Hill farmers once again came in for a bashing at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) as environmental campaigner George Monbiot slammed upland farming as ‘comically unproductive’.
The journalist, who was speaking at a session about the importance of wildlife on farms, said that while there was room for both land sharing (agricultural production which cares for the environment) and land sparing, (returning agricultural land back to nature) rewilding swathes of the uplands would bring huge environmental benefits.
Also on this topic see: Increasing yields and rewilding ’spared’ land could slash GHG emissions by 80 per cent
But Mr Monbiot’s comments were criticised by farmer members of the audience.
Scottish Crofting Federation’s chief executive Patrick Krause said it was ‘unfair’ to blast livestock production in the hills.
He highlighted studies from the RSPB which showed livestock production had helped to increase biodiversity in upland areas.
Welsh farmer and founder of the Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden, told the conference he had been producing food in an environmentally friendly manner since the 1970s.
In response, Mr Monbiot said that while these were good examples, ‘we still have too many ruminants causing a phenomenal impact on wildlife’.
“We need to be eating a lot less meat and consuming a lot less milk,” he said, adding the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had fuelled the ‘destructive’ situation in the uplands.
Mr Monbiot said: “I am not talking about blanket rewilding of the uplands. There should be room for both.
“I’m talking about people who have a large amount of land and have no contact with the land, but try and ring as much money out of subsidies as they can.”
He highlighted how 76 per cent of the land in Wales was used for livestock production, but the country imported seven times as much meat as it exported.
Tenant farmer Rebecca Hosking, who runs the organic Village Farm in south Devon, said while she would be ‘proud’ to farm without subsidy, she needed it to cover her farm rent cheque.
“Without it I could have free reign to do what I want on my farm not be worried about RPA inspections,” she told the conference.
Ms Hosking, who runs 350 sheep, said she saw her farm as an ’ecosystem full of species’ and did not ‘kill or poison anything’.
Since taking over the tenancy in 2014, with the help of the Woodland Trust, she has planted 9,000 trees to create shelter belts, and improve the grazing regime.
Ms Hosking added: “We want burgeoning amounts of food coming out of our farm but also burgeoning amounts of wildlife.”