Backwoodsmen out in force for Parliament farm debate

the post-war drive for food self-sufficiency has its roots in the fascist ideology of Oswald Mosley

The long slow march of the new Agriculture Bill through Parliament continued last week, as Environment Secretary Michael Gove sought to reassure, indeed sooth, everyone’s concerns. Though Gove is a consummate schmoozer, mollifier and reassurer, satisfying the demands pressing on him from the many different sides of the debate may be beyond even his considerable talents.

There were some very valuable interventions – not least from Green MP Caroline Lucas, who made a number of excellent points. In particular, she pointed out that if we are really going to prevent Climate Change beyond the 1.5C limit the IPCC now says is needed, agriculture is going to have to change dramatically, as will our own eating habits. Lucas also noted the absence of public health as a key element of the new Agriculture Bill, as did others.

The debate was also, as expected, the first opportunity for the traditional Tory ‘backwoodsmen’ to make an appearance, alongside other characters who are famous, or infamous, for altogether different reasons. John Redwood, one of Sir John Major’s infamous ‘bastards’ who was among the original EU sceptics, made a bizarre intervention, claiming that:

“There has been a big decline in our self-sufficiency as food producers during the 46 years in which we have been in the ​common agricultural policy.”

A strange quirk of history

This is incorrect. Self-sufficiency peaked under Margaret Thatcher, due to Agriculture Minister Peter Walker’s enthusiasm for this ideological policy. By 1984, the UK was 95% self-sufficient in indigenous foods – a full 11 years after we joined the Common Agricultural Policy, (in 1973).

In a strange quirk of history, it was a Fascist who had the greatest influence over this particular policy aim. The British Union of Fascists believed that Britain should be entirely self-sufficient in food (known as autarchy) – they wanted it to be provided by a revival in domestic agriculture, and of course imports from the Empire and Dominions. As Empire crumbled, post-war, this policy evolved to argue for the UK to be self-sufficient in food grown from our own land.

The former BUF farm policy leader and Dorset farmer Bob Saunders (who was interned during the War), rose to a senior position in the National Farmers Union (NFU), where he was able to influence successive Governments and Whitehall civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture. Saunders was particularly effective at influencing Walker, who took up this policy – despite it being completely at odds with the neo-liberal free-trade policies that became Thatcher Government’s hallmark.

After Walker left MAFF, successive free-traders abandoned autarchy, as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) also started to move (albeit at a glacial pace) away from the single focus on food production. It’s worth noting that the CAP was created as a direct response to people dying of starvation in Europe after the Second World War (and also a backdoor way for Germany to pay reparations to France, via farm subsidies).

Another bizarre intervention came from Huw Merriman who represents a chunk of the Sussex Weald. The Weald is now rightly famous as the last remaining sanctuary in Britain, for the survival of wildflower meadows.  Merriman initially waved his wildlife credentials around, bragging of his chairmanship of the All Party Parliamentary group on pollinators. He then proceeded to argue that the Agriculture Bill should pay his farmers to intensify production, on their poor soils, which are innately unproductive.

He railed against “investment bankers” buying up land and managing it for Nature rather than caning it for every last extra kilo of wheat. This is somewhat ironic considering that Merriman worked for the err investment bank Lehmann Brothers – you know, the one which caused the global financial crash in 2008.

Merriman was also confused about how much food the UK used to produce, claiming that we were 100% self-sufficient 50 years ago, but only 60% now. This is rubbish. Even at the height of that fascist-inspired self-sufficiency drive, the UK was only 78% self-sufficient. Does pollinator champion Merriman really want to pay farmers to plough up the few remaining wildflower meadows, just to produce a few more tonnes of low quality feed wheat? These are the policies of the 1970s.

Watching the debate, and reading through it afterwards, I was struck, once again, by how effective a lobbying organisation the National Farmers Union is.  We were treated by the spectacle of both the Environment Secretary and his opposite number trying to out vie each other in quoting from the NFU President Minette Batters. It was a bit embarrassing really – as they were both using her quote “you can’t go green if you’re in the red.” Meaning the environment only gets a look in on farmland once farming is generating a decent profit. Or even, as previous Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom claimed “farming is the bedrock of the environment.”

This is, of course, arrant nonsense and barely disguised NFU propaganda. How did Nature survive for four billion years before farming came along 10,000 years ago, you might wonder. But it’s testament to the power of the NFU lobbying machine, that our political leaders unthinking use the quote, in a weird competition of who can be the NFU’s real bff.

Another gem, probably straight of the National Sheep Association’s playbook, came from Scottish Lib Dem MP (yes there is one) Jamie Stone. Stone suggested that Scottish sheep farmers should be given farm subsidies:

It is self-evident to me that we cannot do much with the straths and glens in ​my constituency other than rear sheep. I want to push him on one other point. Tourism depends on seeing our straths and glens populated with livestock and on vibrant and successful farming. May I push him for his comments on the tourism aspect of agriculture?

Gove replied:

He is absolutely right: Iconic landscapes from Caithness and Sutherland and Easter Ross through to the Lake District and, indeed, Exmoor and Dartmoor depend for their tourist appeal and for their pull on the human heart on the work of our farmers. It is inconceivable that those iconic landscapes could survive and flourish without the rural, economic and social network that sheep farming and other forms of farming provide. Absolutely, we do recognise that. It is a public good, and public access to our countryside is placed here.

So, apparently, it is only sheep farming, which keeps the straths and glens of the Black Isle devoid of wildlife, which brings tourists there – and to other iconic landscapes  – or ‘sheepscapes’ if you prefer. Some might say sheep-scraped. Successive Governments, and the EU, have supported a massive number of sheep on these hills. But it wasn’t always like that – as I explored in a blog last year.

Some have argued that hill farming communities should be regarded as a public good and paid to exist, but Farm Minister, George Eustice, rejected this argument and noted that the Upland Alliance, which represents Upland farmers, believes that these communities should be supported for the wide range of public goods they already provide, and others which they can provide in greater proportion – for example preventing downstream flooding, or carbon capture in bogs and woods.

This debate has provided a useful opportunity to see who is lobbying MPs most successfully, and who is not being heard. Health came through, clearly as an issue which needs to be included. The effectiveness of the NFU in lobbying for payments to produce more food, regardless of the environmental or social cost, should also act as a red flag for anyone interested in seeing more sustainable farming systems adopted here.

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England’s Green and Pheasant Land?

