The June 2013 G8 summit is taking place now against the stunning back drop of Lough Erne in Fermanagh . Next door to where the heads of state are ensconced is Fernay and White Island South, a long standing RSPB reserve managed for breeding waders. You should be able to spot these islands on most of the coverage of the summit. The RSPB in Lough Erne have a network of 39 islands which are bursting with wildlife with wading birds such as lapwing, sandwich terns, pine martens, red squirrels and otters all making their home here. Our work here and with land managers in the surrounding areas have made a haven for nature against a backdrop of wider declines as highlighted in the ‘State of Nature’ report.
According to the Government, the key focus for the UK’s G8 Presidency is on “...advancing trade...and promoting greater transparency, in order to drive lasting global prosperity.” The Government has also given development a significant place on the agenda and hosted a Hunger Summit in advance of the main G8 Summit itself. This has been welcomed by the Enough Food IF Campaign which is calling for the G8 to make strides towards a world free from hunger by introducing essential reforms.
But what does global prosperity mean? The term prosperity is often just used to mean a measure of economic progress but it can also convey health, happiness and a spiritual dimension. For me a world devoid of wildlife could not be prosperous. The production and trade of food has a profound effect on our natural environment. In some cases, trade can help alleviate pressure on the natural environment. In other cases, it is threatening the future of important species and habitats, and depleting natural resources. Yet the complexity of the global food system makes it incredibly difficult to figure out the environmental impact of our everyday purchases.
Unravelling this complexity in order to design policies which will deliver a more sustainable and secure food system is no easy task. However, it is clear that future trade reforms cannot afford to ignore the issue of sustainability (Foresight, 2010). Long-term we need robust environmental regulations/safeguards which protect natural habitats and wild species built into trade agreements. –According to a recent UNEP report ‘sustainable trade has the potential to maintain or increase agricultural output in the medium- and long-term while reducing resource use, preserving the natural environment and promoting food security. Sustainable trade – such as trade in certified products or in environmental goods and services – is on the rise in absolute terms, but remains a tiny fraction of total world trade’. A key to delivery will be transparency and traceability within the supply chain so we know what we are getting and how and where it has been produced.
But the need for change goes beyond just the way we trade food. The weight of evidence for the need to change our global food system is irrefutable and action is needed now to shape a more sustainable approach for the future. Many of these actions could be kicked off immediately.
The recent DFID select committee report on Global Food Security makes a number of helpful recommendations aimed at tackling world hunger. It highlighted that the amount of food available for human consumption could be greatly increased by revising biofuel targets to exclude agriculturally produced biofuels. It also joined the chorus of voices on the need to tackle food waste.
Perhaps most importantly the committee recognised the need for the UK to reduce meat consumption. Once a provocative idea, the fact that a government committee is calling for a reduction in meat consumption to help tackle future food security is a real step forward (happily this particular policy initiative would also help tackle health concerns!).
As we begin to reengineer our food system we can all make an impact as individuals by choosing the most sustainable options available. Making this choice is not always easy though and more work is needed to improve such schemes and make them easier to understand. Earlier this year, the report of the Ecosystems Market Task Force included, as one of its priority recommendations, a call for business “to explore and exploit untapped opportunities for rigorous and innovative nature-based certification and labelling that incorporate environmental protection”. The report made the point that, in order to be credible, such schemes must include rigorous standards and safeguards.
Creating demand for more sustainable products will play an important role alongside government regulation and other forms of public support in helping nature to thrive in a redesigned global food system.
Let us hope leaders of the G8 take inspiration from their surroundings at Lough Earne. Perhaps if they glance beyond the manicured lawns and catch a glimpse of the towering display fights of the redshank they will remind them of their responsibility for the natural world. Perhaps the gorgeous bubbling song of the curlew drifting in through the window will inspire them to think differently, factoring the natural world into their calculations to achieve a more prosperous future for people and wildlife.
"Really good website"
"Nice stand, informative and friendly staff."
Just some of the comments we've had on our stand at the Cereals event today. We're particularly pleased because these comments came from farmers looking at our brand new approach to farm advice. This falls into two complementary halves - direct advice for farmers in key target areas across the UK, and a suite of new resources for all farmers.
We've talked to farmers to find out how we can best support their conservation efforts, and this has helped us develop a new-look website at www.farmwildlife.info and a concise, easy-to-follow booklet which sets out the eight principles of conservation management on an arable farm.
This is particularly exciting because it brings together the expertise of farming and environmental organisations, to give farmers a trust-worthy, consistent and accessible source of information. The idea came from feedback from farmers who have found it difficult to decide which advice to follow in the past. Now there is a one-stop shop for all the environmental advice - the first phase of this work covers arable farming in England, but additional information will be added for all farming systems across the UK.
The other half of our advice programme delivers in-field advice for farmers, in targeted areas across the UK. We'll be offering farmers within these areas a free survey to monitor bird populations on their farm. These surveys are repeated after three years, something which we've often been asked to do. You can find out more about where those areas are here.
If you're at Cereals tomorrow, we're a friendly bunch so come and say hi and pick up your free booklet - stand 4-C-435.
As we were busy last week making sure our new roller banners arrived in time for Cereals (do drop in to stand 4-C-435 on Wednesday or Thursday to hear our exciting news!!), our colleagues working on climate change spotted some provocative stuff written in The Wall Street Journal on arable farming.
