Our farms can be both wildlife-friendly and efficiently productive.
Nirmal Purja, on completing his unique winter climb to the summit of K2, reflected that “Mother Nature always has bigger things to say”. The roar of the wind on that savage mountain would have filled his ears, but we can listen to his wisdom without scaling a 26,000-foot peak. Jane Goodall and David Attenborough, august voices of nature, have expressed the view that covid-19 is caused by our disconnection from our disintegrating environment. They too are telling us to listen, and to act accordingly.
Back at home, I have been alerted to some less well-known voices. With our farm having pursued an ambitious conservation plan for over a generation, it is disquieting that many species special to this landscape are still in steep decline. I have been looking for inspiration to the works of the rewilders, particularly a nearby project at Knepp Castle Estate, which now boasts the highest song-bird densities in England. The results there are challenging the paradigm of conventional good conservation, causing me to review what we do on our marshes and meadows.
Over the last decade we have grown wilder. There is even a patch of our farm referred to as Mini Knepp, and another, where our lapwings nest, called Little Elmley after the great nature reserve in northern Kent. However, the whole hog of rewilding remains economically too difficult. We must continue with our cattle and our sheep or face bankruptcy. This is what the environmentalist Garrett Hardin refers to as ‘the tragedy of the commons’. Mulling over this impasse is taxing.