Pheasant Chicks © Ruth Peacey

 

 

Anyone visiting the countryside over the last few weeks will have noticed that, suddenly, pheasants are everywhere: Running into the road, or standing looking confused – they, at first, appear quite quaint and charming. Their sudden ubiquity, however, heralds the beginning of the shooting season.  Shooters will pay up to or even more than £25,000 a day for the most exclusive shoots, where hundreds of birds will be shot in one day. Others will shoot just a few, with friends, and for the pot.

Estimates vary but it is likely that considerably more than 35 million pheasants are bred and released into the countryside (mostly England) each year. These are not native wild birds – they are livestock, though their legal status is truly bizarre. There is a much smaller, though still very large, population of feral pheasants – now around two million in strength. Add these and their offspring to the 35 million released, gives a figure nearer 50 million birds out in the countryside at this time of year. That’s almost one pheasant for every person living in the UK.

Only about a third of those released, and a quarter of the total  – are shot. That’s about 12 million. And of those, less than half are taken by game dealers. Supply of pheasants far outweighs demand. Nearly half of game dealers only accept pheasants for free, while one in eight is now charging shoots for taking their pheasants, according to Savill’s benchmarking survey. The rest of those that are shot are either given away, or dumped. Dumping shot pheasants – either in specially created stinkpits, or just in the countryside, is an increasing problem. Although there are no official figures for how many are disposed of like this, it is likely to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And the fact that game dealers are now charging to take even the best carcasses, will only make this problem a bigger one.

So, what happens to the rest of them? A small number make it through the winter to add to the already burgeoning feral population, while the rest succumb to starvation, disease, predators and road accidents. Twenty million dead pheasants is a lot of freely available food for foxes, buzzards, other birds of prey, crows, magpies, other corvids and perhaps even the odd badger, which will eat carrion. So perhaps it’s no surprise that fox, crow and magpie populations are on the increase too. It’s worth considering how these predators then, in turn,  have an impact on farmland and especially ground-nesting birds. Could the pheasant industry be inadvertently contributing to the decline in farmland birds? It seems very likely.

There are other impacts too – pheasants are bred intensively and as a result are dosed with prophylactic antibiotics (given before infections arise). Only recently have vets considered that this could be contributing to Antibiotic Resistance – but so far have only proposed a voluntary scheme, to reduce antibiotic use.  In 2018, for the first time, a pheasant was found in England with symptomatic Avian Influenza. Now there is emerging evidence that pheasants can be infected, and release Avian Influenza virus, for prolonged periods of time, without showing signs of infection.

The welfare of pheasants is also given less credence than for say their domestic cousins, the chicken. Beak Bits are used to stop pheasants pecking each other, though beak removal is not commonly used.  Because of the confusing legal status of game-birds, they do not receive the same animal welfare protections as farmed birds and are only covered by a voluntary code of practice.

The shooting industry would love for us all to start eating lots more pheasants, to soak up all the surplus animals. They have even created a new organisation, The British Game Alliance, to promote pheasant-eating. Shooting advocate, the former England cricketer, Ian Botham, has  even suggested feeding pheasants to people in food poverty, although plans to provide pheasant meat to food banks via the Fairshare charity collapsed when it was noted that perhaps poisoning the poor with lead was not a great way of promoting the shooting industry. There is also something deeply unsavoury (and a bit Victorian) about the idea that food produced purely as a result of a wealthy person’s sport, should be made available to those at the bottom of society, who struggle to put food on the table.

In a way we all subsidise this sport – through our taxes. Farm and woodland payments to landowners help subsidise shoots. There are extra payments available for landowners to plant wild bird seed mixtures and cover crops. While these might provide food for truly wild birds, they will definitely also be helping to feed pheasants. And the same landowners also benefit greatly through tax incentives and tax breaks. There is even a public subsidy on shotgun licences.

It seems unlikely that the British public will start eating lots of gamey pheasant meat any time soon. We aren’t even particularly keen on brown chicken meat, exporting much of what the UK chicken industry produces, and replacing it with imported chicken breast – from the Netherlands and Poland. Indeed, it’s reckoned around half of the pheasant meat that does end up with game dealers is exported into the EU.

There are undoubtedly many small pheasant shoots across the country where the landowners care about animal welfare, eat all the birds that are produced; and manage the countryside in ways which helps other wildlife. But there are also very large commercial pheasant shoots which are causing a wide variety of environmental problems. This is now a lucrative, influential, and for the most part, unregulated industry.

Instead of just allowing pheasant numbers, and their impacts, to increase year on year, it’s time this changed.

this article first appeared on Lush Times.

 

Posted in countryside alliance, game shooting industry, pheasants | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Green Transformation: Labour gets in a muddle about food security

Those who take even a passing interest in politics will know that the party conference season is upon us. The Lib Dems conference passed without more than a murmur and an ‘exotic spresm.’  And last week saw a surprisingly united Labour party in ebullient mood; this despite some confusion over whether they will support a second Brexit referendum, which includes the option to vote to remain in the EU after all.

While that particular political hot potato has been kicked down the road (or into the long grass) for a bit longer, there was a definite shift in mood and this will strengthen calls for a People’s Vote – calls that will only get louder once the Prime Minister fails to win her own vote on the so-called Chequers deal.

But I was more interested in what Labour had to say about the Environment, Food and Farming. As I mentioned before, there have been some quite alarming noises coming from that party’s environment and farming team, to whit they would be supporting some form of direct payments to farmers to produce food. In response to that column, Shadow Farming Minister. David Drew, responded on Twitter:

“Beware the #Greenwash. CAP’s major fault was that subsidies went to some who didn’t need it. But Gove’s Bill is a dour ’people-less’ vision. He is eerily silent on ability of small and specialised farmers, their families and rural communities to develop incomes and their future.”

Dr Drew later deleted the tweet, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Fast forward to the Labour conference, where a significant new report was launched, laying out how Labour in Government would tackle the serious environmental challenges facing the UK and the world. The Green Transformation is short, punchy and worth reading.

Labour’s new ‘The Green Transformation’ report has some worthy aims for wildlife, but it seems curiously reticent about radical proposals for agricultural change

It starts very strongly:

“The Environment is the bedrock of our economy, our security and our wellbeing. It is not something separate from ourselves; it is the food we eat and the place we live.”

