Nature-friendly farming can support biodiversity while also producing food.

Farming with heart & head

I dream of an accessible, biodiverse, and inclusive countryside – where farmers are valued for their stewardship of nature, as well as for the food they produce.

I finished laying 500 metres of hedge earlier this month, as the first buds burst and birds flirted and gathered twigs around me. The £14-per-metre grant from DEFRA just about covered the cost, but it won’t entice anyone to spend their winter being scratched and pricked – not unless they also have a love for the work, and a desire to preserve our ancient hedges and the wildlife that they support.

If we want farmers to transition from single enterprise, cost-focused, commercially driven food producers into welly-wearing ecologists, it will require grants and guiding legislation. But the most powerful motivator that we can unlock will be farmers’ hidden (often even from themselves) pride, love, and joy in supporting the nature they interact with every day. Without appealing to the heart and the gut, as well as the head and the bank balance, this quiet, much-needed revolution will fail.

Seven years ago, my wife Geetie and I walked the farm with two advisors from the Devon Wildlife Trust, and listened to them enthuse about rare herbs, fairy rings, dung beetles, voles, barn owls, and greater horseshoe bats. This opened my eyes to the riches beneath my feet and changed the way I farm, every bit as much as the grants on offer. We have since dug ponds to boost biodiversity, and planted orchards, tree corridors to encourage the bats, agroforestry, and wildflowers. Some of the most significant changes come from doing less: rewilding interconnected corridors, and letting hedges grow up and out at their bases.

We used to be penalised under the old farm payment system, which was based on ‘productive’ area – but our new stewardship agreement under DEFRA’s Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) is both supportive and reasonably flexible. Farmers are as varied in their values, skills, and enthusiasm as their farms are in their soil types, topography, and microclimates. To DEFRA’s credit, the new system seems to be a good effort at embracing both human and farm diversity, by giving farmers a ‘pick and mix’ opportunity to develop a plan that suits them.

We all do our best work when we feel appreciated, supported, and purposeful. Encouraged in my hedge-laying by passing walkers and horse riders, I dreamed of an accessible, biodiverse, and inclusive countryside – where farmers are valued for their stewardship of nature, as well as for the food they produce.


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  1. Luckily this article brings me to tears!! Tears of joy!! I read it specifically because today, my box arrived – with no little piece of paper. (Not a problem – I can read the words here!!) However, I will mention that one of the reasons I order a box as weekly as possible (even when I don’t really need one and I can’t really afford it) but – the writing!! It’s inspirational!! And I need to read it hahaha. So I read this week’s missive on line and then saw this one – and amazingly enough, it mentions the fact that ‘we all do our best when we feel appreciated’!! So – again, tears of joy as – I’ve felt to respond and say how much I love the writing for a few years now!! Ridiculous but – yes I’m alive!! And I’ll write too!!

    I also feel to mention that – it feels as if there is a movement going on across Planet Earth!! It feels as if it’s springtime and this year in particular we are seeing the seeds of the movement towards a healthier, happier, more ecologically and, more consciously and collaboratively and considerately based is finally coming to fruition!! The prospect of human beings finally taking up their true position as stewards of nature is approaching!! I just have to say – I LOVE RIVERFORD!!!


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