Skip to main content
Menu

News from the farm   |   Farming   |   Biodiversity

Legacy of a golden age

I often marvel at the confidence and physical effort that went into shaping our farming landscape during the prosperous two centuries before the repeal of the Corn Laws (which imposed a tariff on imported grain) in 1846.

The subsequent opening of the US prairies to cultivation in the 1870s led to growth in international trade, UK food prices collapsing, farm workers falling from 25 per cent to one per cent of the population, and the agricultural depression which continues to this day.

During those prosperous years, the gentry and yeoman farmer class grew rich from high wheat and meat prices. When not shooting pheasants and playing cricket, they built grand farmhouses, mills and barns like cathedrals, in fields which they enclosed with stone walls, banks and hedges, limed and dug drains in – all to feed a burgeoning urban population.

On my farm, the stream bends around the only level field with the remnants of a water meadow system; in spring, the water was diverted along a leat to trickle down over the meadow before re-joining the stream. The water warmed and fed the meadow, providing much-prized early grazing land. Such grandiose farming was abandoned as food prices fell.

Guy Baddaford Farm
An old water meadow is now home to a thriving ecosystem on marginal land. 

With an irrational confidence (or perhaps stubborn determination) not supported by food prices, I have used this rare bit of level land to create an irrigation lake, put up polytunnels, and plant a fruit and nut orchard.

My cattle-farming neighbour used to cut the remaining areas of grass for hay, but there are now too many obstacles. As the thistles, thorns, and sapling oaks and alders gain over the uncut grass, one half of me wants to cut it; to ‘tidy it up’ and keep it economically productive by arresting this ecological succession.

Some might call it neglect, and others rewilding. In contrast to the well kempt and productive, but ecologically depleted, surrounding fields, this land erupts around your feet with grasshoppers, toads, moths, butterflies and dragonflies. Beneath the uncut grass, the turf heaves with voles, supporting buzzards, kestrels and owls – while the insects fatten up this year’s swallows, darting over the reservoir. Mowing would be a massacre.

Am I farming for wildlife, carbon sequestration, or food? Am I a custodian of the land, or a business? Order and production compete with the guiding hand of nature – and like many of my neighbours, I feel confused and unqualified to decide. To be continued next week... 

    Comments

    janiet200@gmail.com

    1 Month 1 Week

    Dear Guy,
    Thank you for your very positive news and comments from your perspective on today's situation.
    We all need to ally our aims and directives with sound-minded visionaries who have practical experience and knowledge in the field. Most of us have become urban receivers from rural providers with a range from total ignorance to an-inkling, to a suspicion of how politics is twisting our values for selfish gain, with no reward and much loss. We need to unite around writers such as Colin Tudge, George Monbiot and yourself to bring principles to the fore, humility (soil) as the first requisite, starting in the UK, to clear out the self-serving profit-hunters and reverse their financial, pecuniary and political dominance, by law, to save the land, the soil, the water, the rivers, the landscape, the planet.

    You are a pioneer in the field of organic farming, preservation of values, connector of those communities with principle who want to support and join in. Discard the old labels - farmer, carbon-sequester, business - be not confused; we are all multiple co-operatives now, making our time and our pennies speak politically, using our efforts for collective, principled purpose, and hoping to extend that influence so that everyone can afford good food and subscribe to that as a fundamental priority which leads our communities, rural and urban, to prosper as a nation and internationally, under universal laws.

    Planning law needs to change - not to make things easier for ego-centric weed-killing expansion and house-building demons*, but to change its remit to protection of the land for mixed small-scale organic farmers serving the land, the planet and the economy. Read Plato; reconnect; and more power to your elbow, With love.
    * I am a professional Landscape Architect, with arboricultural and land-economy as well as ecological interests, and can show how legal priorities have been sacrificed to profit by local and central government, shamefully, in South Cambridgeshire. Am working on the case, to publish evidence, but discreetly.

    0 Reply

    Johnny Boxshall

    1 Month 1 Week

    Thank you for your comments Janiet200. Thank you for all that you have been tirelessly (seemingly tirelessly, though I’m sure you grow/are often tired) Guy!
    Yes to 99% of all that you have both said and the 1%, well they could be the 1-2% with the money and greed that are continually destroying our planet.
    As Janiet200 writes, planning law needs to change, I’d like to take it a little bit further the whole structure of society must change. I am a dreamer, an idealist. I dream of a world without money, exchange or barter (not Star Trek fifth or sixth generation but beyond) A world where we do not make anything for profit. I world in which we consider everything that we do because, without the need to earn individual wages, without individualised family is pitted one against the other for survival (often called survival of the fittest) A world without the competition that so many believe is a part of the animal kingdom and nature. Absolutely nature holds predators, parasites (let us not make any comparisons with the human species). Yet nature offers a symbiosis that is beyond the marvel and wonder of a David Attenborough film. Nature offers us everything that we need to make a truly spectacular heaven on Earth (no religious connotation whatsoever). I can write so much more on the subject (I will be on Apple radio talking about this for two hours from 2100 on this coming Monday, the 23rd of August.) I
    My reason for writing really is to embrace those amongst us who see a caring future for our planet. Those such as my late friend Polly Higgins, George Monbiot and yourselves, Guy and and Janiet200. From small acorns the giant oak grows. In my daytime I lead a group of volunteers who are resurrecting our towns most centralised park. On our gates we have (they serve as a community noticeboard) amongst the various quotes posted there for inspiration is one that I can’t quite remember but says something along the lines of, “never doubt that a small group of individuals can change the world. “

    0 Reply

    Fatou Mbow

    1 Month

    Dear Guy, I am a customer and received these thoughts of your in one of my boxes. I usually don't like the idea or yet more paper in boxes (although you really are great at recycling them all) but then I read - and loved what I read. Your questions around nature are similar to mine around medicine: does nature ever make "mistakes"...if it is nature we come from? Yet some of our medical tools really are beneficial! What is the "healthy" place of human "will" - healthy for "all" involved? Anyway, I thought I'd let you know I truly enjoyed reading this. Your boxes have taught me how remarkably differently nutritious food is, when cultivated organically; and meeting one farmer who works with you taught me how work can also be much enjoyed because of its surroundings, and ethics, too. Thank you!

    0 Reply

    Guy Singh-Watson

    Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

    Wicked Leeks is out now

    With a focus on regenerative farming, a cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan and we answer your questions on price, plastic and organic farming. Plus the joy of seasonal summer eating.

    Read more

    Leading the Veg Revolution

    Shop seasonal organic veg boxes or explore Riverford's recipe hub, for veg help and foodie inspiration.

    Go to Riverford

    How to cook with a veg box

    From meal planning to unusual veg: food writer Stacey Smith talks through how to cook with a veg box.

    Read more
    Spread the word

    The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

    Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.