Intro by Rob Yorke (@blackgull) to his 72nd letter in The Times re food production & wildlife For discussion!

I know it seems not to be in anyone’s interest to examine the link too closely between the cost of food and the wildlife health in the UK but, as a predominately urban nation, we are told by (conservation NGOs and/or government) that we are disconnected from food and from nature but miss the point that we are completely disjointed from the fact that wildlife habitat etc and our food consumption demands are inextricably linked via the countryside.

Monday, November 26

Food production

There is a need to continue to support our farmers in the sustainable intensification of food production and wildlife management Sir, The call for wildlife budgets paid to farmers not to be cut (letter, Nov 23) coincides with the release of the State of the UK Birds report (News, Nov 21). Farmland birds are a health indicator of the countryside and their numbers have been declining ever since the 1970s. This decrease is closely related to an increased output of cheap food feeding our burgeoning population, who in turn are disinclined to pay more for their groceries or to support farmers in other services they provide in looking after the environment. There is a need to continue to support our farmers in the sustainable intensification — often perceived as a dirty word — of food production and wildlife management. The UK has an “immutably fixed” supply of land (letter, Nov 22) which needs money to make it more productive but we cannot ignore our responsibilities to adapt our own inflated consumption to avoid shifting the demand for cheap food and pressure on wildlife elsewhere. Rob Yorke Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

A comment from: Professor Allan Buckwell | Senior Research Fellow | Agriculture and Land Management Programme Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP)
Good luck with this one. I agree with your conclusions. I only take issue with a couple of your phrases: 1. I don't agree we have of have had a cheap food policy – the EC/EU has had a dear food policy under the CAP since the 1960s I'm sure I've mentioned to you before that there are only about three other places in the world where food is dearer than in the EU (Norway, Switzerland and Japan – which all have more protectionist policies than we have). That said, the underlying tone of your remarks is correct in that all agricultures in the world have externalised the environmental cost of food – hence the global natural capital of rural areas has been depleted – the farmland bird index is as good an indicator of that as any we have. 2 . I am trying to wean people off the endless repetition of we only have a 'finite supply' of land, or in your case immutably fixed supply of land. Yes in the uninteresting sense of the surface area – it doesn't change much (not true to say it doesn't change at all – some bits get flooded, and other bits are being pushed up out of the water (measured in 100s of years) and the Dutch are quite good at creating land. This focus on fixed land area is all very Malthusian - and wrong. The really important thing – which is integral to your argument is that by the application of knowledge and new technologies we have – and I sincerely hope we continue to – constantly increase the productivity of that land to produce food. The catch phrase,

sustainable intensification – which I wholeheartedly support – means that we must (and can) simultaneously increase both the provisioning ecosystem services like food, forest products and some land-based energy, and also the non–provisioning ecosystem services, biodiversity, water, soil and climate protection. Keep it up.

From a representative of a conservation NGO ‘Thanks Rob. I think we’re on the same page aren’t we? Although I personally recoil at the phrase sustainable intensification” – just the “i” word really, but I think that comes of 25 years working for _____ In terms of “sustainable intensification”, our concern is that misappropriation of the term has led to the word INTENSIFICATION being written large and the word sustainable a lot smaller, to the point where it’s lost its worth. We’d much rather talk about 'sustainable or more sustainable farming'. From a representative of a government natural environment statutory adviser ‘I agree entirely with your views about the UK's "inflated consumption" and "disinclination" to pay more for groceries. But I honestly don't know what "sustainable consumption" is, in the UK context. Sir John Beddington and his Foresight group have made it quite clear that the term (which they coined) was meant to apply primarily to the developing world, and Sir John himself did not know how to translate it to the UK.’
From the Earl of Lytton ‘I am on public record (HL Hansard circa 1997) in quoting from the words of Erroll Flynn: “My problem is reconciling my gross habits with my net income.” Of course if you do not rank or evaluate the environmental resources you wish to protect, you run the risk of self selection by others of the relevant value for ‘x’ in the equation of environmental economics. Rob raises the critical point that good care and maintenance of the environmental asset base is not for the faint hearted and neither does it happen by accident but is one of the most demanding aspects of what farmers and land managers are asked to do. That it can only happen from a standpoint of confidence in both the policy and the process, on good information and from a stable economic base, must by now surely be obvious.’

And at last, some debate behind the Times’ debate stifling Paywall…
Geoffrey Woollard And it is a crying shame that the National Trust is continuing with its plans to grab thousands more acres of the best food-growing Fen farmland in the kingdom for its deluded so-called 'Wicken Vision.' I live close by Wicken and it is absolutely horrifying to witness the waste that the Trust is responsible for. Where there grew beetroot, carrots, leeks, potatoes, sugar beet and wheat, all crops that grow well and look good in our Cambridgeshire Fens, hemlock, ragwort and thistles are running wild. I have pictures. I wish The Times would let me post them here. Mr David Alan Hadley Hargreaves During the Second World War, by necessity we produced more of our own food and, it seems, people also ate less.So far as I am aware this increase in food production was achieved without the payment of vast sums of money by way of producer subsidies. Moreover, I am not aware that the increased food production caused a measurable loss of wildlife. Today, it appears that we produce less, eat more and wildlife suffers; where has it all gone wrong? Nigel Brodrick-Barker Rob Yorke appears to say that farmland birds don't like cheap food, but I doubt he meant that. I guess he meant that economical monoculture, say endless fields of rape, limits the species of farmland birds (and of course conifer forests eliminate them.) Peter Cressall 'The UK has an “immutably fixed” supply of land (letter,Nov 22) which needs money to make it more productive but we cannot ignore our responsibilities to adapt our own inflated consumption to avoid shifting the demand for cheap food and pressure on wildlife elsewhere.' What does this mean? That no more land is being made? Pretty obvious. Farming needs investment? Again, obvious. 'Our

inflated consumption.' Does he mean that we eat too much? I dare say some do, but that is their decision .'Avoid shifting the demand for cheap food elsewhere.' Does he mean that the Chinese should starve? All very confusing. Reply Rob Yorke @Peter Cressall You must be a farmer! I suspect it would not be obvious to most that farmers should receive any more money whether for wildlife or agric R&D - the supermarket shelves are stuffed, they all have 'green' credentials and food can be imported anytime... There's the rub; as an urban nation, we are told by (conservation NGOs and/or government) that we are disconnected from food and from nature but miss the point that we are completely disjointed from the fact that wildlife habitat and our food consumption are inextricably linked via the countryside. Avoid shifting demand for cheap food elsewhere? Bacon - we love it, in 2010, we ate 280k tonnes of the cheap imported stuff rather than pay a little more for the 126k tonnes of quality UK bacon. We thus shift potentially 'poorer practice' food production elsewhere with resultant impact on wildlife etc. No risk of the Chinese starving; they're already finding away round EU rules to buy the meat (known as 5th quarter) we throw away and waste!

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