With our break from Europe resolved, one wonders how much real thought has taken place over Britain’s longer term food security – particularly by DEFRA and the NFU. Has their populist backing of environmentalists like Chris Packham, George Mombiot – and perhaps even Greta Thunberg – over the proposed planting of countless millions of largely unproductive deciduous trees annually on 30,000 acres of England’s productive arable and livestock soils rather blinded their senses? This grand scheme is on land which, regardless of climate change fears, will be increasingly needed as backup replacement for crops from Europe, indeed the globe, as world populations continue to explode.
Perhaps our administrators and designers should be focusing more urgent attention on aircraft and on diesel and petrol engined vehicles and their likes, rather than on taking good arable land out of food production. The world has been quick to see the beneficial effect of less use of all these things this past difficult year, as fewer flights and less traffic have clearly improved air quality; one can presently see the stars much better on clear nights.
These changes could perhaps also have helped repair the huge hole previously reported in the ozone layer over the southern hemisphere. Nature is a great healer and any damage is probably not irreparable. Playing down these positive things might well prove that gloom mongers around the world really don’t want any good climate news, rather preferring to make their living spreading bad news? “Bad news sells newspapers,” they always said. Now it is available to everyone via instant headlines on the internet, pushing as many lies ‘across the ether’ as truth. Are they deliberately keeping all good news to a minimum and just picking up on the negative stories?
The obsession of some, labelled these days as ‘influencers’, seems to many of us actually involved in growing, rather than just talking about growing, quite terrifyingly stupid. Their enthusiasm over planting such huge areas of trees, of rewilding farmland, and the influence they have on actual policy makers, appears almost frightening. The utter rubbish these people talk about rewilding, introducing alien species of predators, the deliberate neglect (by our useless, limp, Environment Agency) of many rivers, winter flooding even more valuable farmland for wildfowl… The fact that some in higher positions of influence now even talk in similar language (think Michael Gove and George Eustice) is increasingly disturbing.
There is some personal interest here because, as some readers may recall, we have spent time and funds over the past ten years planting trees on hill country and even on mountain sides ‘north of the border’. But this is on land which has either been given up as stock country or has never really been viable for growing anything other than trees. This is a policy clearly supported by some more progressive Scots, of which thankfully there are many, so there remains strong support, in the way of establishment grants, for the work.
Our trees will not be fit for commercial harvesting for some 25 years (during which time they will be quietly absorbing carbon) and are obviously considered valuable enough to warrant useful levels of Scottish Government support. This comes from a political group (the Scottish National Party), which is not always inclined to do positive things.
The crop is generally utilising land which wouldn’t grow anything else, unlike the generally more workable land south of the border which English politicians, of both main parties, seem to be falling over themselves to sterilise for ever. Once given over to trees, the practicalities/cost of restoring it to its former condition are quite prohibitive. Meanwhile our increasing housing and industrial development is fast reducing Britain’s diminishing workable acres (please, no longer hectares) to a scarcer national asset by the year.
Yes, the climate might well be changing, but it has been changing since the planet formed. I have seen changes during my own lifetime and made observations. Weather runs in cycles, some long some short, and while we hear weather forecasters telling us “it’s been the hottest/driest/wettest spell ever recorded,” that means little. I have seen some Alpine glaciers retreat some 1,000 to 1,500 ft, up some of the most famous mountains in the world in the past 60-something years, but who can conclusively prove that these glaciers have not ‘gone up and down’ quite regularly over the past eons? So, while those forecasters might say “ever recorded” or “since records began”, who was there to record these things so long ago?
Does it not seem the height of irresponsibility to even consider annually planting 30,000 acres of some of our perfectly workable, fertile soils with trees when the land may well be needed for feeding and housing our population? And that may be the case a lot sooner than many may think. But then, what do I know? I’m only a farmer.
We had some pleasing news of my old herd in Ireland just before Christmas. You may recall they have gone back into another robotic set up and are clearly enjoying life. A bunch of first calving heifers born, bred and partly reared here in Sussex have recently calved down and are producing between 32 and 40 litres a day. They remain a pure British Friesian herd. Those yields must compare favourably with those of more milky, boney Holsteins and these animals will last and perform many years longer than Holsteins.
Paul Smith, their owner, is also developing and setting up a business marketing a ‘stock friendly’, airy cattle roof with polycarbonate roofing. Have a look at it on the net, under ‘Greenhills systems’. The cows in the pictures are my old herd, lying around basking in the publicity. And, by the way, I have no financial interest.
I do, though, have a small interest in my new book about my past 20 years in farming, priced at only £11 in the UK, with £2 from each sale going to RABI and lots of pretty pictures. Contact email@example.com