Find out more here.
Its interesting stuff....
Today we have a brilliant guest blog by Justine Hards from LEAF, getting to the heart of the importance of farm visits.
“What people do not understand, they do not value; what they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” — Charles Jordan
It seems our children are still rather confused about their food – where it comes from, what’s in it, who grows it and how. Earlier this week, we hear that almost a third of UK primary pupils think that cheese is made from plants and fish fingers come from chicken or pigs. Set against the context of the recently published ‘State of Nature’ report which highlights the fact that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before, it is perhaps not too surprising that they are becoming increasingly disconnected from their food, how its produced and its connections with the nature around them.
Getting children inspired and motivated about how their food is grown, meeting and talking to the farmers who grow it, feeling enthralled about the countryside around them and all the wonderful variety of wildlife that live there is key.
This weekend around 350 farms all over the country open up for Open Farm Sunday and welcome thousands of children and their families to experience first-hand the realities of farming. For many, it will be their first time on a real working farm or even the countryside. For some it will be a life changing experience. Seeing sheep being shorn, learning how wheat turns into bread, stroking a pigs back, watching cows being milked and listening to different bird song, could be the inspiration needed to get a child to understand and value their food and where it comes from.
Farm visits provide a unique opportunity for us to discover how our food is grown, explore the countryside, discover its inhabitants and its agricultural importance. Visiting a farm is one of the most tangible ways to reconnect with our food and it can play a huge role in inspiring young people to make healthier food choices.
So let’s get our children excited and motivated about their food and how it’s grown. Let’s open their eyes to the sights, sounds and wonders of a real working farm. Let them learn, let them feel, listen and hear. What we teach them now will be part of their legacy. And ours too.
Open Farm Sunday takes place on the 9th June. Click here to find a farm new you.
Inspirational images courtesy of LEAF
By Deborah Deveney, HNV Campaign Leader
So much has happened since our first blog on High Nature Value (HNV) farming back in January, in particular over the past few weeks, there’s a lot to tell you about. Most importantly it’s great to see recognition for these extensive farming systems is beginning to grow – systems that produce good quality food, sustain wildlife, protect many of our special landscapes as well as delivering public goods.
State of Nature Report
The recent State of Nature report refers to farming systems that are ‘high value for nature’, emphasising the importance of those farmers across the UK who are managing their land with nature and support many priority species. This is often through agri-environment support and advice, without which the farmers, and the public goods they deliver, would both suffer. Funding for these schemes is under threat – and you can help fight that threat. Read on……
Coalition calls on Government to support
The State of Nature report was followed up earlier this week by a coalition of 18 farming, environmental and heritage organisations writing to Owen Paterson MP (Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Alun Davies AM (Minister for Natural Resources & Food in Wales), Richard Lochhead MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & Environment in Scotland) and Michelle O’Neill MLA (Agricultural Minister for Northern Ireland). The coalition collectively warned these decision makers of the impending crisis facing wildlife, landscape and rural communities in HNV farming areas – urging them to find a way of improving the package of support these HNV farmers and crofters receive for managing these areas for the benefit of all.
The coalition includes a cross section of organisations: Scottish Crofters Federation; South West Uplands Federation; National Centre for the Uplands; Foundation for Common Land; Federation of Cumbria Commoners; National Parks England; The National Association for AONBs, RSPB; Buglife; Plantlife; European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP); Butterfly Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, Ulster Wildlife Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, The National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Archaeology Scotland. This broad range of organisations have come together to raise a voice for HNV farming, demonstrating just how important it is to so many strands of our society.
John Waldon, speaking for the South West Uplands Federation, talked about iconic landscapes. Julia Aglionby, Director of the National Centre for the Uplands flagged how bizarre it is that current support payments are inversely correlated with the benefits farmers provide to society. Patrick Krausse, Scottish Crofters talked about farming in these areas as the thread that holds together communities and maintains threatened wildlife. Everyone highlighted the impressive array of public benefits that could be lost if the farmers who provide the necessary management face ever-increasing costs and lower public support.
Around the UK
Momentum has been gathering pace with key events around the country too. And the RSPB has been fully involved in highlighting the benefits that HNV farmers – and the schemes that support them – bring to the environment and society.
Wales Environment Link (WEL) – Land Use & Biodiversity group held a joint workshop with the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Aberystwyth last week. RSPB Cymru, Rural Wales, CEH & IBERS gave thought and debate provoking presentations. The RSPB will also be at the Royal Welsh show in July where we are keen to develop these thoughts with Welsh farmers.
In Scotland, Rob Gibson (pictured above; MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and Convenor of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and the Environment Committee) hosted a HNV farming event at Scottish Parliament this week. Douglas Irvine from Shetland Isles, presented the economic and social impacts in the agricultural sector for the Highlands and Islands. He made a case to the Scottish Government, UK & EU for a more equitable system of support in Scotland, to reverse some of the trends happening now, such as whole scale abandonment of land and loss of full time agricultural workers and livestock from these areas.
If your farm is an important home for wildlife, why don't you write to Owen Patterson MP, Alun Davies AM, Richard Lochhead MSP or Michelle O’Neill MLA and let them know how important public support for environmentally friendly farmers is.