Guest blog by Phil Carson, RSPB NI Policy Officer Sustainable Farming
Imagine a thriving countryside that’s rich in nature, supports rural livelihoods and helps communities adapt to climate change.
Think of a future where nature is cherished for the vital role it plays in supporting our prosperity. This is the vision painted by farmers, producers, policymakers and conservationists at our two-day Food, Farming and Land Convention which took place on February 9 – 10 2021.
It’s the resilient future we could all have. But to get there, our food and farming systems require fundamental change.
Find out how we can make this a reality in my round up from the event.
For the first time in over forty years, Northern Ireland is responsible for developing and delivering domestic agriculture and food policy. This provides a unique opportunity for the food, farming and environment sectors to work together to ensure that any new policies deliver for nature, climate and farmers in Northern Ireland.
To kick-start these critical discussions, RSPB NI, in partnership with the Farming and Countryside Commission, Belfast Food Network, FoodNI, the Nature Friendly Farming Network and Northern Ireland Environment Link, launched Northern Ireland’s first Food Farming and Land Convention.
The Convention explored a range of subjects including:
Lapwing: Image by Graham Goodall
While the sessions were diverse in scope and content, some key themes were evident throughout.
A fundamental reform of our food and farming system is essential
We know our current approach to farming and land management is unsustainable. During the Convention, all key speakers highlighted that radical, not incremental, thinking is required to help us deliver a more resilient future and to address some of the biggest issues facing people and nature today.
Farmers will be key in driving this change forward.
Organic farmer David Laughlin, a panellist on day one, drew inspiration from David Attenborough’s latest book stating: “The farmers of the future with the right support could become more than food producers. They could become soil engineers, carbon traders, foresters, energy suppliers and creators of the wild; custodians skilled at harvesting the natural potential and sustainable value of the land.”
There is huge public support for nature friendly farming
If designed in the right way, Northern Ireland’s agriculture policy can play an important role in supporting farmers to create, maintain and restore vital habitats across our countryside. This will not only benefit nature, but our climate too. When healthy, important habitats for nature like hedgerows, can store and lock away vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere helping to combat climate change. There is a clear public mandate for nature friendly farming too. An overwhelming 75% of audience members believe that future agriculture policies should financially reward farmers for delivering essential services including water quality, biodiversity and climate mitigation.
Belted Galloway: Image by Neal Warnock
We must work together to change how nature is valued in farming and throughout our economy
At the final session of the Convention, John Martin, RSPB NI Head of Policy and Advocacy provided a vision for future in which nature is recognised as key to prosperity: “A healthy, wildlife-rich environment must be valued both as an asset to society and essential for underpinning economic activity. All farmers should be supported to protect and restore nature; it should be easy to help nature and unacceptable to harm it.”
To build a resilient future, we need a cultural shift in food and farming nature restoration is not viewed as a burden or a cost. Instead, the immense opportunities and benefits that are provided by an enhanced natural environment are recognised. We must work together to make this vision a reality for present and future generations in Northern Ireland.
Sheep at Slemish: Image by Neal Warnock
Find out more
With over 500 attendees taking part in the Convention, it’s clear that there is a growing movement which supports a transition towards a more sustainable, nature friendly approach to farming in Northern Ireland; a crucial element in building a more resilient future. Now, it’s time to make it happen.
At RSPB NI, as part of our Revive Our World campaign, we will be pushing for legally binding targets to restore nature by 2030.
For more information on any of the topics raised and to re-watch any session from the event, visit: www.foodfarmingland.co.uk/convention21
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