This is a great starting point.  And it goes on in similar fashion; for example, the big policy statement on climate action – a target of net zero emissions by 2050. It has some worthy aims for wildlife, but it seems curiously reticent about radical proposals for agricultural change. The report highlights the need to tackle air pollution, while failing to mention the effect of intensive agriculture  (almost all ammonia pollution comes from livestock farming). It does note the parlous state of the UK’s freshwaters, but omits to recognise the primary reason for that state is the impact of intensive farming.

And while Labour quotes the State of Nature report figures showing that our species and habitats are disappearing primarily because of intensive farming practices, it offers no concrete proposals for addressing this.

What it does say is that Labour will:

“Reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support sustainable practices, smaller traders, local economies and community benefits”

And

“Embed and enhance in policy the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals, and encourage the growth of wildflowers.”

This is vague and wishy-washy – but I’m afraid all too familiar to old blokes like me who, over the decades, have seen similar statements of “motherhood and apple pie” about wildlife, emanating from Ministers and Shadow Ministers of all political parties.

To put this in context, look no further than the National Farmers Union (NFU), gloating over the success of its fringe event on food and farming at the Labour conference. For Shadow Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, speaking at that event literally quoted the NFU’s lines: “We know that for farmers to be sustainable environmentally, they must be sustainable economically, as Minette has said – ‘farmers cannot be green if they are in the red.”

Hayman is expressing exactly the same sentiments as arch-Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom,  did when she was Defra Secretary of State. “Farming is.. a bedrock of our economy and environment” she said.

“Farming is vital to Britain. Not only because of the role our farmers play in environmental stewardship, but because it is the bedrock of the food and drinks industry which is our largest remaining manufacturing sector.” Did Leadsom say that? No, it was Sue Hayman, using curiously similar wording.

But The Green Transformation stated the Environment was the bedrock of the economy.

Confused? So am I.

Even more confusing than that, Labour is now talking about Food Security. The Agriculture Bill “must deliver on food security as well as on environmental outcomes”, says Hayman. What does Food Security mean in this context? For David Drew it means increasing domestic food production. Indeed Hayman, speaking at that NFU fringe event, confirmed Labour would retain making payments to farmers to produce food. This is dangerous territory – remember those milk mountains and beef lakes – the overproduction of food was driven by subsidies linked to food production, at devastating cost to the environment. On Farming Today, Hayman said Labour would tackle volatility, and maintain security in our food supply, as if we were going to war and being threatened with a U-boat blockade. She went on to suggest Labour would push for farm payments for productivity. The Agriculture Bill also talks of payments for productivity, linking this nebulous term to increased resource efficiency and improving food quality, but not increasing production.

And what of food security? Food Security can mean many different things to different people.

For the World Food Programme, Food Security encompasses availability of food, access to food, food having a “positive nutritional impact” on people. As RSPB’s Tom Lancaster points out, the UK has the third highest food security in the world. But there is a big problem with access to nutritional food in the UK, not because of a lack of food, but because many people are on very low incomes, and much of their income is taken on unaffordable housing.

There is no shortage of food in the UK. But there are problems with nutrition and poor diet, leading to the obesity epidemic, diabetes and other health problems. So we really need more explanation from Labour as to what they mean by Food Security. There is no shortage of food in the UK because our farmers are very good at growing it, but many struggle to make a living. And this is because most of the value in the food they produce is extracted by the big four supermarkets and the most successful food processors, as I explained in the People’s Manifesto for Nature.

A crash-out no deal Brexit could threaten food imports, as illustrated by Defra appointing a Minister of Food Rationing last week. It remains to be seen whether we will be implored to Dig for Victory, or set up a Pig Club.

Labour has got itself into a bit of a pickle over agriculture and food policy. It’s good news that it is working on a food policy, where it can untangle some of these muddles. I asked Vicki Hird, food campaigner at Sustain, for her view:

“It is clear the Labour Party is concerned about the whole food system from the viability of sustainable farm and rural businesses to the protection of the Environment and securing healthy safe food supplies. They need to join up these complex demands in a strong response to the draft Agriculture Bill looking for the long term finance needed, duties not just powers to act and an obligation to deliver on existing environmental and social goals. “

Somehow I suspect agriculture and the environment will be a very minor sideshow in the imminent bun-fight, otherwise known as the Conservative Party conference. Whatever happens there though, there are big changes coming for agriculture, food and the environment. You can play your part by lobbying your MP when the time comes for votes on the Agriculture Bill. More on that in a few weeks’ time.

this is an updated version of a piece which first appeared on Lush Times.

Posted in 2018 agriculture bill, food security, Labour, Labour agricultural policy, Labour shadow DEFRA team, Sue Hayman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The People’s Walk for Wildlife

 

It was a soggy Saturday. The People marched, quietly, fiercely, joyfully, through the West End of London. Many played the magical sound of a dawn chorus from their phones. A remarkable human squid walked alongside Sussex University’s Professor Dave Goulson in a Bee-suit.

Running repairs were made to a giant stag-beetle, which had lost its structural integrity after several hours of soaking rain. A remarkable giant bat, whose wings flapped slowly, like a manta ray,  moved gracefully through the streets. Sadly, neither Princes Charles nor William appeared at a window of St. James’ Palace to give us a wave (or the thumbs-up), as we turned the corner from St James’ Street into Pall Mall.

Yes, of course, I’m talking about the People’s Walk for Wildlife. The people came from all across the UK (someone even came from Uganda), mostly with their waterproofs (having seen the forecast) and a wonderful variety of umbrellas – many of them wildlife-themed.

Welsh wildlife legend, Iolo Williams, stood behind the stage in a tee-shirt. I asked him if he had forgotten his waterproofs? “This isn’t rain!” he said. “I’m from Wales.” And that summed up the mood of the day. Positive, defiant.

Billy Bragg and Chris Packham had re-worked some of Bragg’s most famous songs and Chris joined Billy in a duet. It’s not something any of us will forget. Billy then sang alongside Grace Petrie and Saskia Eng.

This wasn’t just a one-off. Earlier last week Chris had launched the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife  – produced at an unprecedented speed, and looking fantastic.

