximum Sustainable Output (MSO) approach can be a lifeline.

MSO is an individual farm’s volume of outputs that can be achieved before they need to be corrected with additional inputs to maintain production. The aim should be to farm to the point of MSO to get maximum returns both for nature and business.

Chris, who lead on the Farming and Land Management review in North Yorkshire’s Rural Commission report, says: “The developments of this week are all heading in the same direction, which is working with nature rather than substituting for it. Here at the NFFN, we hope this signals that more and more farmers will eventually treat nature as a shareholder in farm businesses.”

Until then, all eyes are fixed on the Government to respond to the National Food Strategy with a white paper within six months time.

For further reading on MSO, visit our Nature Means Business report and Nethergill Associates.

12124_103 Love Pollinators?
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Then you’re in luck!

Pollinator Friendly Grassland Farming Guide

EIP Wales and partners have produced  “A guide to Pollinator friendly grassland farming which brings together some of the actions that can be taken by livestock farmers to increase pollinator numbers.

 

Buglife Webinar

Severn B-Lines Pollinator Monitoring Webinar

Tuesday 6th July, 2021 – 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Would you like to know how to tell a solitary bee from a honeybee? Or a hoverfly from a fly? Learn about the amazing diversity of pollinating insects in this online webinar with Shropshire-based entomologist Nigel Jones, then take your new-found knowledge out for a spin on one of our follow-up guided fieldwork sessions.

Click here for more information and to sign up!

Image by Sue Charlton

12121_104 Free Trade Deals
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Farming has had a fair amount of coverage in the UK press recently, notably with concerns around a free trade deal between the UK and Australia. NFFN raised concerns about farming provisions within these deals, supporting efforts to enshrine our high domestic standards in law – sadly, this was unsuccessful during the Agriculture Bill, but we continue to press on the significant need for our standards to be protected by legislation.

While we await further details of the specifics of what has been agreed, it looks like a less than ideal situation for UK farmers, with many concerns simply ‘kicked down the road’ with a delay to tariff reductions etc.

NFFN have been very vocal on this throughout the discussions, making clear our members concerns, and you can read coverage here.

For more information please contact Robert: robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk

12101_105 Improving veggie yields with Molinia biochar, wool and manure compost
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A two year research project is attempting to turn low quality Molinia grass into a soil improver. At Henfron farm in the Elan Valley, manure from sheep and cattle bedded on Molinia is composted with wool from Welsh Mountain sheep. This is then mixed with biochar, also made from Molinia.

Four growers across Wales are using variations of the soil amendment to grow cabbages, sweetcorn, courgettes, Basil and Radishes. The crops are being monitored and will be weighed etc when harvested.

The project hopes to demonstrate that yields can be improved with low carbon footprint alternatives to inorganic fertilisers while sequestering carbon and developing a peat free alternative.

Other potential benefits include a market for tail wool which currently has no use, and a sustainable market for Molinia would encourage the removal of dominant Molinia improving biodiversity.

What is biochar?

Biochar is produced through a process called pyrolysis, which is the cooking of any organic material at high temperatures and with limited amounts of oxygen.

The resulting biochar can be as high as 78% carbon, Biochar is black, fine grained, extremely porous, lightweight and resists degradation and can lock up carbon in soil for thousands of years.

More details can be found here.

Images by Tony Davies

12093_106 Farmer Case Study: Michael Clarke
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Michael Clarke is our NFFN Scotland Chair and an upland livestock farmer at Williamwood in Dumfriesshire. Michael shares his farming journey with us here.

12090_107 Farmer Case Study: Nikki Yoxall
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Nikki and her husband James run Grampian Graziers using their small herd of native breed cattle as ecological engineers, predominantly in an agroforestry system. They are working with other landowners to expand their capacity and grow their herd. Nikki shares with us her farming story here.

12087_108 Farmer Case Study: Phil Knott
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Phil Knott is a crofter on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye and NFFN Vice Chair for Scotland. He shares with us his farming journey here.

12083_109 NFFN England Update June 2021
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NFFN England News – June 21

DEFRA have been issuing plenty of new information over the past month. Back in September, NFFN like many others responded to the National Tree Strategy Consultation. The results of this can now be found in the new Tree Plan for England along with the new Woodland Creation offer, the England Peat Action Plan, an update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot and their latest consultation on Lump Sum Payments for retiring farmers can also be found below.

 

DEFRA Tree Plan

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ealert-18-may-2021-england-trees-action-plan-launches/ealert-18-may-2021-england-trees-action-plan-launches

DEFRA Woodland creation offer opens

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-15-million-woodland-creation-grant-opens-for-applications 

Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/sustainable-farming-incentive-pilot

England Peat Action Plan 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/england-peat-action-plan 

Lump sum payment for retiring farmers – Defra Consultation

https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agricultural-policy/lump-sum-and-delinked-payments-england 

 

Oxford Real Farming Conference – Out in the field with Agroforestry

Here are details to the new ORFC in the Field @Wakelyns which will take place on the 8th and 9th of September 2021.  This should be an exciting couple of days with teachers who have learned directly from Wakelyns founder, Martin Woolfe, and others including heritage grains expert, John Letts and Homedods founder, Josiah Meldrum.  There will also be bread-making workshops and time to explore Wakelyns. You can also stay in one of Wakelyn’s new movable pods!  

https://www.tickettailor.com/events/oxfordrealfarmingconference/524792#

 

New BSc in Regenerative Agriculture starting this September

A new undergraduate degree from Schumacher College, designed to aid transition to agroecology by filling the huge training gaps for new entrants and existing farmers has been launched -BSc Regenerative Food and Farming which is due to open in September! 

Applications are now open until the 1st July, details in link.
https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/undergraduate-courses/bsc-regenerative-food-farming

NFFN At Groundswell
NFFN is on the road! We are excited to be exhibiting and running two speaker sessions on Reaching Net Zero (Wed 23rd June at 4.30 pm) and Nature Means Business with Arable Farms (Wed 23rd June at 5.30 pm) at Groundswell next week. More details can be found here.

Come along and see us at our exhibition trailer, we hope to see you there. Between 11.00 am and 12.00 pm both days, Chris Clark will also be on hand to answer your questions on farm business and the important role of nature within it.

12075_110 Scotland Update June 2021
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New partnership project

NFFN Scotland are pleased to announce they will be working in partnership with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Pasture Fed Livestock Association and Plantlife Scotland to deliver phase one of a project in the national park to support farmers to plan adaptive grazing management to restore and protect species rich grasslands. The project, “Mob Grazing for Diversity: Enabling

natural meadow regeneration through adaptations to grazing management” will include plant species identification training, volunteer led habitat surveys, training in mob grazing techniques and farmer mentorship.

This project is supported by the Cairngorms Green Recovery Fund 2021. 

 

Get Involved

Dr Lorna Cole, Agricultural Ecologist from the department of Integrated Land Management  at SRUC is looking for farmer contributions to rate a range of Sustainable Practices For Intensive Livestock Production, which will help determine future research in sustainable intensification of livestock in Scotland. Click for more information.

 

Bringing Biodiversity Back! 

You can find all the videos from our Bringing Biodiversity Back showcase here. There are 6 short videos from nature friendly farmers across Scotland, enjoy!

Images by Nikki Yoxall

12068_111 Northern Irelands: Nature Friendly Farming Motion
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On the 7th June MLAs debated an Assembly motion on Nature Friendly Farming. The motion called for future agricultural policies for Northern Ireland to enable a transition to profitable, sustainable, nature friendly farming, in order to provide nutritious food, increase farm business resilience and combat the nature and climate emergencies.

©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

During the debate several MLAs highlighted the important role that nature friendly farming can play in increasing carbon storage from our land,

providing safe space for nature, improving water, air and soil quality. Importantly, many MLAs emphasised the point in delivering nature friendly farming, many farms can also benefit. That in short, nature friendly farming makes good business sense. Following a vote, MLAs decided to back the motion in its entirety and with no amendments. 

The NFFN welcomes the Assembly’s decision to support this motion, which must now enable a transition to future agriculture policies which deliver nature friendly farming at scale. With 75% of NI’s land managed as farmland, farmers are key to delivering food security, biodiversity and climate targets. Nature friendly farming is good for business and essential for our future. Adopting Nature friendly farming practices has a vital role to play in ensuring that farm businesses remain productive, profitable and resilient at the same time as restoring nature and addressing the climate emergency. Now that this motion has passed, we need urgent action to deliver on these commitments to ensure that nature friendly farming is delivered across Northern Ireland through agriculture policy and legislation. 

©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

Michael Meharg NI Chair said “Agricultural policy must change if we are to address the threats currently facing nature, the environment and climate. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the nature and climate emergencies and support farmers as they embrace the move towards long-term business sustainability by working in harmony with nature. We need clear direction from government and policy makers, to capitalise on the benefits of Nature Friendly Farming. We welcome the Assembly’s backing of this motion, which must now help shape policy for years to come”

12059_112 Create havens for wildlife by planting trees on your land
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The Woodland Trust has just re-opened applications for tree planting advice and financial support this winter.

The Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods scheme is available for landowners planting half a hectare or more of woodland. And with up to 75% of the costs subsidised, it means you can think big and maximise returns when planting trees. Our expert adviser will guide you through the application process, visit your site with you, and design your new wood or shelterbelt so you can plant for the future with complete confidence. Apply now for no obligation advice and support. Visit woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant

Image by Stephen Briggs

12056_113 Welcome Rhys! Our Sustainable Farming Lead for Wales
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We’re delighted to announce our new NFFN Cymru Sustainable Farming Lead, Rhys Evans. Rhys will be primarily working with our NFFN Cymru farmer steering group, giving our farmers a stronger voice in policy discussions and supporting you in getting more from being a NFFN member in Wales.

Rhys is a keen naturalist and has a background in nature conservation, having studied an MSc in Sustainable Environmental Management. He spent 3 years as a Conservation Officer with Natural Resources Wales, working with farmers on developing nature conservation projects in the Meirionnydd area.  He also brings policy experience to the role, having spent over 4 years as Food and Farming Policy Officer at RSPB Cymru.

Along with his parents and brother, Rhys is involved with running the family farm in Rhyd-y-main near Dolgellau, North Wales.  They have a flock of Welsh Mountain sheep and pedigree Welsh Black cattle which are used to manage roughly 700 acres of hill and mountain land.  Rhys is passionate about nature and farming and is eager to demonstrate how both can, and must, go hand in hand.

Outside of work, Rhys’ hobbies and interests include playing and watching football (big Liverpool and Wales fan), playing and listening to music, eating and drinking, singing in the choir and bird watching (the feathered kind!)

Image by RSPB Cymru

12027_114 Join the Fair to Nature family
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With growing awareness among consumers that our environment and wildlife are in trouble, more and more people are looking at their purchasing choices and assessing whether their purchases have a positive or negative impact on our planet.

This is why the RSPB believes it’s absolutely the right time to grow Fair to Nature, the gold-standard for nature-positive farming and products.

What is Fair to Nature?

Fair to Nature is the only UK farm scheme to deliver the scale of land management wildlife requires to thrive. Set up by Bill Jordan, of Jordans Cereals fame, in 1989, and now operated by the RSPB, it is the gold standard for nature-friendly farming.

The scheme helps farmers to create and manage diverse and successful wildlife habitats on their land. We then do our best to link up those farmers with like-minded businesses. Brands which support Fair to Nature farms can show their customers how they are supporting wildlife and create Fair to Nature certified products.

There are currently c14,000 hectares of Fair to Nature certified farmland in the UK and Bulgaria, delivering grain, bird seed, and other products such as lavender, rapeseed oil and horse feed. Fair to Nature began as an arable initiative and by working closely with wonderful Nature Friendly Farming Network farmers and the Fam Wildlife Partnership, the Fair to Nature Standard can now be used across the farming sector.

What are the key features of Fair to Nature?

Fair to Nature is designed to deliver the highest level of biodiversity through habitat and farm management.  Farmer members dedicate at least 10% of their farmed land (including areas difficult to farm productively) to managed habitats which have been scientifically proven to reverse wildlife declines. These habitats include:

  • Existing semi-natural habitats in good ecological condition – no minimum
  • A minimum of 4% flower-rich habitats
  • A minimum of 2% seed-rich habitats
  • 1% wildlife-rich boundaries & margins
  • One wet feature (c25m2) per 100ha
  • Other in-field habitats, such as beetle banks, skylark plats and woodland – no minimum

Fair to Nature can now be implemented across all farm types – livestock, dairy, cereals, mixed cropping and horticultural, both conventional and organic systems, and is designed to fit with UK agri-environment schemes. As well as providing vital space for wildlife, the updated scheme also supports regenerative agriculture practices through the inclusion of progressive farm management plans focusing on reducing carbon emissions and increasing sequestration, on water protection and efficient use, on building and maintaining healthy soils, on managing the type and amount of nutrient inputs, on aspects of livestock husbandry and sustainable feed, and on the adoption of Integrated Pest Management to minimise pesticide use.

Keen to know more?

If you want to find out more about Fair to Nature, or are interested in signing up as a farmer member, please get in touch via our contact form at www.fairtonature.org.

11944_115 NFFN Job Opportunity: Communications Manager
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The NFFN have been successful in receiving funding for a Communications Manager staff post for 4 days a week for 3 years to support the growth and influence of the NFFN. Salary £34k per annum (pro-rated to 27.2k).

You will be responsible for planning and implementing the NFFN’s communications strategy across channels, including media, social media and marketing materials. The communications manager will increase awareness of nature-friendly farming among farmers, policy makers and stakeholders to support the NFFN’s mission to restore the balance between farming and nature.

You will have a passion for wildlife and sustainable faming, ideally with a background in farming, climate change or conservation communications.

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as soon as possible. Please read the Role Profile for full details. Applications open till June 7th 2021 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 3 years’ experience relevant to the role.

Thank you for your interest.

11840_116 NFFN Job Opportunity: NFFN Scotland Sustainable Lead
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The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for 3 years to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature friendly farmers in Scotland. Salary £33k per annum (pro-rated to 26.4k).

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Lead for Scotland as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till May 31st 2021 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience relevant to the role or 7 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your interest.

11835_117 NFFN Job Opportunity: NFFN Northern Ireland Sustainable Lead
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The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for 3 years to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature friendly farmers in Northern Ireland. Salary £33k per annum (pro-rated to 26.4k).

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Lead for NI as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till May 16th 2021 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience relevant to the role or 7 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your interest.

11830_118 NFFN Job Opportunity: NFFN Wales Sustainable Lead
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The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for 3 years to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature friendly farmers in Wales. Salary £33k per annum (pro-rated to 26.4k).

We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Lead for Wales as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till May 9th 2021 and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted and you must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience relevant to the role or 7 years’ experience working in the agricultural sector.

Thank you for your interest.

11797_119 Farmer Case Study: Colin Strang Steel
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Colin Strang Steel farms at Threepwood, a livestock farm of 1045 acres situated in the heart of the Scottish Borders near Lauder. Colin shares his nature friendly journey with us here.

11782_120 Farmer Case Study: Johnnie Balfour
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Johnnie Balfour, NFFN Scotland steering group farmer from Fife, shares with us his nature friendly farming story with us here.

11744_121 Forests For Cornwall
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Landowner support from the Forest for Cornwall

The Forest for Cornwall team has been busy getting out and about, stepping up our efforts to advise and support tree planting across Cornwall. There’s been a huge number of public enquiries about the project with offers and suggestions to support the Forest for Cornwall vision. This is fantastic, and we’re following up all the leads… but 8000 ha of trees is a lot of land so we’re really stepping up our efforts to support woodland establishment and forge those links that will make this possible including with farmers, partner organisations, existing advisers and landowners.

The Forest for Cornwall team would like to hear from you if you would like to explore the options for trees on your land. We can carry out an initial discussion, site visit, and offer general advice and support with suitable planting or the grants available to help get trees in the ground and how to make this work around your farm business. We can also put you in touch with other organisations for specialist support and advice if you want to progress. We are planning a series of public events to raise awareness and share information – on planting schemes, grant funding and agroforestry… watch this space!

Please get in touch with us via our Forest for Cornwall Contact Form. You can also sign up to our newsletter for updates on future landowner events and news about the project.

11736_122 England Blog April 2021
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VOICES 

Martin Hole, Montague Farm, East Sussex

Nirmal Purja, on completing his unique winter climb to the summit of K2, reflected that “Mother Nature always has bigger things to say”. The roar of the wind on that savage mountain would have filled his ears, but we should listen to his wisdom without necessarily scaling a 26000ft peak. Jane Goodall and David Attenborough, august voices of nature, have expressed their view that, among a range of ghastly outcomes, covid 19 is caused by the disintegration and disconnection from the natural world.  They, too, are telling us to listen, and to act accordingly.

Back at home, I have been alerted to some less well-known voices. Having pursued an ambitious conservation plan on the farm for over a generation it is disquieting that many species special to our landscape are still in steep decline. I have been looking intently to the works of the rewilders, particularly a nearby project at Knepp Castle Estate, which now boasts the highest song bird densities in England, for inspiration. Their results are challenging the paradigm of conventional good conservation, causing me to review what we do on our marshes and meadows. Over the last decade we have grown wilder. There is even a patch of the farm referred to as Mini Knepp, and another, where our lapwing nest, called Little Elmley, after the great North Kent nature reserve, but the “whole hog” of rewilding remains economically too difficult. We must continue with our cattle and our sheep or face bankruptcy. This is what deep environmentalists refer to as The Tragedy of the Commons. Mulling over this impasse is taxing.

Just as we must keep “doing”, we must keep listening. With great relief comes a message from another senior voice of nature, Beccy Speight, the bright new CEO of the RSPB. Understanding the new energy of the rewilding movement she has played the sensible hand. She has called for a moderation of the “polarisation” created by extreme demands. Let us use farm land to spread our reserves into, she says, to merge boundaries and extend the connectivity of wildlife habitats. Let us get “good conservation” played out more widely by joining with the farming industry. Let’s not alienate farmers with painted words and plastic concepts.

I find many like minds in the farming industry’s own regenerative agriculture movement and in a neat little organisation called the Nature Friendly Farmers Network. The National Farmers Union is finally embracing its role in the conservation of natural resources, championed by the effervescent President, Minette “Zero” Batters, and the Country Land and Business Association continues to work well in this field. All are asking the Government to do more and to get on with it quicker, but successive Defra minister’s fine words are not yet “buttering the parsnips”. “Net Zero” requires radical change, and it will be catastrophic if the new ELMs farm policy fails to deliver.

At the kitchen table I hear keenly from my wife and our three daughters the urgency of the plight of our wildlife. Sharing their impatience, and always wanting to do more, I read widely for further inspiration. And between the covers I have met a fellow shepherd, from the Lake District, called James Rebanks, whose two books, The Shepherd’s Life and English Pastoral, provide some of the clearest and most emotionally acute and honest words to be found on the subject of both farming and farming for wildlife. In a recent interview on New Zealand radio with Kim Hill he was asked whether he thought his farm would be a better place without his flock. “Don’t be a dingbat”, he replied.

I have been reliably informed that the farmer’s head is the most critical environmentally sensitive area. This one is beginning to fill with voices. To clear my mind I seek the wild places in the reaches of our marshland or beneath favoured trees. On my own, in these place’s quiet purity, I can hear, as Nirmal could on K2, that Mother Nature is truly asking for bigger things.

Martin is a member of the NFFN England Steering Group. To find out more about Martin’s Farm go to www.montaguefarm.co.uk

Pictures Credits: Martin Hole

11718_123 Wales Agriculture White Paper Consultation Response
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Click here to read our response to the latest Welsh Government Consultation. The white paper looks ahead to several aspects including support for farming, food supply chains and woodland management.

We based our response on discussions and feedback with NFFN farmer and public members, as well as discussions with NFFN Cymru Steering Group members, so a HUGE thank you to those of you who took the time to complete our survey last month!

11715_124 Farm Case Study: Hywel Morgan
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Meet Hywel Morgan, he farms beef and sheep at Esgairllaethdy Myddfai, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, Wales, on the western end of the Brecon Beacons. His farm comprises 230 acres, including 20 acres of rented land, 50 acres of conservation grazing, plus grazing rights on the adjoining common land known as Myndd Du. There are also 25 acres of native woodland. Hywel shares with us his nature friendly farming story here.

11702_125 NI Climate Change Bill: NFFN Response
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NFFN NI Climate Change Bill Response

11618_126 England Update March 2021
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New Steering Group member

Firstly, we would like to introduce you to our new England Steering Group member Nic Renison who joined us in February. Nic is based in Cumbria with her husband and children, and they have been developing their own regenerative farming business since 2012. Her experience and knowledge will be a great addition to the steering group.

To find out more about Nic and the rest of the steering group click here

 

DEFRA Consultations

It has been consultation season at DEFRA and NFFN has been busy attending meetings, preparing, and submitting consultation replies to the following consultations:

  • Reducing ammonia emissions from urea fertilisers
  • Sustainable use of pesticides – draft national plan
  • Regulation on generic technologies

We have outlined the need for change and to look at nature friendly solutions as first port of call, but we are also looking at how the changes to farm payments could support these methodologies.

Sustainable Farm Incentive (SFI) and Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs)

 

Payments for farming from the Government will be changing this year as we move on in a post Brexit world. Payments will be linked to farmers looking after the environment (such as soil, water, air, landscape) and will be aimed at providing public goods in these areas rather than them being paid on acreage or crops farmed.

 

The first phase of the changes is now underway with the launch this month of farmers being able to apply for the new pilot scheme – the Sustainable Farm Incentive. This along with many farm ‘test and trials’ being run currently will help shape the future ELMs scheme from 2024. This will support the nature-based approaches on farm to achieve the new outcomes required by DEFRA. If you would like to learn more about this go to the DEFRA website

 

NFFN England IPM Projects

 

The two integrated pest management (IPM) projects that NFFN is working on with various partners (PAN UK, RSPB, Soil Association) are now under way. We are establishing how well the Red Tractor Scheme encourages farmers to reduce their pesticide use by creating and operating IPM and also via farmer surveys/webinars establishing and developing new resources to help encourage more farmers to integrate IPM processes into the farming businesses.

 

Nature Friendly Cornwall

We have been part of the new wider Nature Friendly Cornwall project. To find out more click here

 

Conferences and Webinars

 

Many of our members have attended the recent surge of online farming and nature-based webinars and conferences. The NFFN England team and steering groups have also been invited as speakers and as chairs to various related sessions including Oxford Real Framing Conference, Agritech 4.0 and the Low Carbon Agriculture Show. We will hopefully be out and about more in the coming months and will let you know how you can get involved.

11611_127 2021 Parliamentary Update
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Spring is definitely in the air and as Westminster (and the nation) set out roadmaps for a safe return to ‘regular ways of working’, NFFN’s public affairs team is looking forward to the opportunities for engagement and education on our work across 2021!

 

We were disappointed that the Environment Bill was (yet again) delayed by the UK Government earlier this year but eagerly anticipate its return to the House of Lords in May/June (dates tbc) and are working hard with partners in this interim period to stress to the Government the need to utilise this time as effectively as possible, to ensure that this landmark piece of legislation properly hits the spot! As soon as we have sight of the Bill’s return, we will be asking members and supporters to use their voice again and ensure that this Bill delivers for the natural environment, linking with other policies and pieces of legislation – something that has sadly been lacking to date.

