Michael Clarke farms Williamwood farm in Dumfriesshire in partnership with his wife, Shirley. They run a lowland, pasture-based beef and sheep enterprise alongside holiday cottages, in which they offer farm and wildlife-watching experiences. Michael is Scotland Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) and below he writes about his experiences and why he joined NFFN.
"Farming is a bruising business. As livestock farmers, my wife and I find it hard to part with animals we’ve cared for, to the best of our abilities, for all their lives. Yet we have to do it and “kick on” if we are to remain in business, all the time looking for ways to farm more efficiently, uncertain how much and what support we might get from the Scottish Government in the future. It’s not an easy back-drop against which to future-proof a business which, as an industry, covers up to 70% of Scotland’s land area.
I know what kind of countryside I want to see. It’s very different from the one I see now. I want to see progressive farms and crofts which, with Government support, share the responsibility to “go the extra mile” for the environment, each doing something to redress the environmental deficit, over and above what they are doing in the name of food production and efficiency. I know that it cannot be a case of “one size fits all” and that upland farmers and crofters face a particular challenge but I do not think it is enough, given the scale of the biodiversity deficits which we all face, to say that current practices are already “cutting it”. We all need to raise our game and to do that, we need Government support developed out of a better understanding of the challenges which we face as farmers and crofters.
That is why I joined the Nature Friendly Farming Network the moment I read its manifesto. Someone shared my vision and was ahead of me in the game! Someone who understood that politicians need to be engaged and helped if they are to develop farmer-friendly policies for the environment. Someone who understood that it is high time that politicians heard a clear message, above the clamour of voices which they hear already but this time from an organisation of practical, hands-on farmers and crofters who know how hard it is to farm sustainably and who know that they are uniquely placed and accept the responsibility to spearhead the transformational change in the countryside which future generations deserve to see.
The Network in Scotland is carrying that simple, unadulterated message to the Scottish Government. “We know that the system is broken, we’re already doing what we can individually to make the best of it but we need your support as politicians to make it fit for the 21st century in which we all have to work hard together to redress the environmental deficit of the last 50 years”.
If that message resonates with you, whether you are a farmer, a crofter or not, please join the Network. With your support, our voice will carry more weight. We have an extraordinarily energetic and articulate Steering Group and you can rely on us to speak up! We already know that, in many respects, we are “pushing at an open door” with the current administration, who have welcomed our arrival and what we have to say to them. Help us to help them to deliver that better countryside between us - please!"
For more information or to join the network visit www.nffn.org.uk
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