I must admit that, as one of the contributors, I may be biased: The Manifesto calls for action to halt the destruction that has brought Nature in the UK to its knees. Chris has appointed Ministers to his Nature Cabinet which includes young conservationists like Bella Lack and Mya-Rose Craig; writers Robert MacFarlane and Amy Jane-Beer, legal expert Carol Day, urban Nature guru Kate Bradbury, pesticides expert Dave Goulson, journalist and environmentalist, George Monbiot, Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay, Lush film-maker Ruth Peacey, Mark Carwardine and many more.  No-one represents any organisation – we are representing ourselves – and Nature. I felt humbled to have been asked to join such a group (as Minister of Farming and Food.)

Some of us lucky Ministers had been singled out to speak for a couple of minutes about our topic. And others – Beaver nut, Derek Gow, Martin Lines from the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and Findlay Pringle from Ullapool who has been sacked as Ambassador for the Shark Trust for speaking out against Bear Grylls’ plans to have captive sharks as part of a “dive experience”.  Young Fermanagh naturalist Dara McAnulty recited his own poem on Nature’s crisis. It was an amazing moment.

Despite everyone’s best efforts the speeches and singing over-ran. The walk had to start at 1pm sharp, as a series of rolling road-closures parted the traffic on some extremely busy West End streets. The last set of speeches were abandoned. I found myself at the front being herded forward, straining to listen to Billy Bragg singing Where Have All the Flowers Gone, wanting to run back to hear that incredible song. I looked at the crowd behind me as the rain eased off, thinking that maybe a couple of thousand had braved the elements, and that would be impressive. But as the March entered Piccadilly I realised that I could not see its end and that far more people must have arrived to join in. By the time we reached Whitehall it was clear that the police had underestimated how many people were there – and as we were squashed onto the pavement, they re-opened the road where people spilled out to form a substantial crowd.

As we waited for the end of the March to arrive, speakers who had missed out earlier – Kate Bradbury, Mark Carwardine, Mark Avery and George Monbiot, had their chance to talk. It worked out exceptionally well with George giving a very rousing speech to conclude the day.

Number 10’s conservation adviser John (Baron) Randall, was there to welcome us, perhaps on behalf of an absent Environment Secretary, Michael Gove. Chris and a group of young conservationists duly delivered the Lush petition and a copy of the Manifesto, which Mr Gove has promised to read carefully, once he’s worked out that it is not a report on the Bioblitz. Later I heard the police had estimated the March as 10,000 strong. For a soggy Saturday in September that is really impressive.

People will realise that if we don’t act now, it will be all too late

Producing the Manifesto at break-neck speed, organising a major outdoor event, including a stage with sound-system; getting everyone together on the day, working with the police to get 10,000 people from Hyde Park to Ten Downing Street –  it was a herculean effort, led by Chris Packham with a great team working with him. What does it mean though?

The traditional media took little interest in the event. There was a snippet on Radio 4’s lunchtime news; Sky news covered it well (apparently) – and there were small pieces in the Observer and Independent, plus a couple of mentions on other newspaper websites. Social media was a-buzz on the day – with #peopleswalkforwildlife getting to number one UK trending on twitter.

Most of UK Nature NGOs turned up to support the March – at least lots of their staff did. Had they all put out a big call for their members to come, perhaps the March would have been bigger. But it was organised entirely independently of the Nature charities, and so there was no expectation that they would promote it. A few politicians turned up – I saw Labour’s Kerry McCarthy in the crowd, and I understand there was a good turnout from green politicians.

For me, this feels like a marker has been put down. It feels like it could become something significant. That people will realise that if we don’t act now, it will be all too late. Perhaps it already is too late, but we have to believe that things can change.

Please read the Manifesto. Take action – we can all do things in our own lives which make a difference. And badger you politicians – your councillors, your MPs. Challenge them on what they are doing for Nature.

And if there’s another people’s walk for wildlife, please come along. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

this post first appeared on Lush Times

Posted in Chris Packham, Nature, people's walk for wildlife, peoples manifesto for wildlife, peoples walk for wildlife | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

First course of Gove’s green Brexit has been placed on the table #agriculturebill

Maize field, Dorset ©Miles King

It feels like something momentous has just happened. UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has published his long-awaited Agriculture Bill, the first in a series of laws which will shape the future of Britain’s environment, after Brexit.

Leaving the EU means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has shaped how farmers receive financial support from the taxpayer, for over 40 years. Farmers currently receive €4 billion of support each year, much of which goes to landowners with large estates, like vacuum cleaner billionaire James Dyson, who don’t need it. Gove’s vision of a Green Brexit includes changing the way farmers receive public support. Whereas at the moment they need do nothing to receive most of the money, in future, all of it will be tied to delivering what are technically known as public goods.

The Bill (and the reasonably comprehensive set of documents which accompany it) describes what public goods are – thriving plants and wildlife, clean air, preventing flooding, improved public access to farmland and healthy soil. Better animal welfare is also put forward as a public good, although I would suggest that rather depends on the place from where you start from. It is also made clear that growing food is not a public good (it’s a private good – because the food is sold on the market to whoever will pay the highest price) although growing it in ways that are less environmentally damaging (e.g. organically) could be seen as a public good.

It’s also important to recognise that public goods are different from public benefits. There are benefits, for example, to producing a substantial proportion of the food we consume, rather than importing it. And this is particularly true of home-grown fruit and vegetables, where we produce a lamentably low proportion of the indigenous foods we consume. One good reason for producing a decent amount of indigenous food is that we have far greater control over the environmental and social impact of that food if it’s grown here. Importing food means exporting those impacts.

Another argument, put forward forcefully over the past couple of years, is that upland farmers have long been particularly dependent on income payments, and that they deliver a public good called “rural vitality”, which means supporting isolated rural communities by giving extra money to their farming activities. This argument does not appear to have been accepted by Michael Gove, although I am sure it will be pressed home as the Bill makes its way through Parliament. Upland farmers that farm in sustainable ways, such as those who graze our uplands in a sympathetic way (like this one), should be able to reap generous payments for multiple public goods, as well as being able to charge a premium for the food they produce.

What could happen now

The Bill also describes how we will move from the current system to the new one. Gove’s timetable is a long one, with a full seven-year transition, which doesn’t start until 2021. So the current system of payments, the Common Agricultural Policy, continues until then. The current approach to payments will gradually taper off over those seven years, while the new system comes on line at the same time.

Eventually farmers and landowners will only be paid to deliver the public goods mentioned earlier. One controversial proposal is to make lump sum payments to farmers as “golden parachutes” encouraging them to leave farming and open up opportunities for new entrants. It’s not clear how this would work in practice though, because current payments are tied to specific pieces of land and are conditional on farmers abiding by rules to prevent environmental damage (though these are weak.)