 

We continue to engage with Governments and partners around tackling climate change, stressing that there can be “no solution to climate change without farmers” – a point made by our UK Chair, Martin Lines in the Famer’s Guardian earlier this week. As we continue along the road to COP26, as well as COP15 and other biodiversity conferences, it remains imperative that the voice of nature-friendly farmers is included in the strategy and development of policy, when looking to tackle climate change. The UK Government has a unique opportunity this year to lead the world in this area, an ambition we intend to hold them to!

 

Development of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), the cornerstone of the Government’s new agricultural policy, continues but we remain genuinely concerned at the potential loss of ambition in this scheme, which we so welcomed with its initial introduction! To be properly effective, this scheme needs to embrace the positive practices of nature-friendly farming, supporting, and accelerating our work, to reach even more people.

 

We continue to work closely with Defra and others on ELMs and related matters, including recently supporting Sustain’s latest co-authored report: ‘Why whole farm systems must be central to Environmental Land Management and the agricultural transition plan’ – keep checking our website and social media for activity on this and we would welcome any thoughts that our members or supporters have on this, or any of our work.

 

We know that the last 12 months have been challenging for many people and we will continue to be your voice in Parliament and beyond, sharing inspiring stories and campaigning for positive change!

11555_128 NFFN Northern Ireland Update – March 21
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A busy period for Northern Ireland as they deliver a successful convention and complete various consultations.

Food, Farming and Land Convention 2021

The Nature Friendly Farming Network Northern Ireland has helped deliver a two day convention here in Northern Ireland in partnership with a range of other organisations such as; RSPBNI, Food NI, Belfast Food Network, Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. The convention took place over the 9th and 10th February and hosted some of Northern Irelands leading policy makers, as well as many farmers and landowners sharing their experiences.  The Food, Farming and Land Convention demonstrated a growing interest and support for Nature Friendly Farming in Northern Ireland with over 530 in attendance. Sessions which the Network were involved in focused on ‘Nature Means Business’, ‘On Farm Nature Based Solutions’ and a panel debate on the ‘Future of farming and land management to 2030’. To catch up on any of the sessions visit www.foodfarmingland.co.uk/convention21

 

Ministerial Meeting

On Wednesday 24th February the Northern Ireland Nature Friendly Farming Network Steering Group had a delegation attend a meeting with DAERA Minister Gordon Lyons. The group had a constructive meeting with the Minister and DAERA officials as they lobbied for a nature friendly approach to agricultural policy in the future. As always, the NI Steering Group highlighted the economic value of nature friendly farming and how this should play a central role in future farm policy. The meeting was hugely positive as we shown the increased appetite for farming with nature with both our increasing membership, and the attendance at the Food, Farming and Land Convention.

Consultations

The start of 2021 has been a busy period for the Network here in Northern Ireland. We have been involved in a range of consultations. We would like to thank all our members who took part in the survey which was attached to the last NI specific newsletter. We used your answers to shape our consultation response to the Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill. To date, Northern Ireland is the only country within the UK without statutory emission reduction targets. In light of this, our response to the consultation called for a 2045 Net-Zero target for Northern Ireland whilst also calling on government to develop a Land Use Strategy which would be similar to the Scottish Climate Change Act. We have also pressed for a nature friendly approach to be built into future agriculture and climate legislation.

 

Carbon Literacy Project

Over the past month, members of NI NFFN have been engaged in creating a sustainable farming module for a carbon literacy project. Our module will look at the implications of farming on climate change and our carbon footprint. We have been documenting best practice methods from a range of our farmers and advising on ways that farms across Northern Ireland can move towards a Net-Zero carbon footprint. Participants of the course will aim to achieve a carbon literacy accreditation at the end of the course. This project is being delivered in partnership with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. The delivery of the project is dependent on funding applications, however it is envisaged that it will be made available for all Young Farmers, targeting the YFCU. If you know, or are a part of a YFCU that would be interested in participating in this carbon literacy programme, let us know at ni@nffn.org.uk

11552_129 NFFN Scotland Update – March 2021
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Scotland

30th March Hustings 

Scottish Food Coalition Hustings are scheduled for 30th March from 5.30 – 7.30pm click here for the Eventbrite link.

NFFN recently joined the Scottish Food Coalition, and are pleased to be able to support a food systems focused hustings later this month.

It has never been a more important time to talk about food policy. The pandemic has emphasised the importance of building resilience within our food system.

We’re working with our partners in the Scottish Food Coalition to organise a hustings focussing on food policy.
The hustings will be chaired by Brian Taylor, former Political Editor of BBC Scotland. Spokespersons from the Scottish Conservative Party, Scottish Green Party, Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Scottish National Party will outline their plans and their party’s policies for addressing
the challenges facing Scotland’s food system.
The hustings will cover four key themes related to our food system:
· Jobs
· Health
· Poverty
· Climate and Nature
Join us from 5.30 – 7.30pm on March 23rd and put your questions about the food system to the candidates.

Register here.

 

Agroforestry: Making trees work on your croft

If you missed the Soil Association Scotland agroforestry and crofting event on Feb 11, with NFFN Scotland Vice Chair Phil Knott of Wildlife Croft on Skye and Mike Hyatt and Clare Howarth of Baleveolan Croft on Lismore, as  Scottish Forestry and Woodland Trust, don’t worry – you can catch the recording here.

And you can find the Agroforestry Scotland playlist here.

 

Views on Rewilding from the Scottish Agricultural Community

Chris Edwardson, a dissertation student at the University of York is wishing to explore the attitudes and opinions towards rewilding amongst the Scottish agricultural community.

He has produced a very easy and quick survey and is hoping to get as many responses as possible.

The information collected will help inform him and others about whether rewilding could (or could not) work in Scotland. The survey is completely anonymous and won’t take any longer than 10 minutes to complete.

If you wish to take part then please click here. Your contributions will be greatly appreciated.

11548_130 NFFN Wales Update – March 2021
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The Right Tree in the Right Place

Wales Leads held a meeting as part of the Natural Farming Network with North Wales Wildlife Trust (click here to read about their latest Living Landscape Project) and RSPB.

We discussed ideas of how to best work together on the importance of planting the right tree in the right place and promoting this message amongst us farmers on the ground and to policy makers. Wales NFFN want to help identify potential case studies, whether it be a small farm woodland, planting for carbon sequestration or for a crop, as part of a shelter belt, wildlife corridor or as part of natural flood mitigation, or perhaps as a bigger forestry project. Please email us if you think you have a case study we’d like to hear about.

Floodplain Meadows in North Wales
NFFN’s Sam Kenyon has been engaging with her local MP, Council, a Welsh Government advisor and Local Water and Environment Engineers, on the importance of functional and biodiverse floodplains being allowed to act as flood water storage areas. In the face of the Global Climate Emergency, and with Welsh Government currently developing future Sustainable Farming Schemes, Sam hopes that Glanllyn Farm can one day be an example of how important it is for working farmland to help mitigate flood damage throughout local rural communities, as well as reducing the erosion of our countries food growing soil. She hopes to show that with the right sort of management, primarily by slowing the flow and creating flood storage areas, that resilient, carbon capturing, permanent pasture can provide healthy grazing for livestock during drier seasons, as well as a vital, diverse and species rich habitat for bugs, birds and heaps of other wildlife too. To find out more or to show your support contact us here.
Welsh Government White Paper
A survey on the latest consultation paper has been sent from our NFFN Cymru Chair, Hilary Kehoe, to all our farmer members across Wales. The White Paper outlines overall objectives and possible areas of support for agriculture. We’ll collate all feedback before creating our informed Nature and Farming sensitive response to Welsh Government.
11541_131 Ready for the Return – Parliamentary Update March 21
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Spring is definitely in the air and as Westminster (and the nation) set out roadmaps for a safe return to ‘regular ways of working’, NFFN’s public affairs team is looking forward to the opportunities for engagement and education on our work across 2021!

 

We were disappointed that the Environment Bill was (yet again) delayed by the UK Government last month but eagerly anticipate its return to the House of Lords in June (dates tbc) and are working hard with partners in this interim period to stress to the Government the need to utilise this time as effectively as possible, to ensure that this landmark piece of legislation properly hits the spot! As soon as we have sight of the Bill’s return, we will be asking members and supporters to use their voice again and ensure that this Bill delivers for the natural environment, linking with other policies and pieces of legislation – something that has sadly been lacking to date.

 

Development of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), the cornerstone of the Government’s new agricultural policy, continues but we remain genuinely concerned at the potential loss of ambition in this scheme, which we so welcomed with its initial introduction! To be properly effective, this scheme needs to embrace the positive practices of nature-friendly farming, supporting, and accelerating our work, to reach even more people. We continue to work closely with Defra and others on this, including recently supporting Sustain’s latest co-authored report: ‘Why whole farm systems must be central to Environmental Land Management and the agricultural transition plan’ – keep checking our website and social media for activity on this and we would welcome any thoughts that our members or supporters have on this, or any of our work.

 

We know that the last 12 months have been challenging for many people and we will continue to be your voice in Parliament and beyond, sharing inspiring stories and campaigning for positive change!

11478_132 Wales Agriculture Paper Consultation: NFFN Cymru Briefing
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This White Paper sets out WG’s ambition to reform the way in which agriculture (including farm woodland management) is supported by Government.  It sets out the legislative and support framework for Welsh agriculture for the next fifteen to twenty years.

The consultation focuses on several aspects

  • future support for agriculture;
  • regulatory reform;
  • future support for industry and the supply chain;
  • forestry and woodland management;
  • improving animal health and welfare;
  • improving monitoring through the effective use of data and remote technology.
  • Legislative Powers

You can view our NFFN Cymru briefing summary here.

11271_133 Low Carbon Agriculture Show Online: Register for free now!
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Low Carbon Agriculture show is the new event showcasing opportunities in low carbon energy, technological advances, and Environmental Land Management for a profitable and sustainable future in farming.

Supported by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) and held in association with the National Farmers Union (NFU), the show will move to a fully interactive digital format on 9 and 10 March 2021, to support farmers and landowners during not only the challenging Covid-19 pandemic, but through a rapidly evolving industry.

Maintaining its renowned exhibition, networking benefits, and four key areas of focus (see below), Low Carbon Agriculture Show has extensively analysed different formats, gaining feedback from farmers, to create a digital event which delivers.
The highly-anticipated multi-streamed conference will have expert speakers presenting on each type of renewable energy, as well as new topics for 2021 including natural capital, carbon management, soil health, reaching net zero in agriculture, policy compliance and much more.

 

Low Carbon Agriculture show has had a fantastic response from its Digital Insights webinars, which covers pressing topics in agriculture such as ‘Innovations in agri-tech’ and ‘Low Carbon Transport & Machinery’. The next webinar will cover ‘Environmental Land Management’. The webinar will outline what we know about the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme so far, with an update on policy, followed by an outline of key environmental approaches and guidance on assessing sustainability.

 

Visit the new Low Carbon Agriculture Show website to find out more: www.lowcarbonagricultureshow.co.uk.

11263_134 Agroforestry – a win/win for farmers and the environment?
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November 30th marked the start of National Tree Week during which Friends of the Earth held a National Tree Summit, calling for ambitious tree targets in the upcoming England Tree Strategy to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises.  Farming and trees were high on the agenda, with two presentations on agroforestry.  NFFN member and arable farmer Stephen Briggs announced the launch of the ELM agroforestry tests and trials, together with a call for expressions of interest for participation in the scheme.  We also hosted Helen Browning of the Soil Association talking of the potential of agroforestry in contributing to UK tree targets.

We were also delighted to hear support for agroforestry from other speakers, including Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, and Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith, as well as Woodland Trust Chief Executive Darren Moorcroft emphasising the importance of trees outside of woodland.

 

The presentations are available at the links below:

 

Agroforestry off the starting blocks: the launch of the Defra ELM agroforestry tests and trials pilot – Stephen Briggs, arable farmer and agroforester.

Stephen’s presentation can be found at 16 minutes 30 seconds here: Session 3: Funding and support for trees

You can register an interest in involvement with the ELM Agroforestry Test & Trial here.

 

Agroforestry – its capacity to deliver a win/win for farmers and the planet – Helen Browning, Chief Executive, The Soil Association

Helen’s presentation can be viewed at 41 minutes and 50 seconds here: Session 2: How can we achieve delivery at scale for climate and biodiversity – what does it look like and how can a range of different approaches contribute?

 

For anyone who missed the day but wishes to catch-up on the event, here’s the agenda and below are links to the other sessions.

Introduction to the Summit, and Session 1: The scale of the challenge.

Ministerial address by Forestry Minister The Right Hon Lord Goldsmith.

Session 4: Landowners and trees.

Session 5: Local authorities and community action on trees

Images courtesy of Stephen Briggs

11247_135 Nic Renison  – New NFFN England Steering Group Member
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Nic Renison  – New NFFN England Steering Group Member

Nic comes from a dairy farm on the Welsh Borders and spent her first ten years working within family business,

milking the cows, and selling the product. The simplicity, integrity and honesty of that cycle and its value to the producer, environment and consumer hasn’t left her conscience. But unfortunately working with family was not going to enrich her life – all is now well!

Having then headed north to sell milk recording then animal drugs, in 2005 She met the Farm Manager Reno (Paul Renison) and persuaded him that a huge mortgage was much more exciting than a salary. So, in 2012 the now family of four moved into a caravan in the yard at Cannerheugh, it was a testing 18 months whilst developing the house and business.

Nature and farming have always been at the heart of Nic and Paul’s farm and having struggled with the concept of planting three-meter-wide hedges back in 2014, they are now Nic’s pride and joy.

For the last 3 years she has worked at AHDB, but now with the egg mobile in full swing, direct sales of meat growing and a glamping enterprise to kick start, she will be back on the farm full time from mid-February 2021 and we welcome her onto the NFFN England Steering Group from February as well.

11245_136 NFFN England Blog
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April 2021

VOICES 

Martin Hole, Montague Farm, East Sussex

Nirmal Purja, on completing his unique winter climb to the summit of K2, reflected that “Mother Nature always has bigger things to say”. The roar of the wind on that savage mountain would have filled his ears, but we should listen to his wisdom without necessarily scaling a 26000ft peak. Jane Goodall and David Attenborough, august voices of nature, have expressed their view that, among a range of ghastly outcomes, covid 19 is caused by the disintegration and disconnection from the natural world.  They, too, are telling us to listen, and to act accordingly.

Back at home, I have been alerted to some less well-known voices. Having pursued an ambitious conservation plan on the farm for over a generation it is disquieting that many species special to our landscape are still in steep decline. I have been looking intently to the works of the rewilders, particularly a nearby project at Knepp Castle Estate, which now boasts the highest song bird densities in England, for inspiration. Their results are challenging the paradigm of conventional good conservation, causing me to review what we do on our marshes and meadows. Over the last decade we have grown wilder. There is even a patch of the farm referred to as Mini Knepp, and another, where our lapwing nest, called Little Elmley, after the great North Kent nature reserve, but the “whole hog” of rewilding remains economically too difficult. We must continue with our cattle and our sheep or face bankruptcy. This is what deep environmentalists refer to as The Tragedy of the Commons. Mulling over this impasse is taxing.

Just as we must keep “doing”, we must keep listening. With great relief comes a message from another senior voice of nature, Beccy Speight, the bright new CEO of the RSPB. Understanding the new energy of the rewilding movement she has played the sensible hand. She has called for a moderation of the “polarisation” created by extreme demands. Let us use farm land to spread our reserves into, she says, to merge boundaries and extend the connectivity of wildlife habitats. Let us get “good conservation” played out more widely by joining with the farming industry. Let’s not alienate farmers with painted words and plastic concepts.

I find many like minds in the farming industry’s own regenerative agriculture movement and in a neat little organisation called the Nature Friendly Farmers Network. The National Farmers Union is finally embracing its role in the conservation of natural resources, championed by the effervescent President, Minette “Zero” Batters, and the Country Land and Business Association continues to work well in this field. All are asking the Government to do more and to get on with it quicker, but successive Defra minister’s fine words are not yet “buttering the parsnips”. “Net Zero” requires radical change, and it will be catastrophic if the new ELMs farm policy fails to deliver.

At the kitchen table I hear keenly from my wife and our three daughters the urgency of the plight of our wildlife. Sharing their impatience, and always wanting to do more, I read widely for further inspiration. And between the covers I have met a fellow shepherd, from the Lake District, called James Rebanks, whose two books, The Shepherd’s Life and English Pastoral, provide some of the clearest and most emotionally acute and honest words to be found on the subject of both farming and farming for wildlife. In a recent interview on New Zealand radio with Kim Hill he was asked whether he thought his farm would be a better place without his flock. “Don’t be a dingbat”, he replied.

I have been reliably informed that the farmer’s head is the most critical environmentally sensitive area. This one is beginning to fill with voices. To clear my mind I seek the wild places in the reaches of our marshland or beneath favoured trees. On my own, in these place’s quiet purity, I can hear, as Nirmal could on K2, that Mother Nature is truly asking for bigger things.

Martin is a member of the NFFN England Steering Group. To find out more about Martin’s Farm go to www.montaguefarm.co.uk

Picture Credits: Martin Hole

 

 

 

January 2021

Business Planning with Nature – Patrick Barker

This time last year I attended a ‘Farm Sustainability’ seminar at our County Showground and one of our leading local land agents on the stage that

day said, ‘the 2020s will be a decade of change for British agriculture.’ This time last year seems a lifetime ago already with Brexit, The Agriculture Bill and the Covid pandemic but we can see that the impact of all three will change our industry immeasurably. Through all of this we need to ensure that we have farms, businesses and an industry that is fit for the future and we are starting to see what that future is going to look like. As farmers we need to be as productive as we possibly can be but in ways that we have not considered in the past. Production for us no longer means the amount of wheat in the barn at the end of harvest but the amount of wheat produced using as little fertiliser and spray chemicals in a farming system that increases soil health and water quality, while reducing emissions, sequestering carbon all on a farm full of wildlife – simple.

Sound business rationale will have to be the base of every decision and moments of head scratching in the farm office, as the 60-year safety blanket is phased out. Knowing the cost of everything will be vital to making decisions to ensure a profitable short and long term future. I cannot see a more important time for every farm to be engaging in an environmental stewardship scheme. Receiving a guaranteed income for land that does not guarantee a return should be top of every farmer’s list of New Year resolutions. Doing everything we can to increase our environmental credentials not only sends a message to the policy makers (who are listening) that we can be part of the long-term solution to environmental improvement, but also to our public who are desperate to support our industry but have been let down so many times by reports of bad practice and negative press.

 

There is no magic bullet to being fit for the future, however there are a number of steps that can be taken to arm ourselves with the information that we need.

  • Start with a well planned and well thought out stewardship scheme for streamlining operations and taking marginal land out of production, whilst adding greater protection to habitats and natural resources.
  • Next, a farm carbon audit will give a good idea of the changes that might be required and show where future opportunities might lie for reducing carbon released and hopefully for carbon offsetting.
  • Finally, know what you have. By knowing the wildlife i.e., the species and habitats that you have, you can then make informed decisions on how to preserve, increase and encourage more.

In 2007 we decided at the very start of our first ES scheme that if we were taking public money, we wanted to be able to show how we were using it and the benefits that it produced. I started recording the birds I saw on the farm and compiled data for a few external projects like the Big Farmland Bird Count. This has been done consistently since then and I now have sent data to 30+ NGO projects, have 2 volunteer recorders out on the farm most weeks and, for 2020, have just sent over 4000 individual records of 10,000 sightings of 403 species to the Suffolk county recorders. Whether it is wildlife recording, carbon offsetting, making money or converting to a whole new farming system if you start small and work at it you never know where it might take you.

Patrick is a member of the NFFN England Steering Group and farms in Suffolk with his cousin. The farm aims for high yields combined with high level conservation and is a LEAF demonstration farm and AHDB Strategic Farm. Follow on twitter  @The_Barker_Boys

Picture Credits:

Barn Owl,  Grey Partridge – Hedley Wright

11205_137 Welsh Agriculture Bill Consultation
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The Consultation document released by Welsh Government on the Agriculture Bill before Christmas(click here to view) has a good long-term outlook, aiming towards agroecology and to sustainable land management over a 15-20-year vision. There is a welcomed emphasis on sustainable food production, tackling the climate emergency and halting the loss of biodiversity. The text is very high-level, setting out the framework for the general direction of Welsh farming support, further consultations are expected to go into more depth on the detail of the proposed sustainable farming and land management schemes. We hope to see the future Ag Bill for farmers across Wales be more user friendly, so that we can continue to champion a working farmed landscape- which provides not only more nature, but also sustainable farm income and employment and delivers public goals, connecting food to the people of Wales.

In our next newsletter we will give details of the steering group’s draft response to this document. In the meantime, if you have opinions on it please get in touch and let us know your thoughts by emailing us here.

11198_138 Nature must be at the heart of the biggest reform in farming history: Michael Meharg
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We are on the cusp of delivering significant and positive change for Northern Irish farmers and the environment. On the 31st December the Brexit transition period ended. Allowing us to reconsider the objectives for farming and nature. whilst this will pose many challenges it also presents the Northern Ireland Government with a once in a lifetime opportunity to help farmers manage the countryside more sustainably and reverse the declines in wildlife, habitats and water quality. Recently, the Minister for

25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs announced his plans for a future agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland, which could deliver a productive and sustainable industry that guarantees farmers earn a fair return whilst ensuring food is healthy, affordable and sustainably produced. This represents the biggest reform of farming and land use the country has seen for 40 years. There is now a pressing requirement for DAERA to deliver and act on these promises. Across the country, farmers have been facing the destructive combination of nature decline, ineffective EU farming policy which has brought about a decline in nature and now Brexit, which is forcing them to face an increasingly uncertain future. On average, farm business incomes have plummeted by 26% in just two years. we now have an opportunity to deliver transformational change secure sustainable farming and land management; however, without clear commitments from policymakers, farmers won’t invest in the nature-friendly farming approaches that are critical for their long-term survival. Farmers want to be a part of the solution and many understand the value of working with nature to increase productivity and resilience.

By transforming our food and farming system to one that rewards farmers for safeguarding the landscape, where nature and businesses can thrive. The need for bold action and a clear timeline The Nature Friendly Farming Network welcomes the Minister’s announcement on the development of new environmental funding schemes. Rewarding farmers for delivering public goods such as flood protection, carbon sequestration increased biodiversity and public access to nature, is the right way to go.

Nature must be at the heart of the biggest reform in farming history Opinion: Michael Meharg, Chair, Northern Ireland Nature Friendly Farming Network

However, these promises must be backed up by bold action and a clear timeline that farmers can align their businesses with. We desperately need an agriculture policy framework that is supported by devolved legislation. This legislation is essential as it would set out the transformational approach to the way that farmers will be rewarded to deliver environmental improvements. Farming payments that come at the price of declining wildlife numbers, soil degradation or polluted water are not a good investment from the government and will do little to enable our agriculture sector to become more productive, sustainable and resilient. Our food system needs to be balanced. I was recently appointed as the new chair of the Northern Ireland Nature Friendly Farming Network and hearing the farmers in the network share their experiences it is clear that there is a sweet spot for farmers to aim for. If we get the balance between food production and nature right, we get the best value out of our landscape and farming businesses are more profitable. Establishing the balance between food production and nature protection All farms, whatever the size or system, can be nature-friendly. I farm a suckler herd of Irish Moiled Cattle in Antrim. These cows graze an area that has been classified as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) due to the species rich grasslands and rare species found there.

