I'm Well up For The Greening of the CAP.
January 2012 Column for The Farmers Weekly
I know it may not be fashionable but, to use modern parlance, I’m well up for the greening of the CAP. The assertion that every farmer in the UK is still a production junkie is just not true. My own addiction to production based support has been broken and I’ve no desire to slip back into that habit. Like many others, however, I still have skeletons rattling in my cupboard from the damage I did to the environment in my younger days when production was the only focus of farm support.
Many farms function best when support is geared towards production but many others are better suited to a greener approach; my own farm is a typical example. To give you an idea of what it is like at Airyolland farm it’s as if the creator, after he or she had made the world, has dumped all the bits and pieces that were left right outside my house. I have peat bogs, wetlands, herb rich pastures, native woodlands, lochs and wee ditches that run into burns that flow into a river. In between all of this natural mayhem, scattered carelessly in random shapes and sizes, there are fields where I can produce food.
But, the real jewel in my farm’s crown is two hectares of ancient woodland pasture that the Southern Upland Way footpath goes through. The woman that recently completed an environment audit for me told me it was the nicest piece of farmland that she had ever set foot on. I have to admit to a feeling of pride when she said that to me. However, this pride was tempered by a feeling of guilt because I knew that I had done my very best to destroy the place when I was younger. It wasn’t an act of blatant eco terrorism or even carelessness that had led me to nearly wreck it. But rather, it was the financial pressure in, those days, to keep more and more livestock in order to gain more subsidy payments. Ancient woodland pasture is great shelter but it does not take too kindly to having loads of suckler cows wintered on it. Hungry ewes nipping off the young shoots of recovery every spring does it no good either.
Now that I’m settled back and blabbing my sins freely I may as well tell you about another of my past atrocities. The fact that I was aided and abetted by the government almost makes it pardonable. That great pro-production tool of the eighties called the “pioneer crop grant” has laid waste to more land in the South of Scotland than Edward 1. The theory was that rough grazing on the hill would be cultivated and eventually sown out with more productive grasses. The reality is that much of the land that was brutalised using this grant scheme is now covered with a barren blanket of rushes. Without the unsustainable drip of subsidised lime and chemical treatments the rushes have eventually taken over. I’m the less than proud owner of several of these disaster areas.
If absolution can be granted for all my eco crimes in the past then I’ll be very happy. However, what worries me is that some farmers are now giving the impression that collectively we are a group in opposition to biodiversity in favour of production. Quite why they would want to be involved with a public relations disaster like that I’ve no idea. I can only suppose that, unlike me, the poor souls never had any biodiversity to care for - or perhaps they had but they just can’t remember ever having it.