As we lurch into the third decade of the third millennium, we could be forgiven for wanting to stay in holiday mode. We face the triple threats of a raging pandemic, a rapidly heating planet and a global biodiversity crash that’s being billed as the sixth mass extinction. We might wonder if we’ve been sleepwalking through a B-grade disaster movie. It all feels a little overwhelming, and we’d much rather go back to “normal”.
However, in farming we face the harsh realities of Mother Nature day in, day out, and although it’s only human nature to push uncomfortable realisations to the back of our minds, they tend to stalk our dreams. One farmer who has allowed these uncomfortable notions to percolate through into action and make changes on his pastoral hill farm in north-west England is James Rebanks. James has some important messages for all of us who are working the land in his new book, English Pastoral: An Inheritance. He talks of the urgent need for farmers to take biodiversity loss seriously for the sake of their own economic fortunes, as well as the wider public good.
He argues that the farming model of the post-war era has been driven by high-input corporates, who gain economically while everyone else loses. Having switched over in the past decade to a regenerative farming approach, he has found that his economic fortunes have rebounded, as well as the biodiversity on his farm. He argues that too much efficiency is a bad thing in farming, and we only need to look at where that ends up in the midwest of the US – soil loss and dust bowls.
The smart way to farm allows native biodiversity to thrive alongside our crops and livestock, so that it supports our farming systems and provides the connectivity for the food-webs that drive our wider ecological systems like freshwater and the climate, and protects us from pandemics. Caring about kiwis and kereru is not selling out to the greenies, it’s actually enlightened self-interest. We should all be doing it, farmers included.
That’s where our local pest-free New Zealand groups come in, and where we all need to get with the programme. Every dead stoat, possum and rat is a win for farmers and wildlife.