This traditional breed, with its wide foraging ability, is ideally suited to grazing the natural grassland, providing the perfect conditions for wildflowers, orchids and butterflies, as well as a host of mammals, birds, and other wildlife. As a result of our conservation grazing, we’ve managed to increase our stocking levels by a third, as Irish Moiled cattle have less of an impact on the land when compared to continental breeds. Farming with resilient native breeds produces excellent quality meat whilst also reducing our inputs and costs, such as veterinary bills. It is essential that farming policy reflects the role that the environment and the protection of natural assets has in underpinning our landscapes, cultural heritage and farm business resilience. The Nature Friendly Farming Network represents the voices of 1,900 farm businesses, delivering the benefits of good stewardship. Membership is free and we welcome all farmers who work with nature, at whatever stage in their transition. Our mission is to unite farmers who are passionate about farming and the environment, while engaging with policymakers to secure better public and policy support for nature-friendly farming. Change will not be easy, but it is crucial if we want to have a sustainable food system in Northern Ireland. The Government can and must grasp this opportunity and commit to a bold agriculture policy framework and ambitious targets, so that we can build a farming future that benefits both farmers, the public and nature.

11189_139 NFFN Launches our Northern Ireland Blog
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April 2021

Short supply chains for the benefit of nature – the increasing demand for local produce – Helen Keys

We’ve seen a slowly growing demand for local produce over the last few years as consumers have become more conscious about their choices; driven by social media and TV chefs.  Then the pandemic and Brexit combined saw demand go through the roof.  Veg box schemes saw an increase of 111% during the first lockdown with most unable to meet demand.  We heard about local suppliers having to import potatoes because they couldn’t source them here in Northern Ireland.

Even before we saw disruption to our supply chains, Food Foundation research had identified that of the top 50 most popular fruit and veg consumed in the UK there are 16 that could be grown here but currently aren’t.

The challenge for farmers is clear, we need to massively broaden the range of produce and find more direct routes to our local markets.

As a farmer the worry has always been whether we will be able to produce sufficient quantity and consistent quality.  When we look at supermarket shelves packed full of perfect strawberries in December we wonder how we could compete, and the short answer is, we can’t.  That doesn’t mean we can’t find other ways.

Two years ago we started growing potatoes, we didn’t use any sprays, we chose blight resistant organic varieties, spaced them out well and left them alone.  We harvested them as we needed them over 6 months.  We put 2kg bags in an Honesty Trailer at the end of the lane and put a sign up asking people to pay a fair price.  We got an average of £3.50 a bag.  It was an interesting experiment which surprised us and encouraged us to go a bit further, we planted an orchard with support from the EFS scheme, half a field of garlic, some more potatoes but it was a challenge to know what to grow next.

I started to work on an online platform, Source Grow, which would help farmers like us to decide what crops to grow to suit their soil and to meet local demand.  We organised zoom calls with 15 of the best restaurants in Northern Ireland and the response was amazing, they are desperate to find good quality local produce, they care about where it comes from, they are prepared to work with what is available and in season.  Then the veg box schemes started to get in touch, they are also desperate to find local growers.

If we grow the right things in the right places we don’t need the same inputs, more diverse crops will support more diverse wildlife and pollinators.  We won’t need to spray produce with fungicides and sprout suppressants if we don’t need to store it for weeks and months.  There are markets for crops like quinoa, lentils, linseed, beans, herbs, edible flowers.  Whether it is foraged from hedgerows or grown at field scale, shorter supply chains cost less, both financially and environmentally.

We know that farming systems need to change to address the climate crisis, pollution and habitat loss.  We have a huge opportunity with the increase in demand for local produce to transition into less intensive, more profitable crops.

 

 

January 2021

Hedges and Edges of an arable farm in Northern Ireland in Winter  David Sandford 

Fields are the main asset on most farms & as such the growing of food & fodder is maximised in order to make a financial return. However, in attempting to obtain viable yields it can lead to overlooking the vital part that wildlife & biodiversity plays on every farm.

The importance of field margins & good hedges cannot be over-emphasised in ensuring that a fair balance is achieved. Best practice is that at least 10% of farmland should be managed for wildlife & biodiversity habitats.

High quality mixed species hedges are a real asset on any farm. If they are managed for wildlife & cut in rotation only once every three years, berries & fruit will be a vital source of food for birds & some mammals during the winter, as well as providing safe nesting sites & shelter.

Under the E.F.S. scheme, 6m rough grass field margins growing high tussocky grass provide cover for ground nesting birds & “forms” for our Irish Hares. It is also well documented that insect predators control aphids harmful to crops adjacent or near to rough grass margins, thereby reducing the need for the use of insecticides. Of which, I have completely eliminated use on my farm.

These margins will require invasive brambles & shrubs to be cut back after a few years & care should be taken to cut 6” or so high to leave a good grass tilth, harbouring both mice & shrews, which in turn provides valuable food for our Barn Owls!

Also under the E.F.S. scheme, 6m wide cultivated arable field margins are easy to provide & maintain; simply cultivate after ploughing & leave untreated & unseeded. They provide ideal open dry habitat beside a dense crop, ideal for chicks of ground nesting birds, foraging on insects in the vital first weeks of their life, as well as providing a useful nutrient & spray buffer to field edges & watercourses.

The “hungry gap” for wildlife on the farm in winter is well documented & responsible for high mortality rates. In January & February crop residues such as stubble have been well picked over & on many farms there is virtually no natural food left for resident or migrant birds. The planting of wild bird feed cover plots can make a huge difference. They consist of seed producing crops such as Oats & Triticale. Kale provides cover & food for invertebrates which in turn are sought out by many species of birds.

Some of these habitats are ideal for less productive parts of the farm so it’s a win-win for farmers & wildlife!

Finally, I defy any farmer not to feel satisfaction & pride when literally thousands of birds lift off his crop on a cold frosty morning!

11186_140 Tim Morrow NI Farmer
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Tim Morrow farms at Streamvale Farm, a dairy farm situated in the Castlereagh Hills above Dundonald. Tim has worked on the farm since his return from a stint at Newcastle University in 1980. During his time, there has been some noticeable changes and diversification to the farm business, most notably the start of an ‘Open Farm’ in 1987. The Open Farm at Streamvale has proved to be a popular attraction to many, with 150,000 visitors per year and growing. This gives many people their first, and sometimes only, experience of a farm and how they work. This provides Tim with a great opportunity to educate on how to farm with nature, not against it. Around 1990, the farm took a new direction, turning to a low input New Zealand style spring calving system and has operated this way for the past 30 years.

Streamvale is certainly ahead of the curve on changes like this and they have already decided to switch to a once a day milking system this year. This will reduce the labour involved, increase the quality of milk production and improve animal welfare with less stress on both the cows and Tim! The farm has also committed to reducing their fertiliser usage, however they have admitted it is unlikely they will go fully organic. To reduce fertiliser dependency, Tim has plans to stitch more clover and mixed pasture mixtures into his grasslands in the years ahead. Tim has a long history with Northern Ireland politics, with his father a former deputy leader of the Alliance Party and himself serving 10 years as a councillor and even a stint as Lord Mayor. Tim retired from politics in January 2020 to help the farm through another period of diversification. The farm began a food delivery business in March 2020 and they are now delving into sustainable rural tourism with the glamping business due to open at Easter 2021.

11173_141 NFFN Calls for Stronger Protections in the Trade Bill
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Earlier this week, the landmark Trade Bill returned to the House of Commons for consideration of the amendments tabled in the House of Lords. This process – known as ‘ping pong’ – is the final stage of a Bill’s progress towards becoming law and enables Parliamentarians a final chance to push key issues to a vote.

 

The Nature Friendly Farming Network, along with organisations across the environmental and farming sectors, were supportive of several Lord’s amendments, specifically ones that would give Parliament a greater oversight of future trade deals and the development of a ‘code of conduct’, specifically outlining environmental and animal welfare standards.

Sadly, despite collective pressure, MPs voted down both of these amendments on Tuesday. Whilst an amendment on the Trade & Agriculture commission (TAC), a body recently set up to advise on future trade deals relating to agriculture, did pass, there was an additional Government amendment restricting the TAC not to ‘advise on matters relating to human life or health’. The NFFN has been concerned for some time about the lack of power and diversity of representation in the TAC and this amendment further underlines how this body is lacking in any real ‘teeth’.

 

We have not given up yet though and the Bill will return to the Lords, where we hope a further attempt will be made to include these amendments once more, sending a strong message to the Government that these protections need to be enshrined in law.

 

You may have seen our recent Trade Bill video on Twitter and other social media, outlining the importance of protecting and supporting our domestic high standards when it comes to trade deals. Subject to how the Lords vote, we will be running more public activity on this and welcome your support in contacting MPs!

 

The Trade Bill will be before the House of Lords on Tuesday 2nd February.

11151_142 Free Farm Resilience Plans Available for NI
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Free Farm Resilience Plans Available

Farmers within Binevenagh and Coastal Lowlands can avail of a scheme led by Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust to improve their farm businesses.

Farmers within the Binevenagh and Coastal Lowlands area are being given the opportunity to improve and grow their farm businesses through a program within the Landscape Partnership Scheme. Local farmers within the area can utilise the service to gain a free Farm Resilience Plan. This plan aims to produce an improved and sustainable landscape into the future, but will also assist farmers in creating a more efficient and profitable farm business. Availing of this service is free, and plans will be developed on a one-to-one basis with tailoring to each farm. In turn, this will provide a working document for use to apply for existing and future funding through DAERA.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, initial consultations with local farmers may be via digital channels and online meetings, but where possible, the Landscape Partnership team will endeavour to facilitate socially distanced information events in the local area.

For further information on farm resilience plans please contact Aisling at aisling@ccght.org or info@fieldfare.land

11149_143 Northern Ireland Policy Update Jan 21
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Policy update NFFN

The Department for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs have recently launched two important consultations that will shape the future of farming and the environment in Northern Ireland, focusing on the areas of climate change and post-Brexit environmental governance.

Climate Change Bill discussion document

To date, Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK without climate change legislation, meaning we have not had any legally binding Greenhouse Gas reduction targets to drive action on climate change locally.  Following the recent launch of the Committee on Climate Change sixth Carbon Budget which provided detailed recommendations on how the UK can meet Net-Zero by 2050, a consultation has been launched on a Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill. This landmark piece of legislation would create a framework to drive climate action in Northern Ireland. This will legally underpin Northern Ireland’s contribution to meeting UK Net Zero whilst assisting in delivering international agreements and commitments on climate change.

The Nature Friendly Farming Network welcomes these first steps in delivering this landmark legislation, which will help ensure that Northern Ireland plays a key role in the UK’s ambitions to meet Net-Zero by 2050. We believe that Nature Friendly Farming has a vital role in achieving these goals and that it can support the UK Agriculture sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. Farmers can help lead the way, land well managed for nature helps store carbon, helping to mitigate climate change, whilst many actions taken to reduce a farms carbon footprint can make economic sense. However, recovering our wildlife and achieving a net zero agriculture sector will require more than easy wins and action must be underpinned by comprehensive policy and legislation.

Environmental Plans, Principles and Governance for Northern Ireland

Leaving the European Union has significant implications for environmental legislation in Northern Ireland. The UK’s membership of the EU provided the framework for most of our environmental policy and legislation, including important aspects of environmental principles embedded in EU treaties and governance from the Court of Justice. As such there are important considerations to be had regarding the oversight of, and accountability for, the environment in Northern Ireland. Parts of the UK Environment Bill will apply to Northern Ireland including: environmental principles, environmental improvement plans and the new government watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). DAERA has launched a discussion document on these matters, seeking stakeholder input. The Network will be responding to this consultation calling for strong  environmental protection and governance which helps underpin a transition towards Nature Friendly Farming as standard.

11144_144 NFFN Scotland Update from Chair Michael Clarke
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The NFFN Scotland Steering Group continues to meet, albeit virtually, and is committed to working with farmers to support the development of nature friendly farming practices and with other partners and government to promote a policy environment that recognises the key role farming has in providing nature based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss.

Steering group members are encouraged by the commitment by Scottish Government  to ensure that the economic recovery is a green recovery and the relevance of that given the current climate crisis.

Transitioning to a sustainable, net zero society by 2045 and restoring Scotland’s environment will rely on collaboration and innovation across rural sectors, which will be central to the realisation of economic opportunities to support recovery whilst protecting biodiversity. The NFFN supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue to support biodiversity, including through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund, as they seek to improve the state of nature in Scotland.

With agriculture representing the predominant land use in Scotland, covering around 70% of the land area, it is absolutely critical that the commitment to biodiversity support and the restoration of Scotland’s environment go hand in hand with planned new mechanisms of agricultural support that secure a productive sector better able to contribute towards delivering Scotland’s climate change outcomes and promote new employment opportunities.

The NFFN agrees with Scottish Government that the rural economy must also be at the forefront of our economic and environmental recovery and seeks assurance that the existing and proposed sustainable farming working groups focus not only on carbon reduction but consider actions to protect wildlife and the environment whilst still producing plentiful quality produce.

As set out in the Programme for Government, creating a more circular economy promotes sustainable and inclusive economic growth and is fundamental to our transition to becoming a net zero society. The NFFN recognises that such an approach aligns with our commitment to regenerative nature friendly farming.

We look forward to working with partners in promoting the benefits of nature friendly farming as a key aspect of Scotland’s land and natural economy during 2021.

10798_145 NFFN Wales Update
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On the 16th December Welsh Government released a white paper for consultation outlining how future farm payments will work in Wales after Brexit. NFFN Wales Steering Group will be holding a meeting in the new year to discuss the content. If you live and farm in Wales and would like to add anything to the meeting agenda with regards to this then please email us at wales@nffn.org.uk 

 

NFFN Wales Chair, Hilary Kehoe gave evidence to the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry into Biodiversity and Rewilding. To view NFFN Cymru’s written evidence for the inquiry, please click here (then scroll down to bottom of page).

 

Funding Opportunities

Apply to the Woodland Trust and Coed Cadw to receive 75% funding for planting more than 100m of new hedging through their MOREhedges scheme.

Plant Hedges on Your Land with MOREwoods – Woodland Trust

 

For anyone in the Vale of Glamorgan, the Local Nature Partnership offers small grants to support projects that deliver upon the aim of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity.

Visit https://www.biodiversitywales.org.uk/Vale-of-Glamorgan for more information and to download the application form.

 

 

 

10794_146 A Year to Remember
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2020 will undoubtedly be remembered for the pandemic – for lockdowns and restrictions, and the challenges faced by us all across the country. Yet it should also be remembered for the progress that has been made, and the support and solidarity between communities.

 

During the first national Lockdown, NFFN brought together a report: Feeding The Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers Are Responding To Covid-19. Not only did this report showcase the incredible achievements of farmers to diversify and support their local communities, but it also reminded us of the important role they play as stewards of the land and providers of healthy, nutritious, and affordable food.

 

What the pandemic also showed was the real need for a sustainable framework to properly support and fund our farmers. Despite the pressures of COVID, NFFN continued to play an important part in working with partners to influence the Government when developing its policy agenda on these issues and we were pleased to see the landmark Agricultural Bill become law only a few weeks ago – a long time in the making!

 

Whilst the Agriculture Act is not perfect, and we are disappointed that our high environmental and animal welfare standards have not yet been written into law, we welcomed the positive debate about the future of farming in this country and the need for nature-friendly farming.

 

It doesn’t end here though and our work certainly isn’t over yet, and many key pieces of legislation continue to make their way through the Westminster Parliament, including the Trade Bill and Environment Bill. Alongside this, the devolved nations are also developing their own frameworks, including Wales where an Agriculture Bill Consultation for Wales was launched only this week.

 

Wider farming policy is also still being worked on and we welcomed the Secretary of State, Rt Hon George Eustice MP, unveiling plans for the agricultural transition period last month. We need much more clarity on the Government’s thinking around this, as well as the development of Environmental Land Management, and NFFN will continue to press hard on both of these issues, on behalf of our members and supporters.

 

So, whilst the calendar year comes to an end, many of these issues and challenges do not, but rest assured that NFFN are looking ahead to 2021 and how we can champion the cause of nature-friendly farming. There are some exciting moments next year and we invite you to share with us any goals you might be setting for you, your farm or elsewhere, to promote the cause of nature-friendly farming.

 

See you in 2021!

10780_147 Agroforestry ELM Test – Get Involved
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Agroforestry is receiving significant attention for the important part it can play in the future of British farming. As part of Defra’s Tests and Trials, the Organic Research Centre, Soil Association, Woodland Trust and Abacus Agriculture are running an Agroforestry Test with the aim to identifying the building blocks for future agroforestry options under Environmental Land Management. In this farmer-led process to be completed mid-2023, regional clusters of farms will be the focus for gathering evidence on the kinds of advice, guidance and payment incentives required to support farmers take up agroforestry. There will also be wider consultation, and if you are interested to be involved (or simply want to keep in touch with this initiative) please sign up using this online form (https://bit.ly/36lhakZ).

10777_148 CattleDiVersa Research Project – Get Involved
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Maria Markiewicz-Keszycka, Principal Investigator in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin, Ireland, is leading the CattleDiVersaDiversification of Dairy and Beef Production for Climate Smart Agriculture project.

The CattleDiVersa project aims to provide robust solutions for the design and promotion of diversification on beef and dairy farms in a bid to lower environmental impact.

Maria and her team will be carrying out case studies in Ireland, UK and Britany and Normandy in France and would like to focus on both dairy and beef farms that have already implemented diversification, and on farms that operate alternative production systems/activities (not necessarily including beef and dairy). The case studies will allow them to establish the key success factors and the challenges experienced. They will use the information to highlight environmental and socio-economic impact caused by diversification activities.

If you’re interested in getting involved with this project please email: cattlediversa@ucd.ie.

10775_149 Two New Projects with Farming the Future Fund
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NFFN has been successful in securing funding from the Farming the Future Fund for two new projects working in partnership with PSAN UK, Soil Association, RSPB and the CoFarm Foundation.  The first project focuses on ‘Farming with nature to reduce pesticides’ and the second is based on ‘Reforming Red Tractor Assurance Scheme to drive pesticide reduction’. Both projects are now underway and will be completed by March 2022 and have a strong core piece of work on the need for Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
We will give you more information as the projects progress and will be in contact asking you to get involved via surveys and training sessions. Your comments and feedback are a valuable part of these projects. More detail will become available in the new year.
10764_150 Meet NFFN Northern Ireland’s New Chair
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Livestock farmer Michael Meharg has recently been appointed as the new chair of the Network in Northern Ireland. Michael farms a

250 ha suckler cow enterprise in county Antrim which includes conservation on a number of protected sites in NI. Passionate about the environment and rare breeds and with a background in ecology, Michael facilitates work with farmers in the Lough Neagh area Environmental Farming Scheme focusing on delivering for priority habitats and breeding waders. After two years as our NFFN NI Vice Chair we’re delighted to welcome Michael to this new role

Michael is taking on the role from David Sandford, who is stepping down as chair after two years leading the Network in Northern Ireland. We would like to thank David for all of his hard work in building the organisation in Northern Ireland during this time.

10761_151 A New Agricultural Policy Framework for Northern Ireland
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Recently the Minister for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs announced his plans for a future agricultural policy framework, representing the biggest shake-up of farming and land use in the country for 40 years.

There is a pressing requirement for Northern Ireland to deliver a sustainable agriculture industry which is productive and guarantees that farmers earn a fair return whilst ensuring food is healthy, affordable and sustainably produced.

Across the country, farmers have been facing the destructive combination of nature decline, ineffective EU farming policy which has brought about a decline in nature and now Brexit, which is forcing them to face an increasingly uncertain future. On average, farm business incomes have plummeted by 26% in just two years.

We now have an opportunity to deliver transformational change secure sustainable farming and land management; however, without clear commitments from policymakers, farmers won’t invest in the nature-friendly farming approaches that are critical for their long-term survival.

Farmers want to be a part of the solution and many understand the value of working with nature to increase productivity. By transforming our food and farming system to one that rewards farmers for protecting nature, both wildlife and businesses thrive.

 The Nature Friendly Farming Network welcomes the Ministers announcement and on the creation of new funding schemes, which will reward farmers for delivering public goods such as flood protection, carbon sequestration and public access to nature.

However, these promises must be backed up by bold action and a clear timeline that farmers can work towards.

We desperately need an agriculture policy framework that is supported by devolved legislation. This legislation is so fundamentally important as it would set out the transformational approach to the way that farmers will be rewarded to deliver environmental improvements.

Change will not be easy, but it is crucial if we want to have a sustainable food system in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive can and must grasp this opportunity and commit to a bold agriculture policy framework and ambitious targets, so that we can build a farming future that benefits both farmers, the public and nature.

10750_152 Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Post-2020: A Statement of Intent
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This sets out the  recognition that “the twin global crises of biodiversity loss and climate change require us to work with nature to secure a healthier planet”.
The document makes reference to agriculture, in particular working with stakeholders in the sector, and highlights the work being led by Nature-Scot Piloting an Outcome Based Approach in Scotland (POBAS). This project tests innovative approaches to delivering environmental outcomes on farms and crofts, with the pilot working with 40 farmers and crofters across Scotland.
NFFN continues to work with other stakeholders in Scotland to seek clarity from Scottish Government on what funding will be available for AECS between 2021 and 2024.
Image by Nikki Yoxall
10741_153 New Team Member: Sam Kenyon
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We’re delighted to announce that Sam Kenyon has joined the NFFN Wales team as our Sustainable Farming Lead. Sam will be working to support NFFN Wales farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions and supporting you in getting more from being a NFFN member.

Although from a farming background, Sam didn’t start working in agriculture until her mid-thirties. Now living on the banks of the River Elwy in North Wales, her holding comprises of lowland fertile flood plain and ancient steep woodland. She is passionate about health, welfare and the behaviour of both livestock and wildlife. Sam believes strongly that a biodiverse and regenerative approach to farming and our soils are key to reversing the global climate crisis. Having travelled around the world a couple of times, and worked as a scuba dive guide, she witnessed first-hand the effects of human activities on fragile ecosystems and our oceans, so there was no passing up the opportunity to farm sustainably when she and her husband moved back to the UK. By re-sowing maize fields with species rich permanent pasture mixes as well as planting hedgerows and trees, Sam is working for soil resilience, reduced erosion, increased carbon sequestration all year round and a complete regenerative system encompassing livestock and nature.

10736_154 New Team Member: Adam Copeland
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We are delighted to announce we have recruited Adam Copeland to our team. Adam will be working to support the NFFN Northern Ireland farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions and supporting you in getting more from being a NFFN member.

Adam graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a master’s course on sustainable development. Through this he has acquired experience in calculating and managing carbon balances, agroforestry, environmental management, and agriculture policy.