There will be other money available to support technical advances in equipment and practices. The emphasis in the documents is on advances which reduce environmental impact, although the door is left open for funding to support technical advances which may be more controversial. Those who would wish to see genetically modified crops grown in the UK will not see anything in the Bill that prevents this from happening.

Another possible beneficiary will be zero-till farming. Crops are drilled directly into fields, without ploughing. This is good for the soil and reduces the need for fertilisers, but depends on the use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate. One particular area of research which could really benefit from serious funding is to find ways of farming without cultivation that doesn’t rely on chemical herbicides.

The Bill also makes proposals for detailed monitoring of supply chains in the hope that this will strengthen the farmers’ hand in negotiations with buyers, and not just from the big four supermarkets. Vicki Hird from food campaign group Sustain was pleased to see measures that give farmers more powers when dealing with buyers, in the Bill: “A broad coalition of groups have said consistently that we need far stronger regulation of the market so all sectors of farming can get a fair reward in the market place which is not the case currently.”

This is what farming groups are worried out – will the approach of only paying for public goods mean that farm incomes go down, to the point where farmers who are already struggling will just give up, take the golden parachute and sell their farms? If it is going to work, several things need to happen.

What needs to happen

Farmers need to get a fair share of the retail cost of food – at the moment they don’t. Secondly the current budget of £3.5 billion a year needs to be protected from the grasping hands of the Treasury. That money needs to be recycled back into paying for public goods. The 25 Year Environment Plan proposed a Nature Recovery Network of 500,000ha of new habitat across England. That will cost a lot of money to create and manage.

At the moment farmers who carry out work for the environment or other public goods, only get a proportion of the cost of that work, because of the way the EU scheme operates. After Brexit, the Government will be able to make more generous payments, which adequately reflect the cost to the farm of providing public goods. Some argue that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules will prevent us from doing this, but this is incorrect, as RSPB farm policy expert Tom Lancaster explains here. As consumers we can also do our bit by buying directly from farmers, or buying organic and fair trade produce, where farmers receive a better reward for their hard work.

The Bill and associated documents still leave many questions unanswered. What will happen to cross compliance, the complex set of rules which farmers who receive farm subsidies must abide by? There is talk of creating new farm regulations, although most of this relates to animal welfare.

We need a strong set of regulations to protect our environment, heritage and already existing animal welfare laws. Payments need to be focussed on actions that go above and beyond what is already required by law. There will also need to be a very substantial investment in a network of professional advisors who can help farmers draw up individual plans for each farm, showing what public goods they would be best focused on delivering. It’s no good if every farm produces skylarks; or if farms are paid to provide public goods which can’t be delivered.

It’s natural that organisations like the National Farmers Union (NFU) want to continue with something closer to the status quo, where farmers are paid money (and a disproportionate amount of that subsidy goes to the large farms) and they then decide how to spend it. What’s perhaps more surprising is to see the Labour party also moving towards this position, arguing that some form of income support may be needed, as well as public money for public goods. But why should farmers receive special income support, when other sectors receive none? Farmers and landowners already receive a plethora of other benefits and tax breaks on top of their farm subsidies.

This Bill is a bold, perhaps even radical move on the part of Michael Gove. Most environmental groups have argued for years, perhaps decades, that this is the direction agriculture policy should be moving in. The next few months will see whether that vision survives the passage through Parliament, or whether the old vested interests win out.

this post first appeared on Lush Times

Posted in 2018 agriculture bill, Agriculture policy, Lush Times, Michael Gove | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Parliament rejects Baroness Stowell for Charity Commission job. Govt ignores them.

this is just a copy of an earlier post which might have been infected with malware….

Some of you sharper eyed readers (clue – that’s all of you) will remember I wrote about the background to the incoming Charity Commission chair, Baroness Tina Stowell a couple of weeks ago. 

Shortly after that article, it was revealed that the Government had rejected a candidate with a very strong background in the Charity Sector and no political affiliations. Former Charity Commission CEO Andrew Hind wrote this on Civil Society:

 

 

 

So, given what we already know about former charities minister Rob Wilson being lined up for the job, there have been two attempts by the Government to instal political appointees to lead the Charity Regulator, while one strong apolitical candidate has been rejected.

Preferred candidate Baroness Stowell was interviewed by the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee yesterday. If you want to, you can watch it here . I have watched it – and I would advise you not to. It’s a painful affair. You would imagine that the former leader of the House of Lords would be a good performer. Either she was having a very bad day, or she was totally unprepared for the interview, or knew nothing about the subject, or quite possibly all three.

Baroness Stowell came across as someone who knew very little, or perhaps just nothing at all, about the sector. Her answers were evasive in the extreme and she repeated herself with many hesitations. When the transcript is published it is likely to be pretty short, once all the “errs” “ahs” and “you knows” are removed.

But there were some useful nuggets to be gleaned from the dross. Stowell confirmed that Lord Ashcroft had asked her to join the board of Crimestoppers and his company Impellam. When questioned about a possible conflict of interest by Rebecca Pow, she claimed that being on the board of a company that makes its profits from charging the public sector exorbitantly for temporary staff, would somehow give her insights into the Charity Sector, because she was very interested in the relationship between people and jobs.” Having offered to resign from her very brief charity trustee-ships and to resign (again) from the Tory party, she refused to accept she might need to leave this presumably well remunerated role with her friend Lord Ashcroft.

The Select Committee questioned her closely on her total lack of experience in the sector, her political affiliations and the impression, at the very least, that she was a political appointee. They noted her voting record, which had included support for the Charity Gagging law. But she refused to accept that the gagging law had had any effect on charity work. This is despite all the evidence that it has had and continues to have a significant effect.

At one point the Baroness claimed that she had had no contact with ministers during the application process – and indeed in any normal job application, informal discussions with the people ultimately deciding  whether you get the job or not, are very much frowned upon. This is especially true of such a sensitive appointment.

Near the end of the interview however, she admitted that she had had an informal conversation with the Secretary of State at DCMS at the time, Karen Bradley. Stowell explained that she had been having an informal conversation with Bradley “about something else” when she casually asked what was happening with the Charity Commission chair appointment and Bradley said the decision had not been made. Stowell refused to divulge what the something else was. To say this undermines Stowell’s suggestion that she was a “political outsider” would be the understatement of the year.

