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Contribution by Mary Colwell

In response to Kate Mayne

I really enjoyed listening to Kate Mayne being interviewed by Barbara Bray, she was so clear and bright about the role farming plays in UK conservation. I wholeheartedly agree with many of the points she makes. Farmers do have a lot to tell the rest of society about how the land responds to human use. We do not live in an homogenised country, it is made up of a whole patchwork of nuanced landscapes that shifts with location, height, weather, season and time. It is complicated – our small island, and a farmer’s knowledge is not taught in classrooms, it is learned by doing and watching – by living it. Non-farmers don’t always value or listen as we should to these experiences, and too often dismiss what the agricultural world says as ‘anecdote,’ and ‘unscientific’. We don’t always speak the same language and it seems our words often fire past each other, missing their target. Conservation uses different terminology to farming that seems alien, distancing and unapproachable.


But then again, many will look at our intensive fields, the decline of wildlife and the use of chemicals and wonder how it got to this point.




Image by William Hook on Unsplash

This oft-described divide between ‘conservationists’ and ‘farmers’ has become so established that we forget it wasn’t always so, and I agree with Kate, I think it began to unravel in the post war years with the intensification/industrialisation of agriculture and the drift of the population away from rural areas and into towns and cities. It was cemented as new agri-environment schemes paid farmers to destroy hedgerows and copses and to take away wildlife-rich habitat. These schemes encouraged the planting of monocultures of crops and widescale drainage to make the land suitable for high densities of livestock. Small, diverse farms became subsumed into agri-businesses and the ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ that used to be so close to the town, was no more. It isn’t surprising there was a rift between town and country, conservation and agriculture. There is a lot of talking to do and realigning of hearts to undergo to fill in these crevasses.

Image by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

There is a lot of talk about a green future, about ‘public goods’ and wildlife rich farming. But it is hard to see how it will happen at the moment, with increasing demands on the land. So,

I vote we make Kate the Minister for Conservation and Agriculture and she can speak for all of us. Both farmers and non-farmers have to shift – there is no moral high ground. Mistakes have been made and we all have to shoulder the blame for a nature-depleted Britain. Farmers give us what we demand, and we demand cheap food from intensive practices. There is no them and us, only everyone.


Thanks Kate, I will listen to what you have to say again and ponder on your words. We so rarely hear from the farming world and I would like to say a big thank you for all you do.


Image by Richard Bell on Unsplash

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