Adam works on a large dairy farm in County Armagh and as a freelance environmental consultant with his business – Cusher Environmental Consultancy. He has experience carrying out carbon audits for farms of varying sizes, as well as helping to deliver fire risk management and nutrient management reports for major environmental areas for Northern Ireland.

Adam also volunteers as biodiversity officer with the Glenanne Development Association, who own and manage a 40 acre mixed woodland in the heart of the County Armagh countryside. He has worked closely with local authorities on managing habitats for both public use and enjoyment as well as to offer a safe haven for nature. As a part of his work, Adam is involved with lobbying local and regional politicians to help enact change to promote biodiversity.

To contact Adam please email: ni@nffn.org.uk

10706_155 Fair to Nature
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Fair to Nature was set up by Bill Jordan in 1989 and began as an arable initiative. During 2020, the RSPB has worked with farmers to broaden the standard. It can now be applied to all farm types; livestock, dairy, cereals, mixed cropping and horticultural.

Fair to Nature farmers manage 10% of their farmed land to support wildlife, including unproductive areas and existing habitats such as ponds and new woodland. The scheme also supports regenerative agricultural practices for carbon, water, soil, nutrient management, livestock husbandry and integrated pest management.

As certification, it is designed to be a gateway to, and deliverable through, government environmental support schemes. And, by linking farmers to Fair to Nature contracts when they become available, there is the potential for a premium over market prices.

Download the Fair to Nature Leaflet here to find out more.

 

Image by Brin Hughes

10510_156 Nature Friendly Food and Farming Motion
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The Nature Friendly Farming Network has worked with partners across the country to develop a the first ever Nature Friendly Food and Farming Motion. The motion can be passed at the parish, county or unitary council level and seeks to champion local supply chains, nature friendly businesses, nature based solutions and nature friendly farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Norther Ireland. We are asking councils to support this motion, and commit to transforming nature friendly ideals into practices.

Find the motion here.

10498_157 Nearing the end but how much closer? Westminster Update
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As England enters Lockdown 2.0 and each of us face varying levels of restrictions across the UK, it feels like progress with farming policy seems to be ‘locking down’ a bit too. The Agriculture Bill, which has taken months to get to this stage, is currently in its final throes, bouncing back and forth between the House of Commons and House of Lords in a process known as ‘ping pong’.

Despite strong calls from the NFFN and those across the environmental and farming communities, the Government has continued to resist our collective pressure to enshrine our important and internationally leading food standards into law. Whilst we welcome the concession regarding the Trade and Agriculture Commission, announced over the weekend, which will put it on a statutory footing (something NFFN has long called for), we continue to be disappointed that the Government has stopped here. Read Martin Lines commenting on this latest development with the Agriculture Bill in Farming UK here.

As we come to a close with the Agriculture Bill, our focus is now firmly on the policy development of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs), to ensure that the bold ambitions promised by the Government for farming reform are delivered and not lost in the process. This will ultimately provide the roadmap and outline for the future of farming in the UK and we want to make sure that we get this right. Farmers need clarity and certainty on how this support will be provided, with a proper framework developed in cooperation with them, and we seriously hope that the Government will work with us collaboratively to deliver this. Our door is always open, and we are always delighted to share our members’ experiences of the effectiveness of nature-friendly farming with elected officials and others.

We also welcome the return of the Environment Bill to the House of Commons this week, which has been delayed for far too long. It is vital that the Environmental Bill raises our current environmental baseline for land management, to ensure the long-term success of farming and the recovery of the environment and wildlife. Farmers across the UK want to see a strong, independent, regulator to enforce these baseline standards. Now is the opportunity for the Government to do what is right, and there is no time to waste.

If the Government is serious about its environmental commitments and safeguarding UK farming, then we need the Agriculture, Trade and Environment Bills to all work together. This was the ambition we were promised but has sadly been considerably lacking to date.

10494_158 NFFN and Possible Hedge Fund
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Our ‘Hedge Fund’ project running in conjunction with the charity ‘Possible’ will get underway this winter and plans to run until early 2022. The project links public and farmers to improve hedgerows and lock up carbon by encouraging communities in planting hedges on NFFN farms around England.
We already have had some members sign up to provide venues but if you would like to get involved do get in contact with Alison at alison.rickett@nffn.org.uk
For more information click here.
10481_159 NRFC
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It’s been a busy autumn for some of our farmer NFFN members who gave their time to deliver presentations in the NFFN sessions at the first virtual Northern Real Farming Conference (NFRC) in October. It was great to see people getting involved in our sessions on Net Zero, Nature As A Stakeholder, NFFN farmer case studies and farm tours and also coming to talk to us at the ‘meet the sponsor’ lunchtime chats.

If you would like to watch any of the NFFN presentations or any of the other great presentations from across the 10 days of the NFRC, go to https://bit.ly/32aLrAG
10479_160 Scottish Suckler Beef Climate Scheme Report
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The Scottish Suckler Beef Climate Scheme report has been published and the NFFN Scottish Steering Group commend the authors on their willingness to address the climate change issue head-on and their proposed direction of travel, which aligns with that of the NFFN. A lot of the progressive recommendations for change and calls for practical support from ScotGov will help nature friendly farming, and whilst we are disappointed that biodiversity enhancement has been declared a secondary aim of the SBCS we will continue to campaign for recognition by ScotGov that the ecological crisis deserves the same level of attention and support as has been given to the climate crisis in the report.

10475_161 Have your say in creating more nature friendly supply chains in NI
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Helen Keys and Charlie Mallon, both members of the NFFN farm 50 acres near Cookstown in county Tyrone.  The farm was traditionally dairy and then a suckler herd but in the last few years they have diversified into flax, potatoes, oats and hemp but it wasn’t an easy journey.

 

We wanted to be more sustainable – both financially and environmentally.  It was such hard work because we knew nothing except cattle and growing grass.  We were going to conferences, talking to other farmers, joining online forums, doing training courses, reading books, it was exhausting and the variety of options was a bit overwhelming.    I kept thinking we just need someone to look at the farm, tell us what crops would suit and what might generate some income.’

 

Helen got a crop specialist and a software developer together to kick some ideas around.  They came up with a concept which they pitched to Techstart to secure a Proof of Concept grant.  The first version will be an online platform where a farmer can input some basic information like location, cropping history, available machinery, that will be assessed against a list of produce that local restaurants want to buy.  The farmer will then receive some suggestions for crops that suit the situation and also have some market demand.  Farmers can list what they have planted so if the demand is met those crops will no longer be recommended to reduce the risk of gluts.

 

‘Restaurants are suffering right now but we need to keep innovating and building for the future.  Projects like this take time and we’ll be prepared to adapt to whatever the situation is when we launch next year.’

 

The platform will be piloted early next year and the team are looking for input from local farmers and restaurants to help with the design and the first pilot.  Click here to share your thoughts and get involved in the pilot.

10473_162 Northern Ireland Climate Bill
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25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

A Climate Change bill has been tabled to the Northern Ireland Assembly with a target to reach Net Zero emissions by 2045. The Bill has been drafted by legal experts, scientists, academics and environmental organisations and is being taken forward as a private members Bill with support from a number of parties within the Executive. This represents a landmark moment for climate action in Northern Ireland and will help ensure that we make a meaningful contribution to addressing climate change. The NFFN are supportive of the Bill and will be working with others to ensure that it helps all farmers transition to nature friendly practises which benefit nature, climate and the environment.

9218_163 FoE National Tree Summit
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Friends of the Earth trees campaign are holding our first National Tree Summit on 1 December 2020. The free event will be available online via Zoom, from 9:30am to 17.15.

 

The event features a full day of talks and panel discussions with insights from leaders, experts, community groups and government. Hear from Forestry Minister Zac Goldsmith on DEFRA’s England Tree Strategy; the Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change Lord Deben on the importance of trees to meet the UK’s net zero target; Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, Darren Moorcroft on the role of native woodland in meeting tree targets and cutting carbon and Rewilding Britain’s Rebecca Wrigley on natural regeneration, plus many more.

 

Two speakers will focus on the role of agroforestry and the opportunities it represents for farmers:

Helen Browning, Chief Executive, The Soil Association: Agroforestry – its capacity to deliver a win/win for farmers and the planet

Stephen Briggs, farmer and agroforester: The launch of the Defra ELM agroforestry tests and trials pilot

 

A full agenda and more information will be available on the Tree Summit webpage closer to the date of the event. 

You can register for free tickets here.

9200_164 NFFN Photography Competition
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NFFN have launched their search for the best nature friendly farming photos for our 2022 calendar.

Our UK farmer steering group chairs will select a winning image each month, so grab you phone or camera and get snapping!

Nature friendly farmers across the UK have much to be proud of and we want you to share your favourite, farming, farm wildlife and landscape images with us so we can help spread the word that farming with nature can go hand in hand.

In addition to our 2022 calendar we may also use entries on social media and e-newsletters to promote the fantastic work nature friendly farmers are doing for farming, nature and the environment. Photographs will be credited.

Please email your entries, which can be landscape or portrait orientation, to info@nffn.org.uk and tell us which farm you took the photo on and where it is in the UK.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Many congratulations to our winners so far:

January: Sue Charlton

February: Hywell Morgan

March: Anthony Curwen

April: Sorcha Lewis

May: Richard Heady

June:  Chris Tomson

July: Julia Pigott, Walney Nature Reserve, Cumbria
August: Charles Clarkson
September: Helen Dale The Good Life Meat Co
October: Michael Mearns Achpopuli Farm, Abriachan, Inverness, Scotland
November: Gail Caddy
December: Hedley Wright
9059_165 New Team Member: Nikki Yoxall
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We’re delighted to announce we have appointed a new member to our team, Nikki Yoxall. Nikki will be primarily working with our NFFN Scotland farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions and supporting you in getting more from being a NFFN member in Scotland.

Nikki has a background in education where she has worked for the last 12 years, including as Head of Learning for Landbased Studies, and currently still holds a role at a University of the Highlands and Islands Academic Partner Institution.

She is currently undertaking an MSc in Sustainable Food and Natural Resources, and has interests in Holistic Management, agroforestry, native breed cattle and connecting folk with their food through local food networks.

With her husband, Nikki runs Grampian Graziers, using agroecological principles to manage farm ecosystems whilst producing beef from rare and native breed cattle in the North East of Scotland. This has been a steep learning curve for them both, but working with local landowners to manage conservation areas, regenerate woodland and implement mob grazing they have been able to see the restorative power of cattle in both farmed and wild landscapes.

Nikki also works with the PFLA to support the links between academic research and knowledge exchange and PFLA farmers and members, and is passionate about promoting research outputs with farmers and supporters of nature friendly farming.

9047_166 Nature Means Business – Our Latest NFFN Report
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NFFN have published their latest report: Nature Means Business: Establishing the Balance Between Food Production and Improving Nature which you can view here.

This report brings together evidence and farmer stories that present the business case for farming in harmony with nature. We urge policy makers and the farming industry to use this evidence to help them make real commitments and take practical actions to support sustainable, climate and nature friendly agriculture.

This evidence is backed up by personal stories from five nature-friendly farmers across the UK, who highlight the nature-friendly changes they have made to their farms and how this has made their businesses more resilient and profitable.

9040_167 Act Now! Last Chance to Enshrine Our Standards in UK Law
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Monday 12th will see MPs begin to debate the Agriculture Bill for the final time, as they either back or reject important amendments on trade and standards secured in the House of Lords.

 

The Agriculture Bill is a landmark piece of legislation, designed to set the foundations for our future funding framework for farmers and will provide parliamentarians with one of the most important opportunities in recent times to help the UK transition towards a more resilient, nature-friendly food and farming system.

 

Despite frequent commitments by Ministers to “protecting our high standards” and a Conservative Party manifesto promise that ‘in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards’ the Government continues to resist growing calls to enshrine our important food, environmental and animal welfare standards into law.

 

Because of our values and collective experience, the NFFN believes that the Agriculture Bill and associated funding mechanisms must help farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish, providing:

 

  1. Public money for public goods secured long-term, not undermined by additional clauses on food production but focused on supporting nature-friendly farming.
  2. High environmental standards for trade deals, enshrined in law, so that UK farmers are not undercut by low-quality, cheap imports and our carbon footprint is not exported.
  3. Strong environmental regulations to raise current nature and climate standards on all farms.
  4. Long-term funding and certainty so farmers are properly rewarded for environmental goods now and into the future.

The NFFN has worked tirelessly throughout the consideration of this Bill to encourage MPs and Peers to back nature-friendly farming. We know that the shift towards a nature-friendly farming approach is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival of farming, delivering broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, improved water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes.

 

Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food into the future but we must have an Agriculture Bill that is fit for purpose.

 

As such, please join us in urgently contacting your MP and asking them to back the Lords amendments when they debate the Agriculture Bill next week. You can find their details here.

You can use this template letter and/or tweet them using:

Next week the #AgricultureBill returns to the House of Commons for its final stage before becoming law.

(insert MP name) will you vote to enshrine our vital food, environment, and animal welfare trade standards into law?

#NatureFriendlyFarming #SaveOurStandards #AgriBill

 

As always, adding your own words, a photo or even a video, outlining your personal experience and thoughts, will go a long way to making your voice heard. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

 

Thank you!

NFFN

8954_168 Join the Northern Real Farming Conference 2020
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NFFN are proud to be sponsoring the Northern Real Farming Conference, taking place online from Sept 28th to 10th Oct 2020. We are also hosting five great sessions and we hope to see you there.
The full Northern Real Farming Conference 2020 programme is now live: https://www.northernrealfarming.org/schedule/
Hear from over 60 farmers from the North of England and Scotland along with researchers and practitioners about how they are putting new models of farming into practice.
The programme includes sessions on business models, nature friendly farming, upland farming, cooperative and community supported agriculture, horticulture, public good, procurement, ELMS, water management, agroforestry, policy and more, along with social spaces and physically-distanced walks.
Join the network: share your experiences and network with other farmers, researchers and colleagues from the North of England and Scotland.
Follow us for updates:
8823_169 Scottish Agriculture Bill and Future Farm Policies
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The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill otherwise known as the “Scottish Agriculture Bill” has just been passed by the Scottish Parliament following its final Stage 3 debate. Why does this matter and what are the implications for farmers, farming and the environment in Scotland?

This Bill sets out to deliver the Scottish Government’s plans for a period of transition from 2021-2024 creating, amongst other things, powers to bring forward legislation to simplify or improve the European Union (EU) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post Brexit. The Bill ensures that on exit day, Scottish Ministers have the powers to provide financial support to farmers over the next few years. Some of this funding is of direct benefit to biodiversity, climate and the wider environment.

NFFN Scotland supported the principles and intention of this Bill but felt that Scottish Government should have gone further. Working with Scottish Environment LINK, the Scottish Food Coalition, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates we wrote to Fergus Ewing Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity pressing for amendments to the bill. Specifically, we called for a Purpose Clause to be inserted that ensured any changes made were for one or more specific purposes including contributing to reaching net zero emissions by 2045, to halt the loss of biodiversity, facilitating local supply chains, encouraging innovation and resilience in agriculture. Disappointingly, despite a substantial debate on this point and support of Labour, Conservative and Green parties MSP’s we were unable to persuade the Liberal Democrats and SNP to back the amendment, so it did not pass into law. There was however another important amendment which did pass in relation to new agricultural policy which requires that Scottish Ministers must lay out in a report before the Parliament on progress towards establishing a new Scottish agricultural policy and do so no later than 31 December 2024. This report must include policies and proposals as to the sustainability of Scottish agriculture and its resilience to climate change and the improvement of productivity of Scottish agriculture, amongst other things. It must also outline any legislation that will be required to implement the policies and proposals and a timeline of when that legislation will be introduced

Looking forward NFFN Scotland will be looking to engage with all the political parties in the lead up to Scottish Parliamentary elections and beyond to ensure that there is a long-term vision for Scottish rural development policies which support Scottish agriculture at the same time putting it on a path to net zero by 2045, addressing the biodiversity crisis and building resilience and profitability and supports the farmers and crofters who need it most.

8821_170 Back In Action: Parliamentary Update
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After a fairly lengthy and gruelling seven days of debate, during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords, both Houses of Parliament broke for the summer recess at the end of July. We continued to work closely with a number of supportive Peers on our key asks for the Bill and are chomping at the bit now that Parliament has returned, to see this Bill deliver for nature-friendly farmers!
Committee Stage in the House of Lords was a chance for Peers to speak in support of their amendments, and those of colleagues, raising important issues of concern and requesting clarifications from the government. We were pleased to see so many Peers speaking in support of nature-friendly farming, including the Earl of Caithness who tabled an amendment specifically in support of our work! You can catch up with the debate via Hansard here.
Many of you will have also noted the creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission recently, designed to ‘advise the government to ensure new trade policies secure export opportunities for UK farmers and uphold high standards.’ Whilst the NFFN is supportive of steps to promote and protect our domestic high-standards, we are concerned about the nature of this commission – both that it is time limited and that its recommendations would be advisory only, amongst other weaknesses.
The NFFN will continue to press for parliamentarians to enshrine high environmental and welfare trade standards in law – the only way to properly protect them – but we would also ask that any associated bodies, such as this commission, also have sufficient powers and responsibilities to make and enact change. We continue to call for strong environmental standards and certainty for long-term funding, so that farmers are properly supported and rewarded for their hard work.
Now that Parliament has returned, we will be calling on Peers to back amendments aimed at improving the Agriculture Bill and keep an eye out for our next campaigns – which will give you the chance to share your voice with your elected representatives, when this Bill returns to the House of Commons later this month.
As always, if you are speaking with your local representatives or have a fantastic case study to share, please do get in touch with me at robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk as we’d love to hear from you!
8789_171 Feeding the Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers are Responding to Covid-19
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See our full report on NFFN and the Covid-19 crisis here.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 we have seen many challenges across society, and farmers are no exception. There are farmers with food to sell, but many of the usual supply chains are closed. There are farmers with produce to harvest, but a lack of workers to make this happen. We urgently need to support farmers to connect with the public, right across the country, so they can sell their produce without this food going to waste.

Many Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) farmers are changing the way they supply the food they produce, and are marketing directly to the public, through local supply chains or online. What hasn’t changed though is their commitment to our natural environment and farming, nor their determination to provide the food we all need. We are proud to support them during this challenging time.

A sustainable food supply chain in the UK has never been more crucial to help farmers provide healthy and sustainable food, avoid food waste and protect wildlife and the environment. We urge you to support your local nature friendly farmers during this crisis and beyond. Find out how here.

8786_172 Farming for our future: The nature friendly climate solution we urgently need
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NFFN have launched their latest report “Farming For Our Future: The Nature Friendly Climate Change Solution We Urgently Need

It demonstrates that farmers across the UK need urgent support to respond to the climate emergency and transition to sustainable farming system that will deliver on long-term food security and protect biodiversity and the environment.

Our report, together with the NFFN practical guide to help achieve net-zero carbon targets, show the potential for a sustainable farming system in the UK

Food and farming needs to change on a large scale to support a sustainable future for us all.

Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream.

Join us now and be part of the solution.

8782_173 Farm Case Study: Simon Best
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Simon Best farms at Acton House Farm near Poyntzpass in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

His farm is 1,200 acres of predominantly arable land, including an Aberdeen Angus beef herd and green waste composting facility. Simon shares his farming story with us here.

8779_174 Farm Case Study: Michael Clarke
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Michael and his wife Shirley own Williamwood, a 300 acre grassland farm. Michael share his farming journey with us here.

8775_175 Farm Case Study: Joel Kerr
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Joel Kerr farms at Tyghan Farm, a 32-hectare organic poultry farm. He produces free range organic chickens, alongside small herds of native breed Shorthorn cattle and Dorset horn sheep, which he sells for meat directly to farmers markets. You can read Joel’s farming case study here.

8771_176 Farm Case Study: Patrick Barker
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Patrick Barker farms a 550 ha arable farm in North Suffolk. The farm is a family-owned partnership, with Patrick and his cousin Brian running the farming and environmental contracting business. Situated on clay soil, the farm grows cereals, spring linseed, spring beans and herbage grass seed. Patrick shares with us his farming story here.

8744_177 NFFN ELMS Consultation Response
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Many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to our ELMS survey, we used your feedback in our response to the Defra consultation. You can view our submission here.

8735_178 Farming for nature pays off for Wimpole
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Nature and soil health are flourishing at the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge according to the results of a full ‘health-check’ into its biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility.

The results, show increases in the numbers of breeding pairs of rare farmland birds, invertebrates and how the land is a significant sequester of carbon.

The organic farm has been focusing on nature friendly, sustainable farming methods for the past 12 years to reflect the conservation charity’s goals for farming models which are good for nature, deliver public benefit and which are profitable.

Credit: Nick Upton

Nationally, numbers of farmland birds have declined by 54 per cent since 1970, the distribution of bees and hoverflies declined by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2014 and it is estimated that soil degradation in England and Wales costs the economy £1.2 billion a year.

The 589 hectare mixed livestock and arable farm, conducted in-depth surveys over two years into farmland birds, invertebrates and soil health.

 

 

Key results included:

  • the doubling in numbers of breeding pairs of rare skylarks and linnets in six years which are good indicators of a healthy ecosystem
  • a 38 per cent increase in invertebrate numbers over 13 years to include the recording of 95 rare and protected species, vital for pollinating crops and preying on pests
  • a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year achieved through the amount of organic matter in the soil which soaks up carbon, the number of trees and grown out hedges

 

As for public goods, in terms of access for the public, Wimpole also has over 40km of public rights of way and permissive paths which are enjoyed by over 350,000 visitors a year.

As a business, the farm is also returning a healthy profit.

Last year, production levels across 369 hectares of the arable farm reached impressive levels for an organic farming system with last year’s harvests resulting in 142 tonnes of wheat – enough to make 200,000 loaves of bread, or over four million scones – 123 tonnes of organic barley – equivalent to what’s needed to make nearly 1.5million pints of beer and 126 tonnes of organic oats – equivalent to over 2.5 million bowls of porridge.

 

For 2019, this resulted in £294,617 income, £117,588 profit for the farm (including subsidy payments).

 

Callum Weir farm manager at Wimpole said: “Many of the increases we recorded in the surveys are down to the combination of organic farming methods in the fields and the mosaic of margins, hedges and habitats that surround each field.

That is not to say that organic farming is the only way to farm with nature. There are great examples of farmers across the UK who aren’t organic, but are still delivering massive benefits to the environment. Like many farmers, we dedicate areas of Wimpole to help biodiversity. For example, we sow a variety of plants including phacelia which has purpley blue flowers, clover and sainfoin, with its bright pink flowers which flower from early April right through to October. These attract and support pollinators and insects which have a vital role in the ecosystem.

The survey results are vital to understanding how our holistic approach to farming at Wimpole is working. We want to farm sustainably at the same time as being a truly viable business and it’s fantastic to see how nature friendly farming and a profitable farm business, can go hand in hand.”

 

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust told us: “Sustainable, productive and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy environment.

Coronavirus has shown how important it is to have a resilient food and farming system. We know that climate change and sustainability pose the greatest threats to food security, as this year’s flooding and now drought have shown.

The Agriculture Bill – and the principle of public money for public goods at its heart – is an opportunity to deliver this.

We have taken the risks, experimented and want to share our learnings with others. At Wimpole we’ve had to overcome particular challenges such as soil degradation, decreasing returns from farming and declines in farmland wildlife.