The Select Committee agreed unanimously that they would write to the new CMS Secretary of State Matt Hancock recommending he rejected Baroness Stowell for the job. The letter is uncompromising and damning in its criticism of the process that led to Baroness Stowell appearing before them. The Secretary of State may well choose to ignore the Committee’s view (and there are already reports that he plans to do just that), but the reality is that the damage has already been done. Who in the Charity Sector is now going to support this appointment.

One other thing that Stowell mentioned was also enlightening. As well as her trustee role with Ashcroft’s Crimestoppers charity and his outsourcing business Impellam, Stowell took on a trustee role with a small charity called the Transformation Trust, as I mentioned in my previous post. The Committee asked how this had come about. Stowell explained that she had been approached about it by a mutual friend of hers and the Trust’s chief exec Amy Leonard. By strange coincidence, Amy Leonard was press officer for the New Schools Network charity, which promotes that most political of educational initiatives, the Free Schools project. Leonard had also worked for the Compass Education Trust – a free schools academy set up by Peter Wilkinson, the man who vowed to break the RMT during the Southern Rail crisis. While the Transformation Trust may be doing good work, delivering public benefit, its political links raise further questions for Stowell to answer, should she be given the job.

UPDATE: Secretary of State at CMS Matt Hancock has given Baroness Stowell his full backing this morning.

 

 

 

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The Pillar 2 Coup: Rural Payments Agency poaches Countryside Stewardship from Natural England.

this is just a copy of an earlier post which I have now deleted as it looks like it might have been infected by malware.

Last week the Government launched its long awaited “what on earth are we going to do about paying farmers, after Brexit” consultation, called Health and Harmony. At the heart of the new policy lies the principle of “public goods for public money”. No longer will bagless vacuum cleaner billionaires and Saudi princes be able to hoover up subsidies “just for owning land.” There will be a transaction – taxpayers will pay landowners and get something in return – some public goods in the economics jargon.

This is not a new idea. Schemes which paid farmers to look after wildlife or archaeology on their land, or create new areas for wildlife, have been around in Britain since the 1980s, starting with Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Countryside Stewardship. These evolved from modest beginnings, into the Entry Level and Higher Level Schemes (in England) from 2003. These in turn evolved into Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier and Higher Tier schemes in 2013.

Each scheme in turn had its pros and cons. Entry Level spent a great deal of money across a large area of land delivering very little benefit for nature. Countryside Stewardship has been overly bureaucratic, complex to administer and put a lot of landowners off  joining. Former Natural England agri-environment expert Steve Peel recently wrote eloquently on here about what makes a good agri-environment scheme and what makes a bad one. Let’s hope the Government takes note of this advice before designing the new “One Agri-Environment Scheme to rule them all”  system, which will replace CAP payments once we leave the EU (or some time afterwards.)

Yesterday’s news does not bode well that the advice Steve (or anyone else) offered is being read. Farmers Guardian’s Abi Kay reported that Countryside Stewardship is going to be taken away from Natural England and given to The Rural Payments Agency.

“Natural England staff who worked on Environmental Stewardship and CS delivery will move to the RPA so their knowledge and expertise is maintained.”

According to some people commenting today, staff working on Higher Tier Stewardship schemes (eg on SSSIs) will stay at NE. So the idea that this move is about simplification doesn’t wash. It also begs the question of whether the staff working on Stewardship at NE will have any authority to over-ride decisions made by RPA staff.

But isn’t it a good idea to have all of the admin for Stewardship under one roof? Yes, in theory, but it depends on which roof.

The Rural Payments Agency is notorious among farmers as the organisation which comprehensively screwed up the payment of the as then new Basic Payment Scheme back in 2014. A highly complex new IT system was commissioned to enable farm payments to be moved online. 7 years later the system is still not working properly.

Parliament was scathing in its criticism of the RPA’s failure to effectively distribute basic farm subsidies – criticizing its culture and revealing internal in-fighting. Given the RPA’s central role in making Countryside Stewardship work (they provided the scheme maps) it is perhaps not that surprising that Stewardship also fell over. But this time the blame has been laid at Natural England’s door.  It doesn’t seem inconceivable that, after the beating the RPA received over Basic Payment Scheme, they were going to make sure NE took the punishment for Countryside Stewardship.

This is what seems to have happened now. But this is part of a bigger turf war between Defra agencies. Once Brexit had happened it became very clear to everyone that there was going to be some fundamental reorganisation of Defra agencies – getting nearly £4Bn a year of farm subsidies out of the door is a massive bureaucratic exercise. Once we leave the EU – and the CAP – that job disappears. Since the end of June 2016 the race has been on, to see which Defra agencies come out on top. This news is a strong indicator of who has won.

This hasn’t been helped by the fact that Natural England bosses weren’t prepared to fight the fight  – especially after they took a verbal beating for Countryside Stewardship in front of the EFRA committee (Guy Thompson subsequently left Natural England and now works for Wessex Water). And let’s not forget that the RPA is a much larger organisation than Natural England, and is much more closely aligned with Defra – it could be seen as an arm of Defra. The RPA never had that independence of spirit that characterised Natural England when it was first created – though that spirit has been comprehensively crushed since 2010. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, in having to choose between the two, Defra has chosen to go with RPA.

As far as getting Agri-Environment schemes to create better farmed landscapes for wildlife, or anything else, it’s a huge error. RPA’s culture is administrative, bureaucratic. It’s all about process and compliance. Farmers complain about the excessive administrative burden of receiving farm payments or applying for Countryside Stewardship – they have the RPA to thank. The idea that RPA culturally (regardless of whether their staff are interested, or indeed qualified) will be able to work closely and flexibly with farmers to achieve improvements for nature on farmland is a fantasy. Their motto may as well be “computer says no.”

Meanwhile once Natural England has had its Countryside Stewardship function (and staff) surgically removed, what remains will be on life-support, because that has been a large part of the organisation’s role. Further, the fabled one-stop shop, single point of access approach that Natural England had been required to develop, has just been abandoned. Natural England staff tasked with ensuring Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are protected, are now potentially lined up against RPA staff delivering agri-environment schemes on those SSSIs. You can imagine who will win those tussles.

Does all this matter? Isn’t it time to abandon Natural England as a failed quango? Commenting this morning, George Monbiot suggested as much.

 

 

Perhaps George is right.

