News
1st Mar

2019

Looking After the Environment

In our latest blog post, TFA North East Regional Chairman, Stephen Wyrill writes:

It seems a week can’t go by without farmers being villainised for not looking after the environment.  From over grazing, wrecking soil health and how poor land management is leading to flooding. We are under attack from many directions.

Sheep and cattle farming has been a way of life in upland areas for centuries, shaping the landscape and building local communities.  Yet, it’s interesting to see the impact a decrease in livestock numbers have had on some areas.  Gorse has been allowed to grow unchecked, bracken has been infested with the likes of thistles, and ragwort is taking over large areas.  However, there are reports of improved rodent diversity.  This seems to have been at the expense of bird diversity, not to mention loss of income and livelihoods of farmers who, for generations, have managed these areas. What is needed now is an increase in livestock back on the uplands to help balance the delicate eco system there.

When grass is left to grow wild, it does not grow as fast and begins to deteriorate in quality.  Grazing or cutting stimulates grass growth, but for it to thrive it requires water and nutrients.  Animals can provide these nutrients through their manure.  While more water will be naturally used by the grassland.  This increased consumption in the upland areas can also help reduce expensive lowland flooding during wet years.  In contrast, in times of drought or dry weather these large areas can be susceptible to fire and difficult to manage.

I am not solely suggesting that allowing more animals to graze upland areas is the answer to how we best manage our delicate landscape.  Yes, some areas should be left in a rotation so wildlife has a place to thrive.  Other areas should be grazed or cut, which is essential to manage these areas.

Therefore, we should be asking how all interested parties (farmers, water companies, environmentalists and Government), can work collaboratively to benefit the natural environment?  Climate change and development pressures are leading to an increased risk of flooding and drought, both in upland and lowland areas.  As our weather becomes more extreme, we need to look at how we can reinstate some balance to our surrounding countryside.

Other questions we need to ask are: How can we all work together to improve soil quality and natural upland water storage?  How the creation of new shelter belts and water reservoirs could slow the movement of water over the land surface and improve the diversity of flora and fauna, while at the same time reduce the cost of flooding, provide cheaper water supplies to the nation and help support rural economies?

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