With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think.

The story at Wimpole paints one of hope and optimism – and the Government’s forthcoming ‘environmental land management scheme’ will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme. Together, these two mechanisms will ensure all farms have a sustainable future which will be good for the environment, good for farm businesses and good for people.

It’s vital the Agriculture Bill its ambition and key public goods principles aren’t weakened. We also mustn’t see progress at home on sustainability undermined by food imports that don’t meet our standards: the Bill should therefore be amended to provide safeguards against this.”

 

Survey results in detail

To fully understand the impact of 12 years of organic farming on the environment, the team carried out surveys into rare farmland birds, invertebrates and conducted an in-depth study into carbon sequestration.

 

Key findings from the farmland bird survey conducted across half the farm revealed that since 2013:

  • Numbers of rare skylarks have increased by 75 per cent, from 12 to 21 pairs
  • Number of rare linnets have doubled from three to seven pairs
  • Wimpole is one of the most important populations of the rare corn bunting in Cambridgeshire with between five and eight pairs breeding each year.
  • The farm provides winter feeding habitat for at least nine rare bird species – grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, skylark, starling, yellowhammer, woodcock, hen harrier, fieldfare

A total of 1,145 species were recorded in the invertebrates survey, equating to an increase of 38 per cent in the number of species between 2003 and 2019.

This included 95 rare species with formal conservation status including Bombus Ruderatus – the large garden bumblebee and Tyria Jacobaeae – the cinnabar moth. 75 species of bee, 49 species of wasps, 46 species of hoverflies and 22 types of butterflies were recorded. Other key results from last year included:

  • A 150 per cent increase in Hymonptera (wasps, bees, ants)
  • A 190 per cent increase in the number of rare invertebrate species including the nationally scarce (NS) Tumbling Flower Beeting (Mordellistena variegate), the small heath butterfly (high on the Butterfly Conservation Priority List) and the (NS) Slender-horned Leatherback
  • A 30 per cent increase in the number of butterfly species including the silver washed fritillary and marbled white.
  • The organic field margins support on average 30 per cent more invertebrates then conventional field margins.

Callum continued: “We were so pleased by the results of the study. It was great to see that our margins, so rich in wildlife, bordering productive farmland. This gave me real hope that with the right support, farmers can help address biodiversity losses and play our part with tackling the climate crisis.”

 

The team used the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, a recognised carbon measure by the farming industry, to conduct a full carbon analysis across the whole estate to include the farmland, parkland and woodland.

 

Thanks to the team’s holistic approach to farming on the estate, incorporating soil management, habitats and tree planting/woodland management, the land is a significant sequester of carbon, with a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year.

 

Callum explains: “When you think that an economy class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, this is really significant.”

Over the last 12 years, by far the biggest sequester of carbon is the increase in soil organic matter (SOM).

This has been achieved by applying agroecological principles to the arable farmland which includes reducing cultivation, cover cropping, integrating livestock, utilising habitats and stewardship and embracing technology.

Trees were a significant sequester or carbon on the estate, however the main belts and blocks of woodlands on the estate are reaching maturity and will soon stop sequestering carbon (but these old trees remain very valuable to biodiversity). However, we’ve addressed this by planting 1,000 parkland trees over the past 10 years which will help with carbon capture and biodiversity.

We recognise that our livestock are a large emitter of carbon. But, they are the perfect tool to manage our Grade 1 listed parkland and the traditional hay meadows.

If we were to plough up the parkland and convert it to arable, this would release 50,000 tonnes of CO2e from this carbon sink – equivalent to 100,000 return flights to New York City (for individual people or 416 full 747 aeroplanes). This demonstrates the value of livestock in the carbon cycle, and the benefits of grass fed meat. If meat is produced in the right way and consumed in the right amounts, it can be sustainable.”

 

8733_179 Ready for Recess
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Ready for Recess

After a fairly lengthy and gruelling seven days of debate, during the Committee Stage of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords, both Houses of Parliament broke for the summer recess at the end of July.

Committee Stage in the House of Lords is a chance for Peers to speak in support of their amendments, and those of colleagues, raising important issues of concern and requesting clarifications from the government. We were pleased to see so many Peers speaking in support of nature-friendly farming, including the Earl of Caithness who tabled an amendment specifically in support of our work! You can catch up with the debate via Hansard here.

Many of you will have noted the creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission recently, designed to ‘advise the government to ensure new trade policies secure export opportunities for UK farmers and uphold high standards.’ Whilst the NFFN is supportive of steps to promote and protect our domestic high-standards, we are concerned about the nature of this commission – both that it is time limited and that its recommendations would be advisory only, amongst other things.

The NFFN will continue to press for parliamentarians to enshrine high environmental and welfare trade standards in law – the only way to properly protect them – but we would also ask that any associated bodies, such as this commission, also have sufficient powers and responsibilities to make and enact change.

Indeed, whilst Parliament is not currently sitting, our work continues, with engagement with MPs and Peers to discuss our asks for these key pieces of legislation and associated bodies. We continue to call for strong environmental standards and certainty for long-term funding, so that farmers are properly supported and rewarded for their hard work. We will be setting out our further asks shortly and keep an eye out for our next campaigns.

As always, if you are speaking with your local representatives or have a fantastic case study to share, please do get in touch with me at Robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk as I’d love to hear from you!

8728_180 New Team Member: Alison Rickett
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We are very excited to announce that we have recently recruited Alison Rickett to our NFFN support team! Alison will be primarily working to support our NFFN England farmer steering group, helping our farmers have a stronger voice in policy discussions across the UK and support you in getting more from being a NFFN member.

From growing up on the family tenanted farm, Alison has dedicated her 30 + years career to the farming industry. After exploring different roles, she specialised in running a farmer led training group, qualified as a trainer and facilitator, and took this onto a wider remit working for the National Trust as their National Skills and Training adviser.

In 2009, she started her own consultancy, working not only as trainer but also in national project management roles of Fresh Start Business academies and the Bright Crop career initiative. She moved on to focus on farm businesses and farm business models and helping new entrants from all backgrounds and ages to get started in or develop their farming businesses. This was balanced with working with farming succession and co-producing the first handbook (Using Land to unlock business innovation) around joint ventures. Latterly, as the managing director of Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre CIC, she created and set up the first land matching service for England in 2016.

As a consultant she has focused on many nature and conservation based projects developing bespoke programmes for clients across the UK and delivering supporting advice. All of her work involves engaging with an exceptionally wide range of farmers, staff, and farming organisations at regional and national level. She Is a member of TRIG (Tenancy Reform Industry Group) and the EU Focus Group on New Entrants. In recent years, she has extended her writing of related articles and been an editor on land and conservation based publications and contributor to research papers and works closely with the James Hutton Institute as a network facilitator in the UK and as part of the European Newbie project.

Her passion throughout her work is capturing the wonderful skills and knowledge of the UK farmers and supporting organisations and sharing this with others in sustainable farming projects and policy. Alison is delighted to now be working with NFFN as their Sustainable Farming Officer for England at such a crucial stage in UK agriculture.

To contact Alison please email Alison.rickett@nffn.org.uk

8720_181 NFFN NI Webinars
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Why nature means business; How Food & farming can deliver a green recovery in Northern Ireland

How we farm is vital to nature’s recovery, and our own. In the Nature Friendly Farming Network’s recent agriculture webinars in partnership with RSPBNI, a host of industry experts demonstrated how we can reform our food and farming system to benefit both people and the planet. For anyone who missed the event, this is what you need to know.

 

  • Sustainable land management is vital for more than just food production.

Food, farming and the environment have found themselves firmly in the spotlight due to the Covid-19 crisis. We don’t have to look too far back to remember the empty supermarket shelves as the initial panic from the pandemic impacted our food supply chains. Thoughts of food security and building greater resilience in our food and farming systems have subsequently come to the forefront of our minds. Similarly, lockdown demonstrated the importance of the environment to our health, wellbeing and future prosperity. Many of us found solace in being able to engage with nature as other aspects of our lives ground to a standstill. This experience has highlighted a growing appetite for change, with widespread calls for a green recovery as we continue to emerge from the pandemic.

 

  • Future farming and land use policies are key to enabling a green recovery

Farming and land management has a vital role to play in the restoration of nature, storing and sequestering carbon, providing cleaner water, air and soil health all vital services that we desperately need. But previous policies have failed to support farming to deliver these ambitions and have been a contributing factor in widespread environmental decline. New policies are needed to help deliver a transition towards more sustainable nature friendly farming, to allow farmers to farm with nature rather than against it.

 

  • An investment in nature friendly farming is an essential investment for our future

Our long-term food security and wider prosperity is dependent upon a thriving natural environment and stable climate. Over recent years, more intensive agriculture has led to a decline in the health of our soil, air and water quality, and variety of plant and animal life. Our expert panellists, including members Simon Best and Charlie Cole of the NFFN Northern Ireland Steering Group, demonstrated how long-term investment, alongside the right policies to reward sustainable farming practises, can provide solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing us today; all whilst delivering a more profitable future for the farming sector. Click to watch the webinar highlights now!

 

  • Farming with nature in mind makes good business sense

Speakers highlighted how incorporating the needs of nature into farm business practises can benefit a farm’s bottom line in tandem with improving the environment. For example, Chris Clark author of the recent Less is More Report and Chair of the Network in England spoke of how reducing a farm’s output so that it matches the natural carrying capacity of the land can help significantly reduce business costs at the same time as improving the condition of the natural assets on which all farm businesses depend. Matt Rayment an agricultural economist spoke of how future support schemes can help incentivise good practise and adequately pay farmers for their role in delivering a green recovery. Click here to watch the webinar highlights.

 

As the Assembly returns in the autumn these are the messages we will be championing as we move towards the development of bespoke agriculture and land use policies in Northern Ireland. Such policies must help deliver Nature Friendly Farming across the country.

8717_182 NFFN Wales at Green Recovery Wales Festival
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NFFN Wales farmers took part in numerous live discussions, webinars and videos at Green Recovery Wales – a virtual festival of farming, food and nature held between 20th and 23rd July. Click on the links below to hear what our nature friendly farmers had to say!

 

  • NFFN Wales Steering Group farmer Teleri Fielden took part in a live panel event (Welsh language session) which looked at how agriculture can help create a better future for nature and the environment, the Welsh language and culture, food security and the rural economy.
  • Teleri also produced this excellent video from the farm in North Wales, outlining what nature-friendly farming and eating less but better meat means for Wales.
  • Polly Davies, Gerald Miles, Sam Kenyon and Emma Douglas took part in a Farm to Fork Session offering insight into their farm to fork initiatives and the importance of nature friendly farming.
  • Join Rhys Evans as he takes a look at some of the different habitats and wildlife on the family farm in Meirionnydd – from the mountain to the meadows.
  • Join Chris Clark (NFFN England Chair) and Gethin Owen (NFFN Wales Steering Group member) for this excellent webinar to learn more about how the Less is More approach can help achieve a more profitable, resilient business model for farming alongside a thriving natural environment.
  • Hilary Kehoe (NFFN Wales Chair) and Emma Douglas delivered a great Conservation Grazing Webinar – full of useful advice, hints and tips.

The full programme of events can be found here

 

NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How Farming can be the Solution

Nature friendly farming can help tackle the climate and ecological crises, support vibrant rural communities and economies, produce plentiful healthy sustainable food and improve public health.   In order to help achieve this we urge all political parties to commit to the following 6 key asks…click here to find out more

8654_183 Farm Case Study: David Butler
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NFFN farmer David Butler tells us how and why he farms with nature and shares his thoughts on the future of farming.

Farm Case Study: David Butler

8627_184 NFFN Cymru and a Green Recovery: How Farming can be the Solution
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The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of our dysfunctional relationship with nature, environment and our food with studies linking the disease to the collapse of ecosystems and wildlife destruction. We need to rethink how we approach and value food, nature, the environment and our economy.   It’s vital that we ensure a Green Recovery to build back better after the Covid-19 crisis.

One thing is certain, nature friendly farming has huge role to play in securing a Green Recovery. Nature friendly farming can help tackle the climate and ecological crises, support vibrant rural communities and economies, produce plentiful healthy sustainable food and improve public health.   In order to help achieve this we urge all political parties to commit to the following 6 key asks:

  1. Maintain and redirect payments towards mainstreaming nature friendly farming
  2. Commit to zero carbon agriculture by 2040
  3. Maintain strong environmental and animal welfare standards
  4. Build markets for nature friendly farming products
  5. Invest in local food systems
  6. Educate on food, farming and nature

Farmers should be better supported and rewarded for the good work we do for nature and the environment. A sufficiently funded future agricultural policy has huge play to play here, and can help reverse wildlife declines whilst creating a stable, long term income for farmers. And let’s not forget that simple nature-based solutions such as tree and hedgerow planting, encouraging grassland biodiversity and peatland management can play a big role in tackling climate change.

Farming also needs to be profitable. We need a food system that ensures farmers earn a fair return whilst ensuring food is healthy, affordable and sustainably produced. Shorter and more transparent food supply chains can help achieve this. Many NFFN farmers are changing the way they supply the food they produce, and are marketing directly to the public, through local supply chains or online. Furthermore, food produced to high nature and environmental standards should be recognised in the market and that farmers adhering to them are rewarded.

Currently, there’s a disconnect between customers and farmers and a lack of understanding on what is good or bad for the environment. We need to educate people where their food comes from and the positive environmental, social and economic impacts of nature friendly farming systems.

The wonderful thing about food is that you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.

To find out more about our key asks please click here.

Thank you all for your continued support.

NFFN Cymru Steering Group

8617_185 Farm Case Study: Phil Knott
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Phil is NFFN Scotland Vice Chair and a crofter on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. He shares with us his farming story and why he believes nature means business.

Case Study: Phil Knott

 

8613_186 Farm Case Study: Hazel MacKenzie
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Hazel and her husband Kenneth run a croft in Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh, Shetland. She is passionate about farming with wildlife and nature and shares her farming story and thoughts on the future of farming with us.

Case Study: Hazel MacKenzie

8609_187 Farm Case Study: Anthony Curwen
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Anthony is vice chair of the NFFN England Steering Group and runs Quex Park country estate in Kent. The estate grows wheat, oilseed rape, oats, beans, potatoes and maize silage and has 60 hectares under environmental schemes. Anthony shares with us how he farms with nature and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Case Study: Anthony Curwen

8253_188 NFFN Job Opportunity
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NFFN Sustainable Farming Officer, England  

The NFFN have been successful in receiving a grant to fund a new staff post for 4 days a week for 2 years to support the growth of the NFFN and the influence of nature friendly farmers. We would like the successful candidate to start in this exciting new role as Sustainable Farming Officer as soon as possible. Please read the Job Description and Role Profile for full details. Applications open till July 10th and please send your completed application to info@nffn.org.uk. We reserve the right to close early if we find the right person for this role.

Click here to download the application form. Please note CV’s are not accepted.

7705_189 Green Recovery, Calling Cuckoos and future Agriculture Policy; hear about it all in our Northern Ireland Update
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NI Network joins calls for a green recovery

NFFN Northern Ireland have joined over 40 organisations calling for a Green Post Pandemic Recovery for Northern Ireland, in a recent Letter to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Network, alongside businesses, NGOs, academics and community groups made the case for a more resilient economy, increased space for nature and people and a strengthening of environmental protections. Central to this will be the development of fit for purpose agriculture and land management policies which help deliver nature friendly farming across Northern Ireland.

’

Calling all farmers; submit your cuckoo records online

For many, the distinctive sound of Spring is the call of the cuckoo, a bird which can often be found on nature friendly farmland. To help gain a better understanding of the Cuckoo population in Northern Ireland, the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) is asking people to report when they see or hear this amazing bird using their newly launched online recording facility. If you’ve been lucky enough to see or hear a cuckoo this spring, make sure to submit your record.

Agriculture Bill and Future Policy Development

Whilst the Agriculture Bill continues its progress through Westminster, it remains unclear what the future direction of travel will be in Northern Ireland; currently, there is currently no indication as to when an Agriculture Act for Northern Ireland will be in place. The NI Network continues to make the case for a transition towards a sustainable farming and land use policy as a matter of urgency, and the need for NI legislation in this area. The Steering Group have been active engaging with Ministers and officials in making the case for change and are looking forward to being involved in discussions moving forward.

 

Photos courtesy of Seán Woods and Michael Meharg.

7695_190 Wales’ Sustainable Farming and our Land: Summary of responses
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The Welsh Government has published a summary of the responses they received for the Sustainable Farming & our Land consultation.  Over 3,000 responses were received from a range of farmers, stakeholder organisations and members of the public – a significant proportion of which were directly engaged in farming.  Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs also issued a statement to accompany the Summary Report.

 

NFFN Wales responded to last year’s consultation calling for a new farming policy that facilitates and rewards nature friendly farming.  As such, we are happy to read that the Welsh Government are sticking to their guns and are maintaining the direction of travel outlined in the consultation.

 

“ I continue to propose to provide financial support to farmers who manage their land in a way which enables the sustainable production of quality Welsh food, tackles the climate emergency, reverses the loss of biodiversity, ensures high standards of animal health and welfare and protects our natural resources”

 

But there is still much work to be done.  We will be engaging with decision makers over the coming months to help ensure that a new farming policy in Wales works for farming and nature. If you’re interested in helping to get this message across, please get in touch on info@nffn.org.uk.

7688_191 Ready for Peer Review
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The Agriculture Bill was last debated at Report Stage in the Commons on Wednesday 13th May. It passed unamended and is now scheduled for its 2nd Reading in the Lords for Wednesday 10th June.

 

NFFN worked hard to engage with MPs on our core issues throughout the Bill’s journey in the Commons – specifically calling for high environmental standards in trade deals; strong environmental regulations; long-term funding and certainty for farmers; and ‘public money for public goods’ secured long-term, not undermined by additional clauses on food production, and more.

 

As well as direct targeting of MPs, including sending our written briefing, we joined forces with other organisations to send a joint letter of support. You can read what was said during the debate here and we were delighted that several MPs took the chance to speak up for nature-friendly farming, including Kerry McCarthy MP – who referenced directly from our latest report! You can listen to Kerry here.

 

However, whilst trade standards dominated the Report Stage debate, we are disappointed that MPs did not use this opportunity to enshrine high environmental and welfare standards in law. A number of amendments were tabled, which sought to provide these protections; including one on trade standards from Neil Parish MP, the Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, and we hoped that MPs would have supported these.

 

Put simply, this amendment, and others if passed, would have meant that any agricultural or food product imported into the UK was at least equivalent to relevant domestic standards and regulations. Without this, we run the risk of lower-quality imports to the UK, undermining UK farmers.

 

We therefore remain concerned about the omission of clear standards and protections in the Agriculture Bill and will be encouraging Members of the House of Lords to make the case for these. We will continue to work with our members and supporters across the UK on this and thank you to everyone who emailed/tweeted/contacted their MP in support of our work!

7677_192 Peelham Farm successfully pivoted to online direct sales during the coronavirus crisis – find out how!
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NFFN farmer Denise Walton shares how Peelham Farm successfully pivoted to online direct sales during the Covid-19 crisis.

  • As the UK went into lockdown in March, Denise Walton and the team at Peelham Farm  received an ‘avalanche’ of orders for meat products through their website
  • The farm went from being small-scale specialist artisan producers to key suppliers of food almost overnight and needed to change their systems and processes to deal with demand
  • Strict order deadlines and maintaining relationships with the abattoir and the couriers has been crucial
  • The team has changed the way they communicate with customers and increased their social media
  • The business has replaced all lost restaurant and farmers’ market income with direct sales. Denise says the team at the farm have pulled together to make this possible
  • Denise advises producers to be clear about what they stand for and invest in customer care

 

Denise Walton farms pigs and cattle organically at Peelham Farm in Scotland, where she has an on-site butchery and online meat shop. In March, as the UK went into lockdown and restaurants and farmers markets closed, she received an “avalanche” of online orders, while operating with a reduced staff due to Covid-19.

Before the UK lockdown was announced, Denise and the team at Peelham Farm were already transitioning more of their orders online. Farmers markets were still open, but Peelham had a system in place where customers could place their order online and then pick it up at the market, without having to hang around. So when the lockdown was instated, Peelham already had their direct selling systems up and running.

Even so, the increase in orders was a shock. “We were completely unprepared for the absolute avalanche of online sales,” says Denise. “We thought it might be as much as we’d get at Christmas, but in the first two or three weeks it was three or four times that amount. We were just knocked sideways. After about the first week, we realised the scale of requirements. We moved from being small-scale specialist artisan producers who nurtured our customers carefully into our ethos, to being thrown onto the front line as key suppliers of food for people in lockdown who couldn’t get access. Our whole attitude has had to change.”

Healthy staff and resilient supply chains

Denise’s first priorities were ensuring the health and safety of staff, and the resilience of the abattoir – butchery – courier supply chain. The on-site butchery has a small core team, two of whom needed to remain at home during the lockdown, so despite the increased orders, the team was reduced.

“Two of our staff have gone to long term isolation: one is a single mum so she will be back in the autumn. So effectively three to four times the online sales and a diminished staffing. We put two new staff members through the online elementary food hygiene course. They have been working seven days a week effectively. Our butchers have been fantastic, we have a brilliant person in the office, so we have a very good core team, but we have all been working incredibly hard, long days.”

“We put in physical space in our butchery and office so staff could work safely and at a distance, but it does mean actual processing has been slower.”

And there was extra effort required to keep both the abattoirs and the couriers happy. “We needed to be sure the whole chain was functioning, keeping close tabs on the abattoir and our courier services, who’ve been our lifeline. That chain did become very strained; it’s required a lot of communication, patience and flexibility. We’ve been able to keep the abattoir supplied and cash flow from the online sales meant we could keep the couriers happy.”

This has meant strict order deadlines – “if your order’s not in by Sunday, we don’t process it until the following week” – and increased deliveries, with the Peelham van out on the road to cover Edinburgh deliveries every Friday.

“Because of the huge pressure on couriers we have had to allow for a longer delivery period, so we have to put more ice in, at increased cost. We didn’t want to pass on that cost though, so we increased the minimum delivery and we subsidise our courier cost.”

The quality of the packaging also became more important. “Rather than wholesale products going to restaurants and farmers markets, it’s all going in a box,” Denise says. “So, we have to really be on the ball in terms of ordering packaging. We use WoolCool from 3R Sustainable, so we had to check out it’s industry testing under different temperature regimes. I’ve since been able to tell customers it actually performs better than polystyrene!”

Some products have become unsellable, however. “We handmake sausages so we get broken ones that we use to sell in packs at farmers’ markets. But they don’t look pretty enough to sell online, so we’re now supplying two community food banks, one in Berwick and one in Edinburgh. That was a moral rather than commercial decision.”

Consistent messaging supports direct sales

With the farm’s website more important than ever to the business, functionality and messaging have become paramount. Denise recruited a family friend to develop the social media channels and drive more sales to the website. “We spend a lot of time dealing with customers, a lot of time on emails, those are longer days, but communication is absolutely key. We are spending a lot more time on social media: that has been very important because people use it to get hints as to where to buy and what to buy.

