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Farming matters: Niall Blair - 'It is easy to farm when your plough is a smartphone'

It is easy to farm when your plough is a smartphone, and you live a thousand miles from the cornfield.

A modern interpretation of Eisenhower’s quote, but I do wonder what he would make of today’s urban centric society and its views on farming.

 

I follow with interest the rewilding movement. Part of being a farmer in the uplands is being able to appreciate nature.

 

In my opinion agriculture already does a very good job at achieving the balance between ecological services and the need to provide sustenance for the human population.

 

My general belief is that the flora and fauna of the UK is a direct result of land management. As such, farmers deserve more recognition for the role they play in protecting, enhancing and creating habitats.

 

Over the last 40 years I have seen many positive changes in our countryside, we have far more hedges and native woodlands, we have ponds, wetland areas and many other habitats created through a series of stewardship schemes.

 

These habitats all complement each other and form a mosaic of ecological benefit. If there has been a decline in biodiversity over this period then, in my opinion it is lazy rhetoric to continually label modern agriculture as the primary cause.

 

This view does not appear to be compatible with the extreme vision for rewilding. It is clear that to some people any form of commercial agriculture is profit driven ecological terrorism. Land they argue, should be returned to its natural pre agricultural revolution state in order to enhance biodiversity.

 

In my opinion this attitude is not only naive but it could actually be counterintuitive.


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A few years ago I worked as an estate surveyor for a large national construction company.

 

One part of my job was to develop biodiversity action plans for both sand/gravel and hard rock quarries.

 

This work involved co-ordinating environmental surveys of the sites, identifying habitats and species present.

 

You might think heavily industrialised sites such quarries were environmental disasters, but actually what our ecologists found was that the way the sites were worked created habitats of special conservation value which in turn encouraged fauna including many red list species considered to be rare or endangered within the UK.

 

Once these quarries reached the end of their working lives they were usually restored with these species and habitats in mind.

 

Unfortunately, at this point, the sites were effectively abandoned, land management was forgotten. Nature was then allowed to take control. The sites were effectively rewilded.

 

Unfortunately a lack of management meant that vegetation wise, single species began to dominate. A significant decline in biodiversity was then noted to occur.

 

I think that the above illustrates what could easily happen to our agricultural landscape if we are not careful.

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