August 28, 2008

Is Reversion Best Way to Help Wildlife?

Driving around Lincolnshire I notice that more land has been entered into large-scale arable reversion environmental schemes - a process where the land is allowed to revert to a natural state for the benefit of farmland wildlife species.

I find myself struggling to accept these schemes where blocks of hundreds of acres are committed to arable reversion - or as a friend calls it 'arable rejection'.

I fully support efforts to provide habitat for farmland species which struggle to survive in today's intensively farmed landscape and I am not criticising landowners who take advantage of the Government sponsored schemes and elect to enter their land into the schemes.

But is this really the best approach to the problem of providing suitable habitat in our countryside?

And is the single-minded desire to provide environmental benefits failing to recognise that farming and the environment are inextricably linked - especially in the provision of habitat for the farmland species that have adapted over the years to co-existing with food production?

It seems to me, from observing one of these environmental schemes that border my farm, that the scheme fails to link with similar schemes or with other habitats.

This piecemeal approach is creating islands of managed habitat within the intensively farmed landscape - islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.

When there is so much concern about our national food security and our ability to address the challenge of providing more food and fuel into the future, I have to question the wisdom of putting productive land into arable reversion. I also question how taking land out of production will benefit the future of farming.

Another friend was genuinely angry that viable farms are being taken out of production when so many young people are crying out for an opportunity to farm in their own right.

And I have to agree with him.

Many of these blocks of land going into arable reversion would offer a real chance for a young person to get on to the first rung of the farming ladder - especially if the retiring farmer was willing to act as a mentor. These schemes are giving farmers the chance to retire their farms when they are ready to retire - and that can't be a good thing for the future viability of farming.

But what really concerns me is that these schemes are creating a polarisation of land use between production and environment.

This is dangerous. Not only does it fail to recognise farming's role in providing environmental benefits but it fails to recognise that unless farming can successfully integrate production with providing habitat for farmland species then farming will become just another manufacturing process.

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