“It’s no longer a phone call to a chef in a restaurant and a chat about different cuts. It’s no longer spending time at farmers markets, engaging with customers and getting direct feedback. It’s all virtual, so it requires a different approach to communication. It’s been quite a profound change.”

That change in approach, combined with changing shopping habits during the lockdown, has served Peelham Farm well; Denise says online direct sales have more or less made up for lost restaurant and farmers’ market sales – with the added benefit of immediate payment. What people have been buying has changed, too.

“People are definitely ordering more minced and diced meat. People still order things like charcuterie, but not that much. Good old mince has really gone up. Also steaks and joints. In the early stages of the lockdown people where buying big meat boxes to fill their freezers, and then their second and third orders have been smaller boxes. Our retail clients have increased their demand, but their demand is sausages and burgers.”

What does the post-Covid future look like for Peelham’s?

“I think it will take a while for restaurants to come back, maybe until Christmas, if they come back,” says Denise. “People will still not be able to go out to eat and they will still want something nice to eat at home. There is that customer. There are other customers who don’t want to go out until they are absolutely sure it is safe. These are the two customers areas that will continue to source from the likes of us.

“We have had an interesting pick up from Edinburgh of people who came to farmers’ markets and we are now delivering to them direct, and I think they might stay.

“Post-Covid we plan to keep our increased delivery options, and our strict order deadline. We had been planning to increase our online sales anyway, and this has made things move very quickly in the right direction.

“To others thinking about moving to direct sales I’d say: be clear about what you stand for. It adds to your unique selling point, why people should buy with you and not a supermarket. Clear, consistent messages are important. And customer care, especially online, is very, very important.”

Denise points out that Peelham Farm is a family business with a focus on environmental impact. She’s been careful not to lose the farm’s ethos even as production has ramped up to meet demand. She says: “Climate change hasn’t gone away and our environmental impact hasn’t gone away, but hopefully we’ll all have taken a positive from COVID-19 in terms of how we manage our beautiful planet.”

 

Click here to find your nearest NFFN direct selling farm.

7666_193 Launching Our NFFN Wales Blog
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16/06/21 – Raymond Lloyd-Williams farmer at Hwlffordd

I wasn’t planning on planting any trees…

This small dairy farm of 133 acres has been in our family for 3 generations. We’re situated not far from the Denbigh Moors in north Wales, and the yard sits at 750 feet above sea level. Our land is made up of mostly pasture. And along the stream and small river we have 2 small woodlands of 8 acres in total.

Over the past 27 years I’ve planted 11 hedgerows, and it helped that they were part funded by a local council biodiversity scheme. Where our field boundaries were patchy and the cows could walk through, the hedges made managing rotating the herd through their grazing better, by making our fields stock proof. You can’t beat a good thick hedge for being stock proof, especially when it’s fenced off to save it being eaten. No heifer, who thinks the grass is greener on the other side, is going to try jumping that. I also planted one hedge as a wildlife corridor between the 2 woodlands. I enjoyed the work back in the day, and it made a nice change during a time of year that usually feels like groundhog day, with the same daily routines throughout a long winter.

So, I thought my days of planting saplings were done. Until chatting with my milk recorder in the parlour got me thinking. She’s really keen on farmland nature and a heathy farmed landscape, and told me about part funded packs of hedge plants and trees available to buy from the Woodland Trust. 

I used to graze sheep in our woodlands but sold the last of the flock in 2019 in order to concentrate fully on the cows. Following this move, I fenced the woods off – fetching heifers back from where they shouldn’t be, having escaped up through the watercourses was getting to be a pain. With the new fencing in place, the woods went from being somewhere I’d previously looked to see how much grass had been grazed, to being somewhere I liked spending time and noticing empty pockets of space between clumps of trees.

I suppose being a typical farmer, and not wanting to rush any decisions about the farm, it wasn’t a surprise that I thought about the idea of planting trees for long enough this last autumn in to winter, that I missed the application window to get some of the part funded packs. One evening I googled the price of oak saplings, and was surprised by how cheap they were. I decided I’d like to plant some on an open patch above the wooded stream, to replace the ones felled for making fence posts by my Grandfather.

We already have a mix of healthy Oaks, Hawthorn, Ash and Rowan in the woods, and so trusting that new trees of the same species would also grow well, I ordered 50 oak saplings. They didn’t take long to plant and it felt good, replacing what my Taid had used. I didn’t consider it a big expense, and it is making an area of the farm which doesn’t suit livestock, a fuller woodland again – it’s somewhere I enjoy spending time and going for a walk. It feels good to have done something for nature and climate change.

Back when I’d ordered the oak trees, I told my son and I wasn’t expecting the really positive reaction he had. He told me the following quote “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This was a surprise, and made me smile. 

I’m now planning on converting a 9 acre field of long term rye grass mix in to herbal ley. I’ve been keeping an eye through social media on how resilient it is on other farms in north Wales, and I want to see how it compares to the rest of my grazing. I’m hoping to see health benefits in the cows, what with the herbs being deep rooting. I use Long term PRG anyway, and also hoping the increased clover in the sward with help to reduce nitrogen fertiliser inputs.

These small changes have given me something new and interesting to monitor, I’m looking forward to seeing the benefits to the herd, the land and seeing more pollinators and birds.

Images by Raymond Lloyd-Williams

 

16/12/20 – Sam Kenyon

Let’s Talk Hedges

One of the jobs which can be carried out on the farm from late autumn to late winter is hedge planting. For a livestock farmer, it might seem mad to be out in a cold field, with no protection from the elements bar the clobber we left the yard in. And to dig in and turn over the soil, at a time of year when every blade of grass for our wintering flocks or herd is vital, it might just seem madness on a level too far.

But planted now, the roots of those small but potentially mighty plants have a better chance of establishing while the soil is moist. And that protection we so wish we had from the elements is exactly what we’re planting for the future generations of our livestock and crops.

Before this year I hadn’t really thought of hedges as anything but a field boundary, a home for a little bit of nature and something that needed cutting back each autumn. That was until I sat in on a talk at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

The ORFC, opposed to the OFC had more facial hair, dirt under nails and less brogues in attendance – and that’s not necessarily referring to the men there, so needless to say I felt I was definitely at the right farm conference! And I’ve so many good reasons as to why I want to plant more hedges in the right places now – and they are all livestock, pasture, environment, pollinator, bird and mental health related!

Here at Glanllyn we’re putting in two hedgerows this winter, and the cost of one is partly funded by the Woodland Trust’s scheme called MOREhedges. If you’re a farmer or landowner thinking of planting hedges, I really recommend looking in to this – the application was simple and quick enough to complete that even I managed it, and like many farmers I know of I’m recognised for a lack of patience with sitting at a computer and box ticking paperwork.

So, sticking with the livestock first, the shelter a good thick hedge offers my livestock in any weather can not be underestimated on a health and welfare level. The animal is more comfortable and able to regulate body temperature better, whether it’s shade in summer that is needed or shielding from the driving wind and rain in winter. Maintaining a more even use of their body energy results in positive effects for their overall health and growth, and with the sheep here at home that means fewer shepherding problems. Also, the same healthy growth traits can be said for the pasture.

I’ve noticed that the herb rich sward grows thickest and more lush in the lee of the existing hedges, it seems this is mostly due to naturally improved soil conditions. The roots of the hedge plants open up the soil structure enabling more carbon and water to be stored, as well as other nutrients. I’m convinced that the leaf litter from the hedges is also a winner – it is natures compost afterall!

We now don’t cut the hedges every year, instead we leave them to grow wild until it looks like the tops are growing away too much from the base. Wildlife needs cover and a thick filled out base to a hedge is important for small mammals such as field mice or hedgehogs – we need a healthy structure not only for stability but to keep predators out too. Seeing increased numbers of pollinators, bird life, flowers and berries is like a soothing balm to the normal everyday pressures of running the farm. And anything that helps my mental health is definitely welcome on this place.

Planting more hedges will not only benefit wildlife but will reduce water run-off and soil erosion. And not cutting back the existing hedges has meant less fossil fuel is burnt, it’s also resulted in more native food for an increased population of native birds. Plus I’ve learnt about migrating insects finding cover in our hedges and that these amazing tiny bugs that travel thousands of miles are veracious predators of crop pests – nature is not just beautiful, its functional and accomplishes so much more than we give it credit for. We just have to let it live alongside us.

One of the key speakers had said to think of the growing area on a farm in 3D tiers, that not all the growing area was at ground level and nor were growing conditions dependant on just what we added the soil.

I hadn’t thought about levels within the structure of the farm before, just mostly the acreage of fields, but it really opened my mind and my eyes – I started to look at the place differently. I could improve growing conditions for my crops (lamb, hay and haylage) whilst working for and with nature too, and once I got thinking from this different perspective – to include more nature on different levels and to let it do what it does best – create a sustainable food producing balance, I found I had renewed energy and motivation for the farm work I love.

Images by Sam Kenyon

 

12/08/20 – Sorcha Lewis

This Blessed Landscape

Our Welsh uplands are some of the most beautiful in the world. From the pastures and hay meadows of the valley bottoms to the rough grass, heather moor, blanket bog, woodland and crags, these habitats have been shaped by geology and climate, and influenced by man over thousands of years. You can trace the genetics of a countryside in this landscape. These deep connections give our land a special place in our hearts.

 

I am Sorcha Lewis and I live and work in this blessed landscape on a tenanted upland hill farm in the heart of the Elan Valley, Mid Wales. I came here for work, fell in love, married and stayed. My husband, Brian Lewis, farms 580 hectares of mostly open land (and some ‘in-bye meadow and rhos) within a watershed catchment with reservoirs supplying water to Birmingham. Our stock is mostly “Elan Valley type” Welsh Mountain Sheep hefted on these hills for generations.   We have also introduced a small herd of shorthorn/ Hereford cattle which help us manage the vegetation and provide organic manure for the meadows. We are not formally organic but our farm input from chemicals is minimal, using no herbicides or artificial fertilizer.

Lockdown has been tricky. Usually after a long winter our neighbours are a welcome sight and gathering is greatly looked forward to throughout the year. Hill farming can be lonely, so it’s a great opportunity to socialize. This year however, those involved with gathering the sheep from the surrounding hills left promptly for their homes.

Still, it is a beautiful time on the farm as the orange and brown winter veil blooms yellow and green in spring promise and birds arrive from other continents to rear their young. I stand in the empty hayfield at the start of May after lambing when the sheep have been turned off and it is hard to believe that soon everywhere will be filled with the hypnotic rhythms of summer; gentle drumming of pollen heavy bees and other insects busying through the vegetation, birds on the wing promising the earth in song to mates waiting to bring new life into the world…

In April the curlews come to feed, in May the cuckoo calls and June sees the energetic swoop of swallow and martin catching food for their growing young in nests around the farmyard. The meadows, rhos and ffridd are choked with fantastic wildlife: orchids, globeflowers, small pearl bordered fritillaries, Welsh clearwing moth, water voles and a wealth of birds…

This dry Spring is such a contrast to the last 12 months. The reservoirs are slowly shrinking, although the storage capacity of our uplands is greater than all the water held in the reservoirs. Our meadow soils cope well in the really dry weather.   With their mix of grasses and deeper rooting flowers they are resilient when fields elsewhere are burnt yellow. We struggle more with wetter Summers because hay needs 3 – 5 days to dry and it is a tricky balance. Our meadows generally get cut in August/September, which allows plenty of times for the plants to flower and set seed. At worst we can bale as haylage, though we favour the small bales as they are easier to take out to stock on the hills when the weather is bad.   Then, Autumn touches the meadows and it’s the turn of the waxcap fungi to enjoy the short sward. Soon it will be a cold Winter’s day again on a remote hill when cutting the baler twine frees the smells of last summer with a promise of summers yet to come..

Traditional field names are clues to the pre 1900 landscape. We have a field called Cae Lloi (Calves field) where just yesterday our young shorthorn cow, Marbles, took herself to give birth. Most farms have a Cae Ysgubor (barn field) in the hills (barns for housing cattle and the harvest). One of the old fields – now drowned below the cold water of the reservoir – was called Dol y Bont (Meadow of the Bridge). I guess it would have been full of globe flower, meadow thistle and butterfly orchids as the remaining water margins are now.

Here in Wales the most important field name which gives the value to the importance of herb rich flower fields, is that of Cae Ysbyty (Hospital Field). Here you would put a poorly ewe or cow to graze on the herbs they need and “mend up”. Plants have medicinal properties, e.g. natural wormers, that beasts utilise and even now reduce the need for chemical intervention.

These rare upland hay meadows are incredibly important genetic resources. Hardy grasses and herbs, adapted to take up minerals and resist harsh weather, hold vital benefit to us and to farms and landscapes everywhere.   Precious wildflower meadows in the UK are as important as the Amazonian rainforest.

I would like to see Wales and the rest of the UK lead in turning around their decline. I would like to see some more science to back up what we know here on the hills about the value of our meadows. The benefits which the uplands deliver are undervalued and at risk. The intricate and vital connection between upland farming, wildlife and landscape, is so important to our futures. New policy should reward managing, restoring and recreating new meadows.

I am heartened by the amazing work I see done by farmers through the NFFN across the UK and the many more voices which give me great confidence and hope that there will be support for reforms to agriculture policy that works for everyone.

This lovely video gives a sense of the heritage and wildlife on a typical hill farm. Gilfach (Cosy Nook), was restored by the local Wildlife Trust and is in the next valley to us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4XEBAgIYFE

Images by Sorcha Lewis

 

22/06/20

Wales’ Global Ecosystem – an Insect Blog from the Ceiriog Valley

The more we look, the more we realise how much important stuff is going on connecting distant ecosystems.

I am going to tell you a story about an insect we see daily through the summer in the Ceiriog Valley. The marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) is around 12 – 18mm long.   She ably demonstrates the global role our Welsh valleys and mountains play in the biodiversity of her global environment.

“One Ceiriog Valley morning in late summer a tiny, new, marmalade hoverfly awoke and felt a feeling in the air, was it a shortening of the days, perhaps, or a chill wind, or a change in the light? She knew she had a different purpose to her parents. She needed to journey south to find a warm place to lay her eggs. The Valley was getting too close to winter. “

 

Millions of other marmalade hoverflies, other flies, butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and birds do exactly the same thing. They head south across Wales and England, Norway and Finland, France and Germany, Russia and the Middle East, towards the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

 

“As she reached the Pyrenees, favourable winds in French valleys funnelled her up and over the col into Spain, where she rested a while to feed before carrying on southwards. Exactly how far south she could have ended up, researchers are not sure (yet) but there is a reasonable possibility that she flew well into Africa before settling to lay her eggs on the green vegetation and live out her remaining days under the sun.

 

Her children and grandchildren stayed local until weeks and months later the urge to move made the newest generation follow the spring ‘green wave’ north. This journey was a different, multi-generational, journey, not a ‘one fell swoop’ like great great great…. Grandmama’s. Each new generation would move a little further north as new food sources grew.”

 

Hoverfly larvae are voracious predators of aphids and other plant eaters, so lag slightly behind the first appearance of green shoots; hatching to coincide with burgeoning food populations. Adult hoverflies are nectar eaters and important pollinators (like bees except that most bees do not migrate).

 

On their journeys north, migrating insects inadvertently carry grains of pollen which can improve the gene flow between plant populations across the continent. This is a vital component of biodiversity and one which migrating insects are often responsible for performing.

“At last, in May and June – several generations down the line – the tiny hoverfly that was hatched in the Ceiriog Valley last summer has returned, or at least her genetic material has, to pollinate my plants and lay eggs enough to build a new army of larval predators to eat the myriad aphids and other small plant predators in my garden and hedgerows and crops.”

 

Millions of insect migrants migrate across Europe every year. Many, if not most, provide immense but often unrecognised services. Almost all our fruit and vegetables are pollinated by animals and the health of our plant populations relies on good genetic diversity.   Migrators also deposit nutrients in the inevitable rain of nutrients when they die.   Nutrients circulate across countries and continents every year as migrants breed, eat, move and die. Indeed, in the far northern permafrost migrating insects may be the primary supply of nutrients.

 

Political boundaries are irrelevant to migrating animals, but human practices in farming, building on landscapes, use of pesticides and herbicides and soil health often create boundaries that restrict biodiversity. However, farming methods can also maintain, expand or create habitats, refuges and havens.

New discoveries about insect migration reveal in sharp focus the global nature of our farm environment and the value of maintaining and reinstating good habitat to support this movement of pollinators, plant genes and pest controllers.

We share our farms with insects who live on a continental, even global scale, tied intimately in with the way land is managed across thousands of miles. Nature friendly farming, and the types of farming systems that the Network is trying to encourage and mainstream, play a vital role in helping our insect allies.

 

For more about work on insect migration, follow the Genetics of Migration Lab on Twitter which has links to public talks and interviews to listen to when relaxing after a hard day, through to scientific papers for a wide-awake moment.  

This is science at its relevant best, connecting with the public (and welcoming questions!).

Photo credits:  Will Hawkes

About the author, Sarah Hawkes.

My home is in the Ceiriog Valley.   I work lambing seasons on a neighbouring farm with 500 ewes.  I grew up in rural Somerset where I worked for the Waldegrave Estate in the cheese dairy and farm office before a spell in London.  My background includes working with the invertebrates and amphibians at London Zoo, studying natural history with the Open University and a fair bit of travelling looking at amphibian communities in the far east, Australasia and NW England.

 

 

29/05/20

Welcome to the first ever NFFN Wales blog! As a steering group we thought a monthly blog would be a good way of keeping members in touch with what we are up to on our farms and our thoughts on current political events that will affect the future of farming.

 

I am Hilary Kehoe, the NFFN Chair for Wales so I’m starting things off with an introduction to my farm in North Wales, why nature is so important for farming and food production and why we need a new agriculture policy that rewards nature friendly farming.

 

The Family Farm

My husband and I manage Tyddyn Isaf, which overlooks the Menai Straits near Bethesda. We have mountain rights on Llanllechid common for our Welsh Hill flock and graze our Highland and Belted Galloway cattle and Manx Loughton sheep on nature reserves from Pwllheli to Bangor, Anglesey and the coast below the farm. We also run a countryside contracting business with two of our grown-up children which incorporates our grazing livestock into management of the nature reserves for the Wildlife Trust, Local Councils and holiday parks.

 

With the right grazing our animals create conditions for a range of species and habitats such as grassland waxcap fungi, breeding waders, leeches, wildflower meadows, wetlands, sand dunes and heathland. The sheep and cattle are finished slowly and are marketed through local butchers or as premium meat through local sales. Although we are not registered as organic the farm is run on organic principles with no fertiliser, herbicides or pesticides used.

 

Nature Friendly Farming Benefits

Although it’s been awfully dry recently, we find that the deep-rooted native plants in our species rich grasslands help the land withstand the dry weather, whilst more intensive ryegrass fields get burnt off. The wide variety of herbs growing in species rich swards also control worms, which we only treat for after testing the animal’s dung. This also makes for better tasting meat! The wide variety of herbs in our grassland and wild lands increases the omega 3 and linoleic acid in the meat which enhances its flavour.

 

Plenty of tall trees in our hedgerows (which we manage on a 3-year rotation) provide shelter from the sun and bad weather. The healthy soils, hedges and trees on the farm also sequester carbon, absorb water and reduce flooding.   For us, nature friendly farming just makes sense. As the UN stated in their recent report on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture;

 

“Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change.” 

As you can see, our family is passionate about our way of farming with wildlife. Even though there is a lot of cattle herding and boggy tiptoeing involved, we can see the benefits around us and delight in watching for the latest earthtongue fungi, flowering orchid or lapwing chicks. It is great on the nature reserves to engage with visitors and explain why the animals are there and what they are achieving. (They can also be helpful in locating the odd lost cow!)

 

Everyone can play a part

All farms, whatever their system, can be nature friendly – whether it is by creating wider headlands for wildflowers and connectivity for voles, bats and birds; planting a wider mix of species into productive grasslands, or planting copses and managing hedgerows in a more wildlife friendly way. Small changes can be great for nature with minimal effect to the farm, and often yield unexpected improvements to farm performance. Have I piqued your curiosity? If so, click here for advice on Nature Friendly Farming.

 

A new Farming Policy

Whilst the UK Government is developing an Agricultural Bill, the Welsh Government is also busy developing its own farming policy for Wales. Without thriving biodiversity, the ability of our land to keep producing food is under increasing threat, so this is a great opportunity to design a new policy that rewards nature friendly farming that helps maintain and enhance our wildlife and natural environment.

 

Promoting agroecology, regenerative agriculture, nature friendly faming (whatever you want to call it!) and rewarding farmers for helping nature to thrive, instead of making payments to intensify food production in inefficient and polluting ways, is a better choice for food production, communities and the environment.  I feel very strongly that we must work together as nature friendly farmers with local people and organisations to encourage the UK and devolved Governments to support farmers to work with nature, rather than against it – before it’s too late.

 

Your support is vital in order to achieve this change. If you’re passionate about farming and nature, then why not join the Nature Friendly Farming Network? You can sign up as a farmer or a nature lover (for free!). Every voice counts.

7644_194 MOREwoods and MOREhedges
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Helen Chesshire from The Woodland Trust tells us about the England Tree Strategy and schemes the Woodland Trust they have to support farmers.

Image by Pete Leeson

By the time you read your NFFN newsletter we hope the England Tree Strategy (ETS) will have been published for consultation.  This is important and relevant to you as farmers.  The Government has made expanding tree cover an important part of its commitment to be Carbon net zero by 2050. The ETS is a huge opportunity for DEFRA to show that trees and woods are not just carbon sponges waiting to be planted, but an integral part of the landscape, helping form networks of habitats and making your land more resilient. 

 

Here at the Woodland Trust we will be calling for the ETS to fully support farmers to both manage and expand trees and woods on farms. We believe trees should be in every farmer’s toolbox helping to boost productivity, resilience and the health of the environment with no need for trade off with food production.  The Trust has a range of schemes to help you integrate trees into your farm and has already supported the creation of over 2,500ha of small areas of woodland and shelter belts through its *MOREwoods scheme and over 200 km through its *MOREHedges scheme. An expert advisor will discuss the best species, tree protection and ongoing maintenance requirements with you to help you get the results you are looking for. Generous funding is available and in some cases support with planting can be arranged too. Visit our website at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant to find out more or apply online for our planting schemes.

 

We will be calling for much greater support for trees on farms, often referred to as agroforestry, in both the ETS but also in the new environmental land management schemes being developed by each devolved nation.  As Nature Friendly Farmers we know you appreciate the value of working with the environment and creating havens for wildlife so we hope every member of the NFFN can get behind our ETS campaign and help us promote trees and hedges as part of a more sustainable

approach to farming. 

Image of Stephen Briggs Farm by Tim Scrivener

 

Stephen Briggs, NFFN farmer in Cambridgeshire who has created a 52 hectare silvoarable scheme in 2010 reports “integrating trees into my farming system is capturing carbon, delivering soil protection, providing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects and the local wildlife as well as making us more income.   Trees grown as agroforestry can be just as valuable outside of woods as in and Government schemes throughout the UK need to reflect this in the support provided to farmers.”   

 

*MOREwoods and MOREhedges are funded by Woodland Trust partners: Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland.

