Here's the letter that got me proper cross in The Telegraph this last week... Why? I hear you say? Read On Dear Reader, Read On!
"Wildlife on Farms
SIR - finally a decision has been made on how to address the environment impact of the loss of set-aside (report 10/7) The Government has backed the idea of an industry campaign to encourage farmers voluntarily to provide environmental measures on farms.
We had supported an alternative approach of linking farm subsidies to providing a small percentage of land for wildlife. This would have brought greater certainty for the environment and would have ensured that all farmers played a part in providing for wildlife.
What matters now is that the farming industry campaign delivers results. We will, of course, help where we can. We will also watch carefully to see that the targets that the industry has agreed with the government are met. If not, we will make sure the mandatory fallback identified by Hillary Benn, the environment secretary is activated.
Mr Benn has placed considerable trust in farming industry leaders, and they must now ensure that all their members play a part in making the campaign succeed.
Matt Shardlow Buglife
Shaun Spiers CPRE
Stephanie Hilborne The Wildlife Trusts
Dave Williams The Badger Trust
Andy Atkins FOE
Barbara Handley Hawk and Owl Trust
Kirsten Knap Wildlife and Countryside Link
Mark Avery RSPB"
and 10 others"
These groups have been campaigning for compulsory set-aside for sometime, and I've no doubt that unless you listen to all sides of the story it's an easy emotive campaign to get the general public fired up on...
On the face of it:
1: Would it really hurt most farmers to leave some ground fallow forever to help wildlife thrive?
2: On the surface would it really be a problem to encourage a diversity of species to help pollinate and benefit your crops?
3: Is it a really such a hardship to ensure you have hedges and woodland and margins which would make your own working environment much more pleasant?
Answer: NO, no, no!
But let's just hang on one minute there...
I cant think of a farm that isn't already leaving some land fallow (it would be impossible not to) Our own farm has 27 acres of cropable land that is "set-aside" and an enormous area of tracks, hedges, woody areas, streams and corners that are not actively farmed. We are not even part of the ELS or HLS schemes where farmers have already put huge areas into beneficial wildlife areas - whether they be beetle banks or buffer strips... The LEAF model is the ideal to encourage farmers to be a part of in my opinion.
You'll already know there's no argument from me to secure a balanced farm and environment. We should be producing food to the best of our abilities and be extremely mindful of planet, people and profit to ensure we ourselves have a future.
I also believe that most of these groups who have written the letter do an enormous amount of good.
BUT, dear heart let's look at this in the round.
1: The farmers who have already got a balanced farm with plenty of wildlife space would have to take more out if the campaign had won! So less food production and therefore less income is the reward for already encouraging wildlife!
2: The farmers who have fantastic growing land on their farm would be forced into setting aside land - even if it wasn't the best place to make space for wildlife - each and every farm would need to have done that!
Silly - we need to have more wildlife areas where they will do most good!
But the real problem which gets me on my soap box is the patronising tone is counterproductive.
Just think for a minute how you would feel if other people tried to tell you in detail how to layout your garden. You are the expert on your space - you know the strengths and weaknesses of your space and you. You start wanting to make best use of the space. This is the same for farmers - probably more so.
Secondly would you really, really, want every garden to be the same in the sense that they were all forced to have a veggie patch and space for wildlife (predetermined size)? Would that really be the best way... gone the passionate lavender garden, gone the allotmenteer obsessed with veg... (even though both these things are beneficial for wildlife...)
If you did want to achieve the above would it be best to encourage all the good practise and reward the farmers who have already gone down your preferred route - or would it be better to use new regulations... (I wonder!)
The reason that voluntary set-aside won the argument was because it is the sensible option.
And what if someone looked at your own organisation and campaigned against it... We all know how to encourage diversity and good farming practise in Britain - put your money where your mouth is. Buy LEAF marque products for example... How would it be if we brought in legislation on those organisations which meant their food buying policy had to be LEAF marque, or that all those bird boxes they source from Eastern Europe have to be sourced from woodland (for wildlife) in the UK?
Looking at the whole country of course there should be gardens who have a passion for a certain flower or vegetable or method of gardening. There should be farms who specialise in a certain crop - often these go hand in hand with wildlife. Looking at the whole, we dont need each and every garden to have a pond or an oak tree... or each and every farmer. We need to encourage gardeners and farmers to make their own decisions for food and wildlife based on their own judgement and the market.
Time to encourage farmers - yes.
Time to trust farmers - yes.
Time to ask farmers to justify their way of farming? yes.
Time to respect farmers - yes.
There's a model in place - it's called Integrated Farm Management - its the LEAF model. Before I ever see another letter like this one in the Telegraph I would like to see all those organisations who've signed it getting their own house in order, and actively supporting British Agriculture and in particular LEAF farmers - not just by "campaigns" or "education" but by actively buying from them for their staff, their organisations and their sales catalogues and websites! That's how we can all make positive differences - carrot (literally) not stick!
There we are, just stepping off the high horse and well aware that all of us make compromise every single day... Heather x
PS: When the answer comes back that farmers do not have to take the subsidy and therefore aren't compelled to set-aside land we must remember that the subsidy belongs to the farmers - either they have to have the subsidy or better still the food we eat should pay for it! Sustainable farming has to include the three P's and profit dear hearts is one of those!
PPS: This letter in my opinion is patronising in the extreme and if it had to be written should have gone to the Farmers Weekly. This is an open invite for all those who put their names to the letter to come on the Wiggly Podcast and justify themselves in just the same way as all farmers should.
What say you? Tune into Podcast 191 out on Monday 20th July 2009