If so, then what is also vital is that the Rural Payments Agency is also abolished before the introduction of the new England Agriculture Policy. We need a publicly-funded independent champion for nature (as Natural England was intended to be when it was set up); and we need a new body which will deliver the public goods for public money approach being advocated by Michael Gove.

 

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The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife

It was back in June that I first heard about the idea of a manifesto for wildlife, to accompany a walk for wildlife in London. Chris Packham asked me if I wanted to be Minister for Farming (and I extended that to Food later) – how could I refuse? Especially after he reeled off a long list of people who I admire and declared his determination that the “cabinet” would be balanced for gender and include young and BAME representatives too.

Now the manifesto has been published – you can download it here A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife expanded. There’s also a short version A Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife.

The Manifesto covers a wide variety of topics – all of which are directly relevant to nature in the UK (and overseas.) Each contribution finishes with a set of proposals that if carried out would make a big difference to the plight of nature. It would be arrogant of me to say how good my bit is but I can say that I think the other contributions are excellent. There are also some excellent commentary snippets from other people with a great passion for nature and who are experts in their own fields.

It also doesn’t completely feel like a coincidence that the Manifesto has appeared almost 25 years after Biodiversity Challenge, which sought to do a similar thing, albeit in a much more traditional way. It’s good to see some of the key contributors to BC – Mark Avery and Carol Day, also making big contributions to the manifesto.

Please read the Manifesto. It is controversial. It is, dare I say, radical? But that’s where we are. Nature is disappearing fast from this country (as it is across the planet.) We need to take urgent action. The same old same old is not enough.

So please come along to the walk for wildlife on Saturday.

Who knows where this will go afterwards? It very much depends on how much of a groundswell of feeling it generates.

Chris has also set up a crowdfunder to help fund its the costs of the walk, which are substantial. Please contribute whatever you can.

UPDATE

Podcaster Charlie Moores from Lush Times has produced this podcast with each author reading their own section of the manifesto.

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Did Socialism kill off Mrs Tiggywinkle?

Hedgehogs are back. Well, when I say they are back, they aren’t back. They are disappearing rapidly. But they are back in the news. Perhaps this is just a valiant effort by a few newspaper editors to keep former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson away from the public glare he clearly so desperately courts … even if just for a few hours.

A Guardian story  has revealed the findings from a major survey which looked at hundreds of rural locations across England and Wales. The researchers were specifically looking at the relationship between badgers and hedgehogs. What they found was astonishing. Only one in five of the 261 areas searched showed any signs of hedgehogs at all. And none were found anywhere in south-west England.

This is not to say that hedgehogs are extinct in the south-west. But it does mean they are in perilous danger of becoming so – at least in the countryside. We have hedgehogs in our back garden in Dorset, and they are doing ok in other parts of Dorchester, but can we really accept that our humble hedgehog must be renamed the Gardenhog? The Telegraph and Mail also covered the story, with the Telegraph misrepresenting the research.

The Telegraph, true to form, blamed the demise of hedgehogs on badgers: “Hedgehogs are disappearing…into badgers’ stomachs” they shrilled.

Badgers do eat hedgehogs, there is no question of that. But to blame the decline of the hog on badgers and ignore everything else is, perhaps, courting an audience which hates badgers.

Historian Tom Holland, a self-acknowledged Hedgehog fanatic, suggests a legally binding obligation on Government to restore hedgehog populations. How might this work? One way might be to wipe out badgers to save hedgehogs, but does it make any sense to make one native mammal extinct, to save another?

This week we are likely (unless the Parliamentary agenda is trammelled by the rampaging ego of Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Johnson) to see the first new Agriculture Bill placed before Parliament in over 50 years – and the most important one in over 70. The odds are that it will introduce a radical new approach to supporting farmers – paying them to provide public benefits, such as nutritious food and clean water, to take action to reduce climate change, improve wildlife and create better soils. This approach (if it survives the inevitable push to water it down by the farming unions) will mark a significant shift away from that of successive Governments who, between 1940 and 2005, encouraged farmers to grow more food by paying them to do so. The last 13 years has seen landowners receive farm subsidies whether they grow food or not, just for owning the land.

The Drive for Self-sufficiency

Looking back at the grants available to farmers in the past is real eye-opener. Grants of £7 an acre were available in 1960 to plough up old grassland. There was a fertiliser subsidy, a shotgun cartridge subsidy, subsidies to help grub out hedgerows and small woodlands (or not so small woodlands.) and to drain wetlands. Subsidies were also available to put up farm buildings and silos for grain or silage. And if the bank was sniffy about lending money knowing they would be repaid from all these government subsidies, a three year credit agreement could be arranged on purchases paid for by the Government. On top of this, if there was more food than the market needed, price support mechanisms would kick in to ensure farm income remained the same. This was all part of the drive to produce more food, to make us more self-sufficient in food production which was the target laid down by successive Governments.

It’s fair to say that the push for greater food production was particularly strong under post-war Labour Governments, compared to Tory ones. Attlee’s radical post-war Labour Government introduced the Agriculture Act with all its various different support schemes. That administration also set up a variety of different agricultural research stations whose job it was to find ways to modernise agriculture so as to increase food production – breed new varieties of cereal crops; grow new and more productive grasses that would respond better to new types of artificial fertiliser; work with the chemical industry to develop new types of pesticide.

A further round of support for more intensification happened under Wilson’s Government through the 1960s when Farm Improvement Grants paid for more hedgerow to be removed and fields to be drained. And again, after the UK joined the Common Agriculture Policy in 1973, for the rest of that decade a Labour Government enthusiastically pursued the now established policies of agricultural intensification.

What all this intensification did was to increase the level of self-sufficiency in indigenous food types (i.e. not bananas etc) to 87% in 1991. This has since dropped back down to 75%.  So it is in this context that we must consider why the current Labour farm policy team wants to increase food self-sufficiency to 80%. And this is assuming that the 80% refers to indigenous foods, not everything. Do we really want to grow more food here and import less? Is this intrinsically a good thing? The UK only produced a third of the food it consumed at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 (though imports were mainly from the Empire and Dominions) and I don’t think many people today, other than perhaps extreme neoliberals, would argue that we should revert to producing that little of our own food.