 

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On Wednesday 13th May 2020, Parliament will be voting on the Agriculture Bill online, defining the future of UK farming. At the NFFN, we want to ensure that this Bill puts the environment at the forefront of farming practices.

We have created a briefing on the Agriculture Bill Report Stage and third reading here.

The Bill is pretty good. It delivers a public money for public goods approach, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production. But there are two amendments that need adding, one on trade so that farmers are not undercut by cheaper, poorer quality food, and one on securing long-term funding. We are asking our farmers and members of the public to please email their MP as soon as possible, showing your support for the Bill.

Please support the NFFN to keep farming sustainable by emailing and tweeting your MP, below is some suggested wording you may wish to use.

The Agriculture Bill will come before Parliament for another vote this Wednesday. I am particularly interested in this Bill because I am a public member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and feel that the Agriculture Bill is strong and needs your backing. I welcome the public money for public goods approach in the Agriculture Bill, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production.

The shift towards a nature-friendly approach is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival of farming. It delivers broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes. Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food for everyone to enjoy.

As my MP, I am asking you to please back the Bill on Wednesday. Please also support amendment NC2 which will protect British farmers from being undercut by cheaper or poorer quality produce from overseas. And please back amendment 5 which will place agriculture on a much firmer financial footing, helping guarantee sustainable food production long into the future.

If you use Twitter, please also tweet your MP and tag us @NFFNUK

This is a brilliant opportunity to lock in a nature-friendly approach to farming for the future. Please contact your MP as soon as you can.

Thank you for your ongoing support for NFFN and the nature-friendly movement.

 

6890_196 Have your say in designing a new Wales Agriculture Policy
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Following on from last year’s Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation The Welsh Government is launching a co-design exercise to help develop a future Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales. This is an opportunity to explore the more practical implications of the proposed Farm Sustainability Review, as well as the four main actions that will potentially make up the core of a future scheme;

  • Soil Husbandry
  • Animal Health and Welfare
  • Farm Development Opportunities
  • Habitat Management.

This is an excellent opportunity to ensure that nature friendly farming is given a voice in Wales.  Your experience and knowledge will be valuable in shaping a future farming policy in Wales that works for farmers, nature and the wider public.

 

What you need to do…

To register and start the process of being involved in the development of a Sustainable Farming Scheme for Wales you will need to…

  1. Complete your registration details to take part in co-design.
  2. Indicate your interest in a one-to-one session and/or workshop by 30 June 2020.
  3. Complete the survey which will remain available until 30 June 2020.

For more information and to register click this link.

Image: Andy Hay

6832_197 2020: a blooming year for road verges? A Practical Guide from Plantlife
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Over 700 wildflower species and nearly 45% of our total flora are found on our road verges. Considering we’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows since the 1930s, these crucial habitats need to be properly managed.

Plantlife’s best practice guide on ‘Managing grassland road verges’, produced in partnership with highways agencies, industry contractors and other wildlife organisations, gives practical advice on a ‘less and later’ two-cut approach which reduces management burdens, saves money and restores wildlife.

6813_198 Food for people and pollinators
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Catherine Jones, Pollinator Officer, shares with us an update from Buglife and information about their forthcoming farmer survey.

Skylarks are singing above the fields, a sign that spring is here, and soon we will hear the buzzing of summer as bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinators forage for food amongst the wildflowers blooming across the countryside. Sadly, much of the wildflower-rich habitat that pollinators need from spring through until the autumn, has been lost or is fragmented in the managed rural landscape. Nature friendly farmers play an important role providing large areas of pollinator friendly habitat. Buglife’s B-Lines map (available from: https://www.buglife.org.uk/our-work/b-lines/) provides a tool for nature friendly farmers to target the creation of wildflower-rich habitat along corridors between existing habitat to make a better connected landscape for our declining pollinators.

Buglife, and many other conservation organisations are working with Defra, farmers, and other land managers, to design a new environmental land management scheme. We would like to understand how we can support farmers and land managers in a rural environment that provides food and shelter for pollinators, rewards farmers for producing food for people (and pollinators), and protects the countryside for future generations. Buglife is asking farmers and land managers to share their thoughts/opinions by completing a short online survey. The responses will be anonymised and the survey will be shared by the Nature Friendly Farming Network early in May. This is your chance to help shape the future for pollinators across the English countryside.

In these difficult times, farmers across the country continue to produce and deliver food for people and nature friendly farmers continue to protect the countryside for our wildlife. Thank you.

Images:

Buff-tailed bumblebee –  Roger Key

Orchard in Kent – Laurie Jackson

6805_199 A week is a long time in politics… Robert Lingard provides us with key updates
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They say a week is a long time in politics, and the speed at which coronavirus has affected our lives, from a national lockdown to the associated political and legislative disruption, has certainly shown that to be true.

Whereas our last e-newsletter listed progress on all fronts of legislation in Westminster, that NFFN were working hard to influence, – including the Agriculture Bill, Trade Bill and Environment Bill – things have now slowed significantly. Weeks when we were expecting Second Readings and Third Readings of Bills have now passed, with no dates yet in sight for when we will be able to resume. With the Westminster Parliament still expected to return next week, albeit in a largely virtual sense, we await details for when and how much of this vital legislation will return for scrutiny.

25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

This of course is not only felt in Westminster though but across all our nations, including Northern Ireland, where only a few months ago Stormont was back in business, after more than 1,000 days of suspension. The implications of new land-management and funding mechanisms for farmers affects all of us, so rest assured that we are working with colleagues across the UK to ensure that your voices are heard wherever you are.

Indeed, the current challenges doesn’t at all mean that our political engagement stops and at the NFFN, we are continuing to work hard to ensure that our goals and ambitions for the future are heard, especially in these difficult times.

Our asks remain the same, that the Agriculture Bill must ensure public money for public goods, high environmental standards for trade deals; to ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards, deliver strong baseline environmental regulations and a long-term funding commitment. It must enable farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish.

We know that coronavirus has caused disruption to many of you and thank you to everyone who has shared with us how they are adapting to these challenges, from dealing with a lack of labour to the suspension of usual supply chains – we will certainly be incorporating any lessons learned into our messaging and policy asks.

Our recent report – Feeding The Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers Are Responding To Covid-19 – showcases some wonderful case studies, demonstrating the value and impact of nature-friendly farming. These past few weeks have helped awaken an interest and cement an understanding in both decision-makers and consumers of the importance of farming. With your support, we will help build on this to ensure lasting change.

Robert Lingard, NFFN Parliamentary Liaison

6725_200 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Paul Sousek
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Cottage Farm is an organic regenerative livestock farm powered by renewable energy. Paul raises organic Red Ruby/ North Devon cattle and organic Wiltshire Horn sheep, which they sell as meat boxes direct to customers, both locally and nationally. Paul also runs the North Cornwall Food Hub which supplies food and other products produced mostly by local farmers, growers and producers.

Read about Paul, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6722_201 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Jock Gibson
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Jock is a livestock farmer in Scotland, who, after inheriting the farm from his father decided to work with nature rather than against it. Jock is currently supporting his local community by adjusting their business model to support local and national deliveries, they are now completing a months’ worth of business in 2 to 3 days. They have also teamed up with other local businesses to deliver on their behalf, helping vulnerable people receive the food and goods that they need.

Read about Jock, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

 

6713_202 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Sally-Ann Spence
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Sally-Ann Spence is an entomologist and farmer based in Wiltshire. Berrycroft Farm is a family farm, run by Sally’s husband and brother. It produces wheat, barley, oats, and beans – the rapeseed oil goes to McDonalds for frying, the wheat goes to Warburtons for bread. Around 100 acres of grassland is grazed by native breed livestock that actively restore the grassland. Sally’s an enthusiastic science educator who also runs an education and research centre on the farm.

Read about Sally-Ann, her farm and how she’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6706_203 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Charlie Cole
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Charlie Cole is a first-generation farmer who manages Broughgammon on the North coast of Antrim. His farm, famous for its award-winning rose veal and goat burgers, has been championing sustainability and the principle of ‘forward thinking farming’ since 2012.

Broughgammon is a mixed system aiming to demonstrate high welfare standards, environmental stewardship resilience and profitability. Charlie is a passionate advocate for locally produced sustainable food, highlighting that nature friendly farming can play a key role in addressing many of the current problems facing food and farming at present.

Read about Charlie, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6693_204 NFFN Covid-19 Story: David Walston
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David Walston runs a 900-hectare arable farm in Cambridgeshire that produces mainly wheat, rape, peas, beans and oats. He uses techniques like no-till, companion cropping, bi-cropping and mob grazing to go beyond farming sustainability and actively regenerate the quality and productivity of soils. David has recently launched CoVeg, programme aiming to bring together farmers and their local communities to produce local vegetables which otherwise may not be available.

Read about David, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6703_205 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Martin Lines
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Martin is the U.K. chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. He is a third-generation farmer and contractor in South Cambridgeshire, growing mainly arable crops on his family farm and rented land. He has a special interest in farm conservation management, currently running an ELS and HLS agreement and Countryside Stewardship schemes on land he rents. He also supports the delivery of Stewardship Schemes for a number of other farmers.

Read about Martin, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6696_206 NFFN Covid-19 Story: Neil Heseltine
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Neil was born and brought up at Hill Top Farm, Malham in North Yorkshire, where he now farms with his partner Leigh. In 2003, as part of a conservation grazing scheme, Neil reintroduced 20 Belted Galloway cattle to join the Swaledale sheep flock. This proved to be a defining time in terms of farm ethos and mind-set, as he sought more sustainable and environmentally friendly production methods.

Read about Neil, his farm and how he’s responding to Covid-19 here.

6489_207 Species Rich Grassland Restoration at NT Rowallane Gardens Farmland, Northern Ireland
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Kevin Duncan from the National Trust tells us about a trial methodology to speed up the reversion to a more species rich sward of the grassland at Rowallane in Northern Ireland.

As part of our Land Outdoors and Nature strategy to restore and create landscapes where are our native wildlife can survive and thrive. We have under taken an exciting project within the farmland at Rowallane to enhance the diversity of the wildflowers found there, in partnership with the local tenant farmer. This in turn has the potential to enhance the overall biodiversity of the site, as the wildflowers will provide a valuable provide nectar sources for our native pollinators and attract insects which then act as a food source for farmland birds. Flower rich grasslands have undergone serious declines, and this is why we are so passionate about trying to re-establish them, helping to restore a healthy, beautiful, natural environment.

 

This autumn working with Ecoseeds, a wildflower restoration specialist company, we used a method known as ‘stitching in’ to sow some wildflower seed called Yellow Rattle into an area of one of the fields. This is a low disturbance method but creates enough bare ground to create germination areas for the seed. The seed was harvested locally within National Trust land, helping to keep the seed of local origin.

 

Yellow Rattle or Hay rattle as it is commonly called, due to its seeds making a rattling sound in the wind. Is a typical wildflower species found in traditional species rich hay meadows. This little plant has useful conservation restoration characterises as it is a hemi-parasitic plant.  It uses specialized roots called haustoria to penetrate the roots of neighbouring plants, in particular grasses to obtain nutrients.   This reduces the vigour of the grasses and encourages a wider diversity of more delicate plants to come up over time, as there is less competition.

 

Fingers crossed we will see Yellow Rattle plants start to germinate from late March onwards and this will help in time to deliver a much more species rich grassland.

 

The tenant farmer will be continuing to  work in partnership with us to aid the management of field towards the development of species rich grasslands over time. Through managing this field as a traditional hay meadow, followed by aftermath grazing. The hope is to expand this management across some of the other fields in the land holding and spread the species rich green hay to other fields, to encourage the development of these species there.

 

It is only by working in partnership with our tenant farmers, farming in wildlife friendly way, that the National Trust can deliver our great conservation work, helping nature to survive and thrive.

 

If any farmers are interested in carrying out similar meadow restoration projects like this one. This can be funded through Countryside Stewardship schemes. Would will help fund the seed and establishment costs and the needed traditional land management practices such as taking a late hay cut.

 

Although these traditional meadows may not be as productive as the modern Rye grass dominated swards. They do bring other benefits to livestock. Such as increased livestock health benefits through the diversity of plants, grasses, legumes and deep rooting herbs found in these grasslands. Which contain a range of minerals and vitamins helping to keep the livestock in good health, with less reliance on mineral licks or drenches being required. This increased mineral content is then passed onto the consumer through consuming the end products.  There is also research showing that certain plants which contain tannins, upset the live cycle of parasites and lead to less need for expensive worming drenches. Helping to stop the on going issue of anthemic resistance.

 

So working with nature can really benefit the whole farming system and make it more resilient long term whilst delivering the many services the public demand.  However it’s important to remember if we the public want landscapes full of colour and sounds of native species we must then support farmers, who have made the move to nature friendly practices which not just deliver for nature, but our health and wellbeing also.

6484_208 All the Moor Butterflies Project Finishes on a High
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Simon Phelps and Megan Lowe from Butterfly Conservation share with us their experience and successes of the fantastic All the Moor Butterflies project.

After three years of hard work (from 2017 to 2019) on the iconic moors of south-west England, Butterfly Conservations ambitious ‘All the Moor Butterflies’ project has finished. The project has improved the fortunes of some of south-west England’s rarest butterfly species by working with landowners and farmers, whilst also offering a breadth of opportunities for new and existing audiences to get involved with their conservation.

The project worked with 146 landowners/farmers across 201 sites on Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Project staff carried out 841 site visits, giving advice to landowners and farmers to help them care for the rare butterflies and moths on their land. 199 sites were surveyed for the target Fritillary species, resulting in a whopping 13,243 butterflies being counted. It was wonderful to see such rare species thriving on areas of sensitively farmed land across the three moorland areas. Three key highlights were strong numbers of Pearl-bordered Fritillary being recorded across Dartmoor, numbers of Heath Fritillary booming in 2018 and 29 new sites being discovered on Bodmin Moor for the Marsh Fritillary. Farmers in these areas deserve great credit for retaining these species, which have been lost from many places nationally, on their land.

The project delivered a large amount of habitat management work in partnership with landowners and farmers. 165 hectares of habitat was improved on farms by working with volunteers, who attended 80 work parties and gave 861 days of volunteer time. This meant that habitats were improved on farms for key species like the Marsh Fritillary.

Over 5000 people learnt about the fascinating lives of these wonderful insects and were given opportunities to contribute to their conservation. This was a crucial part of the project, as it was vital to show people these beautiful species and places. School children, volunteers and people with mental health issues all got the chance to learn about why these butterfly and moth species matter and join in with the work to save them.

The ‘All the Moor Butterflies’ project has been a tremendous success. It has demonstrated that when we work together at a landscape scale, involving conservation partners, landowners, farmers and volunteers, we can save species. It has also shown us that butterflies and moths are a powerful force for good within communities.

You can find out more about what the project achieved by visiting the project website. You will also find a lovely film there that showcases some of the highlights of the project. The website is here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/our-work/conservation-projects/england/all-the-moor-butterflies

6375_209 The Agriculture and Environment Bills are Back
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Bills a Plenty!

Now that Parliament has returned following last December’s General Election and is back in full swing, progress with environmental legislation resumes at pace, with all the following once again live and actively in play within Westminster – Agriculture BillEnvironment Bill and Fisheries Bill.

With the Second Reading of the Environment Bill (25th February) and the Agriculture Bill continuing to make its way through Committee Stage in the House of Commons, Parliamentarians are poised to make critical decisions on some of the most important legislation to face farming and the UK’s environment for half a century.

We know how vital it is for the voices of farmers and their commitment to nature and demonstration of their hard work to be recognised throughout this process. The NFFN has been working tirelessly to ensure that these decision makers understand and champion a way of farming which is sustainable and good for nature; highlighting that farming and nature can go hand in hand.

 

This has included written and oral evidence to MPs and Committees, as well as meetings with key stakeholders to ensure that sustainable farming and the aims of NFFN members are at the heart of these discussions. You can read our recent briefing on the Agriculture Bill here .

 

NFFN believes the Agriculture Bill must ensure public money for public goods and high environmental standards for trade deals; to ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards. It must also deliver strong baseline environmental regulations and a long-term funding commitment. Fundamentally, it must enable farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish.

We have therefore welcomed the public money for public goods approach of the Agriculture Bill and are pleased to see additions to this Bill to include soil health as a public good, as well as payments for regenerative and agroecological approaches – measures that are essential to nature and climate friendly farming practices.

 

However, we remain concerned that future trade deals could undercut the high standards set by UK farmers. We strongly support appropriate additions to the Bill to
ensure that trade deals promote high standards for the environment and food, and protect farmers and the public from products which do not meet the high standards of UK agriculture. We believe that the Bill should set a robust baseline of environmental standards for land management for all, even so those who choose not to engage with any environmental land management schemes can receive financial support. A strong regulator is needed to enforce these standards.

 

The NFFN has also supported calls for greater certainty about long-term funding under the Bill. We welcome additions to the Bill that require Ministers to establish a multi-annual financial assistance plan, but we would like to see these plans strengthened to give the most reassurance possible to farmers.

 

The ultimate vision for this new farming future though is that these Bills, and subsequently the legislation and policies that will be enacted, do not operate in silos and that we see the joined up thinking that is essential to support and enable farmers, as we move forward to a new scheme, to not only halt loss but reverse the decline in our natural environment. We will be working with partners across the sector and others to ensure that the bold promises made on this are not forgotten throughout this process.

 

As always, we would love to hear from you about what you are doing on your farm and whether you would like to host a visit for your local MP to see your efforts in practice. If you would like any further information or to get more involved, please email Robert.lingard@nffn.org.uk

6361_210 FABulous Farmers – Nature Friendly Ditching
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FABulous Farmers – Nature Friendly Ditching

Ditches are important. Many were originally dug over 100 years ago in locations where they were really needed. Improved drainage was historically a rather unsung feature of agricultural improvement to help increase the productivity and reliability of food production. Apart from designed landscape schemes there was no recreational ditching when you had to dig them by hand! They provide many functions to the farming system, especially when combined with in-field drainage system;

  • They remove excess field water, encouraging deeper rooting and extending the growing season, allowing fields to maintain productivity, keeping soil in the field and helping reduce compaction
  • They take water away from farms, and other locations where it isn’t wanted, to watercourse. As such, they have a role in reducing flooding of farmland but speed up the flow to water courses
  • They provide a valuable, often overlooked habitat for aquatic, invertebrate, mammalian and bird species.

So how do we promote water voles, dragonflies and snipe, without risking field productivity or flooding upstream?

This short blog will describe a few simple measures that can be adopted by farmers, without significant investments in time or cost, to promote ditches as habitats without sacrificing their core function.

Patchwork approach                     

As with most habitat management, a patchwork approach is better than a large sweep in one area. If you are planning to do some ditching, consider breaking blocks into smaller areas. Perhaps only do one side of each field or ditch or per year. Ditching on a rotation that is spread across the farm will provide a variety of habitats, as well as the ability for species to move to nearby habitats if ditching is required.

Half a ditch, halve time.

A job that is done more regularly than digging ditches is removal of vegetation growing on the side of a ditch with a flail or hedge cutter. This can become a regular routine at a quiet time of year and with no agreed specification or control. The vegetation at the side of a ditch has several functions. It is a valuable habitat, but also works as a buffer strip to prevent the leaching of chemicals into the watercourse. Good vegetation cover on the walls of the ditch helps maintain the integrity of the ditch, preventing soil eroding into the ditch bottom and reduces the need to dig the ditch out and maintains the drainage function.

To maintain a healthy, manageable amount of vegetation consider only flailing one side of the ditch each year in rotation , such as the image below.

Cutting each bank on rotation helps maintain habitats for a variety of species, as well as allowing vegetation to maintain the integrity of the ditch wall and drainage functions.

A ditch or a pond? What about a p-itch? Vertical movements in the ditch profile

Ditches were designed and dug to efficiently transfer excess water from field to watercourse, minimal maintenance. We can maintain this drainage function, but greatly improve the wildlife value and slow down water by simple ideas when digging ditches out. Consider;

  • adding some deeper sections which will stay wet when the rest of the ditch has dried up, acting like a temporary pond
  • building up spoil to create some shallower sections which will help wading birds
  • creating ‘shelves’ or shallow slopes in the ditch profile to accommodate a wider variety of species

In the image below, we have built up some ditch spoil in this particularly deep, but relatively dry ditch. This has raised the water level but still below outfalls of the field drainage outfalls, providing a valuable habitat for aquatic species. A section of large bore drainage pipe has been used to maintain the flow of the ditch. Skilled digger work has also created a number of shelves just above and below the water level. Remember to remove or spread spoil from the edges of field margins as soon as practically possible.

Adding a variety of depths, as well as pockets of the ditch that stay wet, can help provide a variety of habitats without sacrificing field productivity or the core function of the ditch.

A bit of wiggle room – horizontal movements in the ditch profile

As part of the intensification of agriculture in the post-war period, many ditches were straightened to create field shapes that were more conducive to larger machinery and to remove water as quickly as possible. The fast flow of water in a straight line encourages sediment, pesticide residue and nutrients to pollute large watercourse, such as the rivers where ditches usually end up. Using machinery to create bends in ditches to ‘slow the flow’ can help prevent this pollution, as well as reducing flood risk downstream. The slower pace of water and altered ditch profile can also provide great habitats for wading birds and waterfowl without taking large areas of land out of production. This type of change does require a bit more thought than the previous suggestions, and a local wildlife advisor may be able to provide some advice. Below are some images of a ditch that was un-straightened into a small field that was not profitable to crop so instead is used for stewardship options.

Before

After

Wiggling a straight ditch can ‘slow the flow’ of the ditch, reducing erosion and pollution, as well as creating beautiful and biodiverse landscape habitats.

In this particular example, around 50m2 has been taken out of production. Using conventional yields of 10mt/ha (which this field would never get!), that is 50kg of wheat lost per year. At the current wheat price of £159, this area costs the farm £7.95 a year. The initial cost was 6 hours of labour and the hire of the 3mt digger for a day.

Over the years, many farms have lost ponds and many of the ponds that remain are often neglected and over grown due to the lack of support available for farmers to maintain or restore them. Using ditches as a means of creating habitat is one way nature friendly farmers can help to halt and reverse the biodiversity crisis. A combination of these methods and techniques across a whole farm will help provide valuable habitats without sacrificing the core function of ditches or the productivity of the farm. If you have a go, do post photos on social media using the hashtag #FABulousFarmers.

By Callum Weir

Callum Weir is the farm manager of the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate, a mixed organic farm focused on demonstrating sustainable land management principles. He is also the project manager of the FABulous Farmers project in the East of England.

6350_211 Plan to recover your soil and benefit wildlife
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Alan Bullivant, East of England Farm Advisor from the National Trust shares his FABulous Farmer tips on how to help your soil recover following a challenging winter!

The continual wet weather during autumn, and now heavy storms and flooding has left many fields with damaged or waterlogged areas, or bare soil from harvested crops.

Once the immediate urgency has passed, take time to plan how to recover this damaged soil. Is the soil compacted and preventing water movement into the soil? Is the drainage system working as designed? Where appropriate, is the moling still functioning to allow water to get to drainage pipes? Are pipe outfalls clear and running?

Assess the potential profitability of cropping these fields or part fields compared with getting them recovered for the next crop. Sowing a cover crop or wild bird seed mix in late spring will provide roots to draw out moisture but also provide valuable wildlife habitats and food.

