Our TDEG meeting on 15 November focused on how we might support our local farmers to help nature recover.
We watched the fascinating film “Save Our Wild Isles – Hungry for Change”, followed by an excellent presentation from local farm and environmental consultant, Chloe Palmer, supported by Rosemary Furness (a local beef farmer) and Rebekah Newman (Peak District National Park Authority).
“Save our Wild Isles – Hungry for Change”
This short film, produced by the same team as the Save our Wild Isles documentary on the BBC earlier this year, is part of a follow up series to share solutions to the biodiversity crisis.
It reveals the impact of our food system on nature in the UK and explores what actions businesses and farmers can take to reduce their impact. Leaders in the food and farming community share solutions to solve critical issues in the food system and put nature at the heart of their decision-making.
Food for thought
The film begins by explaining the biodiversity crisis facing us all. In the UK, £603 million per year comes from the contribution of pollinators to the value of the food we produce. Yet since 2004, insect abundance has dropped by 64%.
The UK food system has undergone years of intensification, industrialisation and increased use of pesticides and fertilisers. It is the biggest cause of biodiversity loss in the UK, and one of the largest contributors to climate change. Nature underpins every aspect of our food system, yet we are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. We are facing catastrophic consequences.
The film concludes that we must act on many different issues if we are to address both the climate and nature crisis – and ensure our food systems are resilient in the future. But farmers are not the villains here. They have successfully achieved what we asked them to achieve over the last 70 years. But it has been at the expense of our environment and we now need a different approach.
We need to:
- Bring nature back into the food production system. We need our relationship with food to change – from food consumption, food waste, reduction of yields, and market connectivity. Every part of the food sector is important – from producers to retailers to consumers.
- Provide financial support so that farmers can be climate and nature heroes, helping us store more carbon and protect biodiversity on their land whilst also feeding the nation.
- Move to a regenerative model of agriculture where nature is brought back onto farms and our wider landscapes. Wildflower verges, hedgerows, trees and ponds are all vital habitats for our wildlife, and will increase the services provided by nature, from pollination, soil health and carbon sequestration.
- Reduce food waste – It is estimated that one third of all food produced is wasted through the supply chain. Everyone in the food industry throughout the value chain needs to play their part to reduce food waste.
- Produce and consume better meat. If individuals can reduce their meat consumption by 30% it would make a significant difference.
Nature Friendly Farming
But how will this be achieved? The film points out that currently, of the £3.3 billion in public money provided to UK farmers for food production, only 11% goes towards nature and climate friendly farming. This needs to change.
The second half of the film showcases the work being undertaken by farmers across the UK to produce high quality food and help nature recover. These farmers are showing it can be done, and can benefit both the environment and protect their profits.
Neil Heseltine, a beef farmer in the Yorkshire Dales, had the final word. He suggested that farmers had been “food security heroes” after the Second World War – now they needed to be “nature and climate heroes” in a new Green Revolution for the 21st century.
Following the film, we heard from Chloe Palmer about her work supporting farmers in the Dark Peak. Chloe explained how two farm clusters in the Hope Valley and Bradfield areas enable farmers to work together to discover ways of farming more effectively and improve their land for nature. There are now 34 farms in the Bradfield cluster and 52 farms in the Hope Valley cluster.
Together they have learnt about the benefits of creating more species rich grassland, herbal leys, and tree planting. They undertake their own bird surveys and soil research. Chloe can also help them navigate the bureaucracy of the farm grant system. She also emphasised the importance of farmers talking to farmers – to share solutions and to break down isolation in a very fragmented industry.
You can see Chloe’s full presentation here.
Following Chloe’s presentation, we also heard from Rosemary and Rebekah about a new initiative seeking to support farmers and other landowners in our area – the White Peak Landscape Recovery Project. Their slides can be seen at the end of Chloe’s presentation on the above link.
Rosemary explained how 44 local farmers and 14 other organisations have signed up to a bid for funding from the government. Their aim is to enhance the high value habitats in the limestone dales, and extend and connect these areas across the White Peak plateau. This could include farming with swards rich in legumes and wildflowers, tree and hedge planting, hay meadows and woody pasture.
Attracting additional government funding to help our upland farmers is important – public money should be spent on public benefits. But there are real concerns about the new Environmental Land Management schemes. ELMS grants are replacing the old (pre-Brexit) Basic Payment Schemes. It is feared that many of our small, nature friendly farms will lose out, as the new grants are awarded on an ‘income foregone’ basis. This means that larger intensive farms, with more gains for nature to be made due to past practices, can claim much larger grants. This is despite many of these smaller upland farms already protecting significant wildlife value. Rosemary explained that many of our smaller farms may no longer be commercially viable.
The White Peak Landscape Recovery project team hope to hear early in the new year if their bid has been successful – watch this space!
The Peak District National Park Authority are one of the lead partners in the White Peak Landscape Recovery Project. Rebekah also shared the successes of another government grant scheme (which the National Park Authority manages) – Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL). More information about FiPL in the Peak District can be read here.
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust were also at our meeting, with further information about help for landowners wishing to plant trees in the River Derwent catchment area. More information can be found here. DWT are also supporting landowners who are interested in creating wilder areas on their land through the Wild Peak project (more info here).
What can we do?
Our discussion after the film and presentations was wide ranging. Everyone commented on how much we had learnt and how we wanted to continue to celebrate and share the positive work which nature-friendly farmers were undertaking in our area.
TDEG have already organised two farm walks in our area to learn about these challenges. We intend to hold more. We can also select specific issues raised in tonight’s presentations for future meetings. Other suggestions for action included:
- Find out where your food comes from and how it is produced. If we can afford it, we should try to use our purchasing power to benefit nature friendly practices. Some useful local suppliers are listed on our Sustainable Food page. Let us know if you discover other good local producers and retailers.
- Lobby the new Co-op store in Tideswell to provide an outlet for local environmentally friendly producers. There could also be improvements to branding for farmers (such as the Peak District Environmental Quality Mark or Fairtrade branding).
- Cut down on our own food waste (and support shops and supermarkets who do this). If we reduce the amount of food wasted, more land could be made available for less intensive farming.
- Lobby our political representatives to support nature and climate friendly farming. Important issues include ensuring our upland farmers are properly rewarded for protecting and enhancing nature following the removal of the Basic Payment Schemes which they have relied upon in the past. There is also an important campaign launched by Riverford to require supermarkets to deal fairly with farmers (more info and a petition to sign here).
- There should be a general election in the coming year. We should develop some questions to put to our candidates at any local hustings, to ask how they intend to support our local farmers to develop nature and climate friendly agriculture, and ensure our food and farming sector can thrive in the future.
If you would like to get involved in helping with any of the above suggestions – or if you have further ideas – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Together we can make a difference.
The Nature Friendly Farming Network is a national network aimed at farmers and landowners with advice about regenerative farming. Lots of excellent case studies.
Penny Anderson’s brilliant 2021 textbook “Peak District” explains the evolution and the importance of different habitats in the Dark and the White Peak. The final chapter is very good on future hopes for a resilient and sustainable agricultural system (with good data on carbon sequestration created by more diverse habitats).
NFU article about research into the impact of the new ELMS grants on upland farmers.