Would it be possible, for example, to increase indigenous food production by 5% without causing further widespread environmental impacts, or at the very least without curtailing any efforts to reverse the impacts caused by previous policies? What is wrong with buying food from abroad? We’ve become used to importing food from the EU, confident that it meets our own standards on animal welfare, environmental impact, and food safety, among many other things. And food imported into the EU also has to meet those standards. Maintaining these standards after Brexit is vital – and consumers have, rightly, already rejected calls for cheap chlorine chicken or hormone beef to be allowed in.

Did Socialism kill Mrs Tiggywinkle? No, but successive Labour Governments did place food production above all other considerations. As hedges were grubbed out, wildlife-rich grasslands ploughed up, and pesticides poured onto pasture and cereal crop, poor Mrs Tiggywinkle paid the price. She’s retreated from her ancestral home in the countryside, to live in gardens and green spaces within towns and cities, away from intensive farming.

Can she be enticed back into the countryside? That will be a challenge, but shifting to a new way of supporting farmers with public funds – for public benefits, – is the right approach.

Today we see the Agriculture Bill being published and it does focus on public goods. More to come on this soon.

this article was first published on Lush Times.

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The People’s Walk for Wildlife

I’ve shamelessly nicked this piece from Martin Harper‘s blog.

It’s by Chris Packham and he’s demanding we all join him on the People’s Walk for Wildlife. I will be there. Will you?

 

56%. It says 56%.

Since 1970

I think back to 1970, I think about what I was doing in 1970, what happened in 1970. I remember Apollo 13, I remember Bobby Moore’s bracelet and Gordon Bank’s save. And that damned Mungo Gerry song. It seems like yesterday, going to see Kelly’s Heroes. But since that yesterday yellowhammers have declined by 56%. Almost half of the UK’s yellowhammers are gone.

I’m sat in my caravan on the Springwatch set waiting for the morning meeting to start and I’m looking at some notes. They say “we’ve lost 56% of our yellowhammers”. Except that isn’t true. Because its not like these birds have mysteriously disappeared into the ether, like they’ve been inadvertently misplaced, like they’ve annoyingly, accidentally vanished. They haven’t been ‘lost’, they are dead, or they don’t exist. Destroyed is the word. Our ‘little bits of bread with no cheeses’ have been destroyed. Their hedgerows have been ripped up and their food has been poisoned, since The Goodies, in my lifetime, whilst I was meant to have been looking after them – they’ve gone. It’s my fault. I’ve failed. I’ve let millions of yellowhammers die.

I look up the IUCN Red List website on my phone. It says ‘the species suffers indirectly from the use of insecticides and herbicides, as these reduce the abundance of arthropods and the availability of weedy patches rich in seeds (Perkins et al. 2002, Morris et al. 2005, Hart et al. 2006). And then I walk to the meeting and look out into the countryside. Nothing buzzes, no flowers speck the fields, there’s no bread and no cheese.

They are all talking, and someone is saying that the yellowhammer population on one of the farms has significantly increased because the farmer has been doing good things. So all’s not lost then, that’s okay, good, great, phew.

No, it’s ***. We are orchestrating an ecological apocalypse in our own back yard and for all the work done by good farmers and conservationists our ‘green and pleasant land’ is going to hell fast and we’ve got the data, the science, the graphs to prove it. The truth is we can make a difference, but we’re not, because what we are doing is piecemeal, tiny, inconsequential in the face of the ruthless and relentless agricultural monster which ploughs, pollutes and poisons our so-called countryside. Neither are we repelling the greedy concreting sprawl of our towns and cities or stopping the senseless slaughter of ever decreasing species for fun.

By the time I get back to the caravan I’m a very angry man. And for me anger is an energy, a fuel to be harnessed and re-directed into making a difference. So, I weigh up some options for a full five seconds and then decide its time to take to the streets. The People’s Walk for Wildlife.

Because it’s not my fault that the yellowhammers are dead, the foxes are hunted, the badgers are culled, the eagles are shot, the meadows are vacant, and they are cutting down all of Sheffield’s street trees. It’s not down to me that there are just three ‘no-take’ zones in our seas, that the uplands are barren, the farms are toxic, that children don’t meet wildlife anymore, that there are so few black birders. It’s our fault. Mine and yours. So, if I do something, that’s ‘me’, but if you do something too that’s ‘we’, and if there’s a whole load of ‘we’ then that’s a full bladder and something will have to be done. And quickly. So let’s walk.

By lunchtime I’ve got this idea that people could download an MP3 of yellowhammer song, nightingale song, and play it on their phones as they walk through London to remind us of the missing millions, the 44 million birds that have been destroyed in our countryside. Then I scribble a quick sketch for a poster and then I ring Patrick Barkham and he thinks a good idea and then I mail Robert Macfarlane and he is excited too. And that night I lie awake remembering the ‘Rock Against Racism’ carnival in 1978 when 100,000 people marched to Victoria Park and The Clash played ‘White Riot’ and the ground shook and my life was never the same again. I remember Billy Bragg saying that he was there, and his world changed too. So I sit up in bed and re-write one of his songs and ponder about having the balls to actually send it to him. I can’t sleep because I’m imagining Billy Bragg on a stage singing about Rachel Carson and loads of people ‘unsilencing spring’ with their mobile phones playing birdsong. It’s already beyond the point of no-return.

Three days later the date is set. And then the overall purpose begins to focus. I’m at home with Scratchy, in the lounge designing another poster and I draw a big heart and write ‘See The Bigger Picture. We Are United Because We Love Life – All Life’. It’s obvious to me that, for all our energies, passions, skills and endeavours, our simple failing is that we are disconnected. That we are all too focused on our own specialisms, too sure that they are the most important thing, that they, that we, can ‘save the world’ on our own. But we can’t. If those of us who campaign to stop the illegal persecution of raptors succeed, will that stop the decline in hedgehogs or water voles? If we finally stop fox hunting will that help restore our wildflower meadows? If we sort out the ludicrous mowing of our road verges will that help re-introduce the beaver? No. Not independently, but if we can just open our eyes for a moment, put our egos in a box, stop bickering over details, summon the courage to admit the truth about what is really wrecking our landscape and just SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE, then together we can make a real, a big enough difference. If we stop mumbling about ‘loss’, if we wake up to the fact that we have somehow normalised living without wildlife, if we collectively realise that it’s now or never, that our wildlife needs us, and needs us more than ever, then we can have our ‘little bits of bread and cheese’ back and a bright yellow bird will stir hearts from hedgerows again.

So please, whoever you are, get off your *** and join us on September 22nd in London and help us make the ground shake because we need to change the world now.

 

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