This is an opportunity to identify even small areas which may be better used to restore or create ponds or scrapes to benefit wildlife than poor crops.

Check out the various Countryside Stewardship schemes now available.

6345_212 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Chris Clark
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Chris Clark NFFN England Chair, tells us his about his farm and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Chris Clark Interview

6338_213 The Return of Stormont and NI Farmer Survey
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25 March 2019, Mandatory Credit ©Press Eye/Darren Kidd

The Return of Stormont

After over 1000 days the Northern Ireland Assembly is back up and running. One of the key priorities for the new Executive should be the development of a new agriculture policy for Northern Ireland.  In the absence of an Assembly, DAERA had undertaken valuable work developing a draft agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland. However, it’s not clear what will happen next with this important piece of work. NI government must act with purpose and urgency to bring forward plans for a bespoke policy for Northern Ireland, which helps farmers deliver for nature and the environment at the same time as supporting sustainable family farms which produce to high quality and welfare standards.

NI Farmer Survey

Farmers across Northern Ireland are being encouraged to participate in an important survey to seek their opinions on current and future agriculture policy.

Much has been suggested about what the local farming industry could look like in future years as the UK prepares to exit the European Union, with devolved administrations having a greater influence in shaping future agricultural and environmental policies.

Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL), the networking and forum body for organisations interested in the natural and built environment of Northern Ireland, have secured funding to run a survey to explore farmers’ opinions and want to hear from a wide range of farmers in order to assess views on the current state of farming, problems they are facing, and their opinion on possible future changes to agricultural policy in Northern Ireland. This research will inform NIEL and other stakeholders of what is important to local farmers, allowing them to tailor policy advice to DAERA on the needs of the farming community. To participate visit here

6266_214 NFFN Farmer Case Study: Gethin Owen
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Gethin Owen, NFFN Wales,  tells us his about his farm and his thoughts on the future of farming.

Gethin Owen Interview

6230_215 Farmer Blog from NFFN Scotland Chair Michael Clarke!
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Reflections from a Dumfriesshire farm
March 2021
There’s good news and not so good news from Scotland. Let’s start with the good news: it’s very encouraging to see so many farmers and crofters beginning to adapt their businesses to mitigate climate change, with support from the Scottish Government, with more and more reported cases of them adopting regenerative techniques and other measures to reduce their carbon footprint. The not so good news is that the biodiversity crisis is being left behind, with the absence of any realistic support from the Scottish Government to help bring biodiversity back to farms and crofts. What’s happened to the nature crisis? It hasn’t gone away; in fact, it’s getting worse and yet the Scottish Government has cut its already meagre support for agri-environment measures to the extent that it is practically meaningless this year. That’s a very odd way to tackle a crisis, especially by a Government which claims to be a global leader and to be demonstrating bold and strong action to reverse nature’s decline. I don’t think so.
The other good news is that there is an opportunity on 6 May for us all to hold the Scottish Government to account through the ballot box. Claims by would-be politicians of supporting measures to combat climate change, such as large scale afforestation, could actually damage biodiversity; so much better to support bringing back biodiversity in ways which can often help combat climate change. Close scrutiny of candidates’ claims and casting your vote wisely on 6 May could help bring biodiversity-the “Cinderella” and poor relation in this story- back and restore it to its rightful and equal  place alongside efforts to combat climate change. Nature friendly farmers and crofters in Scotland are ready to lead that charge if the country returns a Government which offers more than empty words of support.
December 2020

And so it ends: 2020, with snow, ice, spring bulbs and praise be-dry weather. A year of unprecedented difficulty for all of us. I pray that you all kept COVID-free and will remain at least so until the vaccination programme has been rolled out. What an anxious wait we all have until that has happened.

Life on the farm, with all our animals oblivious to the difficulties which their carers face as a result of COVID, has continued more or less as normal. Many of our cows are still outside and enjoying the afternoon sunshine which we have been getting in abundance. If the weather forecast is accurate, they may be able to remain outside until just before calving. We hope so. They look well on it and our carbon footprint will be lower.
Several of the bird boxes which I made and put up only a few weeks ago are showing signs of occupation, as shelter rather than for breeding, I’m sure but nevertheless encouraging. The number of small birds on the farm, especially tree sparrows,  has increased exponentially as a result of our nature friendly farming methods.
The short days and long nights at this time of year make for challenging farming: too much time to plan the day’s work and not enough time to carry it out. Gapping-up the hedges we’ve planted in the last few years continues apace, with supplies now sourced locally from a new supplier, who grows excellent bare-rooted stock. We’re about half way through the gapping-up programme. Still about another 1500 plants to go and then it will be time to focus on the new fencing which I need to do before starting on the new hedges and new native wood under the Woodland Trust’s MORE Woods scheme, for which cell-grown plants will be arriving at the end of March. Phew!
We’ve seen a big hole in our farm’s economy as a result of the cancellation of holiday cottage bookings enforced by the COVID lockdown, with no idea of when bookings might return. We’re having to batten down the hatches to live within our overdraft limit, with no real idea at the moment of how we will afford the fertiliser and lime which we will need to supplement this coming year’s silage stocks. We will apply much less fertiliser than in previous years because of the efforts we have put into improving our soil and plant health but we will need to buy some. Let’s hope our supplier will offer deferred terms.
We have a couple of new arrivals on the farm. One, I’m ashamed to admit as a livestock farmer, was a complete surprise- a new pedigree Beef Shorthorn calf on Boxing Day. We knew that his mother was pregnant but had not expected her to calf for at least another couple of months. As a new mother herself, her udder didn’t bag-up as an older cow’s would have done; and she must have been caught by a young bull calf with whom she over-wintered last year- a young bull calf which we thought was too young to be a father. Obviously not!
The other new arrival is a 30 year old small John Deere 4 wheel drive tractor, complete with rotavator. So I’m now fully-equipped, I hope, to make the best possible job of my wild bird crops this coming Spring and Summer. Our other, much bigger tractor is never here, having been commandeered by Shirley’s son for his off-farm contracting work.
Let’s wrap up this year with a note of hope. The Scottish Government has just published a Statement of Intent on Biodiversity. If it follows up its fine words with action, we should see a brighter future for nature friendly farming. Amongst the things it refers to are its “new understanding of the increased urgency for action to tackle biodiversity loss, hand-in-hand with climate change”. Better late than never and rest assured that we will be doing our best in NFFN north of the border to keep them up to the mark.
Happy-and safe- New Year!
November 2020

We had an awesome ” Hunter’s Moon” to end the month-a bright orange orb just above the horizon at about 4pm, rising into the early winter sky and lighting up the farm as the night wore on. I suspect the foxes and other nocturnal hunters had a field day- but then we do have a lot of voles in the cover of our nature friendly ungrazed areas and it’s good to know that we can make room for them as well as for our farm animals.

In previous years, by the end of November, we would have brought most of our cows inside. This year, in the interests of trying to reduce our carbon footprint, we’re leaving some of them outside, hopefully until a few weeks before they’re due to calve, in late February. As native breeds, they’re hairy enough to withstand the winter weather, especially the cold, although we’ll bring them in if we get more prolonged periods of rain. For now, they’re happy lying out under the stars on some of our firmer and drier ground and we can feed them silage via a farm track which is strong enough to support our heavy tele-handler. By leaving them out, we’re saving on straw, which should be a win for the farm economics as well as for our carbon footprint-fingers crossed!
I’ve been busy putting up a fancy new fence intended to minimise the chances of the horses enjoying the garden again-no mean feat, when it’s so muddy underfoot; too muddy for me to use my usual off-road buggy to transport the materials, so I’ve had to resort to the quad bike, which slithers its way across the field, giving me plenty of time to reflect on why I’m having to do it (but we won’t go there)! We’ll just have to make sure that these native ponies do their bit for conservation grazing on parts of the farm other than our house lawn in future!
Bookings in the holiday cottages have fallen off a cliff in the face of the lockdown. Difficult times for all of us, I know and added pressure on our bottom line, as for so many other hospitality businesses. More belt-tightening in the run-up to Christmas-not great timing but nothing like the carnage we’re all seeing in the High Street and less obviously, elsewhere in the hospitality industry. I do hope that the effects for you are not too severe. We must be approaching the final furlong, surely?

I’ve made and put up 32 new nestboxes for the tree sparrows this year. Williamwood is a local hotspot and it’s wonderful to see and hear the twittering of the sparrows and know that we’re bucking the national trend. Most of the new boxes have gone to extend the terraces which were originally sited on RSPB advice and which we know to have been successful in attracting breeding pairs. A few have gone into a new array, which I’ve copied directly from the Arden Wildlife Network in Warwickshire, where it’s worked successfully. I can’t wait to see how the idea transports to Dumfriesshire: 5 boxes in a sort of two-tiered gallows configuration, near to cover and to water. Very exciting!

The hedging and woodland plants for our new native hedges and wood have been ordered from The Woodland Trust and our share paid for. The support from The Woodland Trust is most welcome and generous. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to afford so much, year on year. This year, I’ve deferred delivery until next March to give me time to fence the areas. I know it will be challenging, given the field conditions and I have a lot to complete. The delivery date for those plants will keep me focussed- and we have several thousand other plants arriving mid-December to go into the gaps caused by losses in our other recently-planted hedges and woods, financed largely by the income from the holiday cottages rather than from farming, which produces very little surplus-all the more reason for the Scottish Government to put the right support measures in place if they are serious about supporting farmers and crofters to bring biodiversity back to Scottish farms and crofts.
Given that this will be my last blog before Christmas, may I wish you all a very happy Christmas when it comes? It will be different for all of us, I know but I do hope you can make the best fist you can of it in the circumstances and reflect on the realisation that we live in a country which shows encouraging signs of getting to grips with climate change and biodiversity loss. Here’s hoping that 2021 should prove less stressful for all of us!
Best wishes to you all.
October 2020

“Highland ponies careering through the garden at midnight was not an ideal way to start October; nocturnal conservation grazing on the house lawn was not in the plan. Someone had left a gate open-no one’s ‘fessed up -but they left a trail of devastation which we’re still clearing up. Hard to say whether pigs or ponies are the more destructive; the ponies probably edge it. After 2 hours of moonlight searching, with all hands on deck, we found the escapees; conversation was a little stilted for quite a few days afterwards.

There is some good news, though. I managed to sow over 20 wildflower patches and the midden has been fixed-hooray! Just as well, given the way the weather has turned here. The calves have all been weaned and are now tucked up in their straw beds in the sheds. It takes mothers and offspring a little while to come to terms with the separation but it allows the calves to grow on under their own steam and their mothers some respite before they calve again in the spring.
Autumn has come early this year. Temperatures remain mild and the grass continues to grow but ground conditions are already water-logged, with more rain forecast. The colour change in the trees and hedges has been dramatic and wonderful- every shade of gold, brown and yellow, with some reds mixed in; set off by some wonderful sunsets and a dark red setting sun-all heralding the start of shorter daylight hours and our winter routine, now that the clocks have gone back. Our animals will now be completely reliant on us for food, water and dry bedding. It all takes some handling.
In between all the feeding, bedding and muck-scraping, my thoughts and actions turn to our woods and hedges. It’s an exciting time for me and if I’m honest, probably my favourite job. I’ve ordered thousands of bare-rooted hedging plants to gap up the newer hedges and to replace any dead young trees in the tubes in our new woods. Then, probably after Christmas, the thousands of cell-grown plants provided with financial support from The Woodland Trust will arrive for this year’s new hedges and wood. Despite the water-logged conditions, I’ll somehow have to fence off the areas to be planted, so it’ll be the usual skidding and swearing as I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, why on earth didn’t I do this in the summer?
NFFN was one of the sponsors of the Northern Real Farming Conference, a new event which, like so many others, took place on-line this year.Several members of the Scotland Steering Group stepped up to the plate and hosted slots. We all agreed that it was enjoyable and educative, with some interesting feedback.
We continue to try to put NFFN “out there” in Scotland.  Our Agriculture Bill is more consolidatory than radical, unlike the Westminster one. Both have major frustrations for us and have increased our resolve to keep lobbying for a more nature friendly support system. For now, there is a deep sense of foreboding and anger amongst Scottish farmers that food produced to lower standards will flood our market after the New Year.
We must hope for a better outcome to the Westminster Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into tree planting and woodland expansion, to which we aim to submit our views, arguing for an approach to new planting approvals which will provide a better balance for biodiversity. It is so important that voices are heard, speaking up for Nature. We’re glad to be able to add ours, at the same time as continuing to practise what we preach.
As we enter another period of lockdown across much of the UK, we’ll all need to take care and try to stay safe. It may be hard to see it now but there will come a time when the worst is behind us. Christmas is not far away now and there is much to get done on the farm before then!”
September 2020

“Barnacle geese calling to each other high overhead, sharp frosts early in the morning, cobwebs like saucers glistening in the whin bushes-it must be Autumn. We’ve had some better weather in September and some bad days too; mixed really but a particularly beautiful day late in the month on my birthday (don’t ask!) when a sharp frost was followed by bright sunshine and we had an al fresco lunch in the garden-something which doesn’t happen too often on a working farm. In the morning, I cut some more of the vegetation which would otherwise smother our loch, using an electric weed cutter on the back of our rowing boat and the swallows (a family of four) were still here but I think they’ve since gone, along with the others which have already left. Bon voyage, little birds! we hope to see you back next Spring.

Autumn is, of course, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; and what a bumper crop of berries we seem to have this year. Some people say it’s a sign of a hard winter to come. Whether that proves to be the case or not, the finches are feasting on the knapweed, the fieldfares on the hawthorn berries and the blackbirds on the brambles. It’s particularly encouraging to see the sloes on the blackthorns in the hedges which we’ve planted in the last 10 years-it will all help the wildlife to get into the best possible condition to endure the challenges ahead.
We’ve had some late calves, later than we would have liked but welcome nonetheless. Rosie, Stubbie (she has a short horn which continues to grow) and 369 all calved in September. Their calves will have to accompany them into the sheds when the weather turns. They will be too small to be weaned, unlike most of the rest of the calves, which we will wean off their mothers when we house the cows. We use medicines sparingly but on the advice of our vet, we’ve treated most of our cows and the older calves against lungworm this month, prior to housing them in October/ November, depending on how wet it gets.
I’m sorry to have to report that the saga of the midden continues to hold up getting our sheds ready for the cows to come in. It took 3 weeks for the concrete panels to be made and is taking a lot longer to get them installed and the area reinstated. We’ve pushed on with painting the walls and steelwork in the sheds as best we can until they can be mucked out.
Very sadly, one of our Highland ponies had to be put to sleep. We’d bred Poppy and she was a gentle character with a lovely nature. She’d suffered from laminitis, a condition which causes the hooves to be very painful, for years and we’d managed it by restricting her access to grass, especially in the Spring and Autumn and with painkillers. But her quality of life deteriorated markedly in September and we had to make the difficult decision to call it a day for her. It’s a responsibility which comes with livestock ownership. The vet put her into a deep sleep from which she wouldn’t wake up on the hillside on a beautiful sunny afternoon, as she lay enjoying the warmth, unable to stand because of her painful feet. We’ve buried her alongside her mother. RIP Poppy.
Trees and hedges are a big part of Williamwood and are helping to transform the farm. As you know, I aim to plant many thousands every year and I am a tree lover. But I am irritated and concerned to see the Scottish Government pledging so much money (£150m) to new tree planting in Scotland and so little to agri-environmental support, with so little guidance on the direction of travel. I guess we all get the carbon sequestration benefit of woodland but a permanent land use change, particularly in areas which currently produce food and provide a habitat for our threatened upland waders, like lapwings and curlews, is not necessarily a good thing. Wearing my NFFN hat, I am trying to beat  the drum for mixed land use, with space left for starter farms and for Nature in new woodland plantings which include broadleaves and natural regeneration as well as commercial conifers. There are sympathetic ways to embrace all these objectives. The challenge is to get the forest industry to adopt them and to get the Scottish Government to show as much consideration for agri-environmental support as it has for afforestation. Piloting outcome-based agri-environmental support (“POBAS”), in which farmers in selected areas of Scotland are supported on their  agri-environment journey by advisers and rewarded for the outcomes which they help to produce, is an encouraging initiative, about which we are beginning to hear. NFFN is voicing its support for that direction of travel. What remains missing is any sense of urgency that the biodiversity crisis is every bit as important and serious as climate change.
Keep safe in these challenging times which continue to affect us all.”
August 2020
“August has been a frustrating month. Hopes of getting the painting done, the midden repaired and the fields drier have all been cruelly dashed. But if there’s one thing you can’t control in farming, it’s the weather-something you learn the hard way pretty early on. I could use several words to describe the weather here in August but this is a family publication, so I’ll content myself with “diabolical”. OK, so we had a spell at the start when I could leave my coat off all day and pretend that summer had arrived but we mainly had rain, torrents of it and not much sun. The midden looks like a swimming pool-anyone fancy a swim…-and the hole in the ground has got bigger. It’s a real worry for us now and is holding up operations. Those of our neighbours who grow barley to feed their livestock over the winter are struggling to harvest it, bale the straw and remove the bales from their fields too. Not good.
It hasn’t been a great month for nature friendly farming in the Scottish Parliament either. NFFN was supporting an amendment to the Agriculture Bill (a “purpose clause”), which would have seen farm payments more specifically directed to farmers and crofters who work to improve biodiversity and combat climate change. Despite cross-party support from Labour and the Conservatives and the support of the Greens, it was defeated by the Scottish Government with the support of the Lib Dems, on the grounds that it wasn’t the right amendment at the right time. It’s a massive missed opportunity to inject a much-needed sense of urgency into efforts to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises and has given our Scotland Steering Group, boosted by the appointment of Nikki Yoxall, our new Sustainable Farming Lead, much food for thought about where best to direct our efforts to advance our determination to see nature friendly farming higher up the political agenda in the run-up to next May’s Parliamentary Election.
On the farm, the lapwings are still here, as are the swallows and, in great abundance, the tree sparrows. It is wonderful to see them all and to see so many successful broods of blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, siskins and chaffinches. The rain has meant that the grass continues to grow and I have had to work hard to top the rank growth, so that the re-growth next Spring will be juicy and nutritious. Because of the wet ground conditions, I do that with a machine attached to my quad bike (a tractor would be too heavy, would cause unwelcome ground compaction and could well get stuck). It has been wonderful to see the swallows swooping and diving around my head as the topper disturbs the insects they’re after-what incredibly acrobatic fliers they are!
We’ve bought a new machine (something which doesn’t happen very often here) but we’re keen to do all we can to encourage the waders, especially the lapwings and curlews. It’s a spinner, which goes behind my quad bike. It will spin out granular lime to improve the alkalinity of the soil in some of our smaller and particularly rushy fields. I hope that will have at least two main benefits-by bringing  more earthworms to the surface and reducing the density of the rushes. I prefer to cut the rushes with the topper rather than spray them, after the nesting and wildflower season and I hope the combination of the topper and the new spinner will see a real improvement in conditions for the waders.
The new wood is looking good-the young trees have had plenty to drink- the new hedges are growing well, there are lots of blackberries on the older hedges and the new wildflower areas are spectacular. Lots still to do to get the sheds ready for the cows to come in but I’m already looking forward to doing more new hedges and a new wood this coming winter and “beating up” (replacing the dead plants) in the hedges and pruning the trees in those I’ve planted in the last few years. The smell and the chill of autumn is in the air!”
July 2020

The changeable weather has made July a trying month down on the farm. Dry one minute, wet-very wet-the next. Hot-coat off; then cold-coat back on again. It’s just the sort of weather farmers hate: impossible to plan, impossible to do jobs which require at least a couple of days of dry weather. It’s beginning to cause us problems at Williamwood. We have a retaining wall on our muck midden to fix before we can muck out our sheds and we need a good spell of dry weather for that. Our cows and calves are beginning to make a mess of our grass fields-to “poach” them. We don’t want to bring them in for the winter for several months yet and we urgently need some drier weather!

There have, of course, been a few dry spells during one of which Shirley managed to host a live video tour of the farm and one of our holiday cottages. You can watch the tour again here.  Partial relaxation of the lockdown restrictions has allowed our visitors to return, although with continuing restrictions on where they can go on the farm and a lot of extra work for Shirley in the changeovers. Our walks are all open, which means that anyone who wants to can get a good dose of Nature but sadly, we can’t provide the farm tours which have allowed our visitors to get up close and personal with, for example, our Highland cows. Badger watching has been popular, especially with the remote cameras linked to the TV’s in the cottages.
The last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August are when the roe deer mate-the “rut”. It’s when the roebucks are most visible, with their deep orange coats. At least their minds are on things other than marking their territories by giving our young trees a good thrashing with their antlers. Shirley was lucky enough to see something which I have never seen in many years of roe watching. She saw a young buck rouse himself from resting on one of the islands in our loch, swim across to the bank, shake himself off like a dog and then casually clear the fence as if it wasn’t there. I’m very jealous. I’ve never seen a roe deer swim, although I’m not surprised that, like cows, horses and even pigs, they can if they have to.
The hot news from the Network in Scotland is that we have appointed a professional to spearhead our efforts. Fantastic news for those of us in Scotland and we hope, a real gamechanger. Nikki Yoxall starts with the Network on a part-time basis on 1 September. She’s a farmer with a special interest and expertise in education and social media and I hope our members in Scotland will be hearing a lot more from us about what we’re doing on their behalf.
The month has seen the loss of two “old friends” for me -a very old beech tree, which blew down into our newest young wood and an old crab apple tree, which blew down across our farm trail. It’s always sad to see such magnificent and long-lived trees reach the end of their lives. It took me several days to clear the beech, which had fallen across the walkway through the new wood; and a day to clear the crab apple. Both will provide logs which will go into store to dry for a year before we can burn them in the house and the holiday cottages. I’ve left the lop and top-the branches- in situ to provide a bit of shelter for farm wildlife.
And despite all the wet weather, I’ve managed to paint some of the outside of the farmhouse. I won’t mention that I got stuck 20 feet up in the air, when I couldn’t get the cherry picker we’d hired, to let me down. I don’t like heights at the best of times, so that’s an experience I’d rather draw a line under. I still have a lot of painting to do, thankfully at lower levels; there are lots of things in a Dumfriesshire farmyard that need regular re-painting!
I hope that August will see the painting done, the midden fixed and the fields drier. Then we can think about tackling our autumn jobs. Where did that summer go?
June 2020

“The last day of June 2020 will stick in my mind for a long time, for a very good reason. It was one of those “stop the clock” moments when I saw two successfully hatched lapwing chicks scurrying along our loch edge with their parent. We had been aware of a nest somewhere on our winter bird food crop for some time as the adult male repeatedly took to the wing whenever we were near. It’s the crowning glory for us of a very good hatching year for young birds at Williamwood. We’ve never seen so many young tree sparrows, another species whose numbers have been declining nationally. Lapwing numbers have declined by over 60% in the last 45 years. We hope our pair of new arrivals make it through to adulthood and help the effort on many other nature friendly farms to reverse those declines. Lapwings are such attractive and iconic birds. We’re well made up!

Things are looking up for us on the economic front too. The bookings for our cottages are flooding in as people are keen to get a countryside and nature fix after