Ruairi Brogan, Policy Officer for Sustainable Agriculture RSPB NI, offers an insight into his recent attendance at the Balmoral Show and how, with the right investment and support, nature positive farming can be good for business, climate and nature.

On Friday 12th May at the Balmoral Show, RSPB NI teamed up with the partners of the Regenerative Farming Zone to showcase the new Save Our Wild Isles Food & Farming film “Hungry for Change”. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion where we were joined by Danske Bank, the National Trust and the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) to discuss how nature positive farming can be good for business, climate and nature.

The panel, chaired by Rachel Martin, Farming Editor of the Irish Examiner, included Martin Lines, Chair of NFFN UK, Rodney Brown, Head of AgriBusiness at Danske Bank, Kevin Duncan, Land Use and Farming Advisor for the National Trust and Ruairi Brogan, Policy Officer for Sustainable Agriculture at RSPB NI.
Ruairi set the scene by laying out how agriculture in Northern Ireland can be transformed using the right policy to ensure farmers take sensible steps towards nature positive farming which meets the demands and targets set out in the Climate Act from Northern Ireland and Environment Strategy.

Northern Ireland is 12th worst in the world for biodiversity loss, while agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases by sector. It is clear that more needs to be done to reward nature positive practice, however, out of the £350 million currently given to farmers in NI, only 1% encourages nature and climate friendly farming. With 75% of NI’s landscape farmed, there is an opportunity for farmers to play a key role in addressing NI’s biodiversity loss through acting as stewards of the land. Their involvement will be the key to our success tackling these issues.

Image: Ruairi Brogan from RSPB NI presenting the new 'Hungry for Change' Food and Farming Film at the Regenerative Agriculture Zone

The NFFN and Farm Wildlife’s new collaboration booklet 'Nature-Friendly Farming in Action' demonstrates 6 key actions that have shown that keeping just 10% of land well managed for nature can make a significant difference. The transition won’t be easy, requiring a rethink of our food system and a large upscale of current agri-envrionment schemes, but support for more farmers to take the first steps towards nature positive farming could be transformational.

“Hungry for Change” highlights how nature and biodiversity play an intrinsic part in food production. Despite this they are often set in opposition to one another. Our current food system is broken, making it the leading cause of biodiversity loss across the UK. However, ecological systems provide vital services to food production with ¾ of food crops relying on pollinators and £603M per year coming from contributions of pollinators to value of food we produce. As Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Assistant Secretary General of the UN put it “biodiversity is the foundation of life”. Not only will a thriving nature positive future be essential for the medium to long-term food security of our food systems but is essential for tackling the nature and climate crisis.

We have unwittingly made farmers the villains in this story, all they were doing was what the state required of them” as Henry Dimbleby, Author of the National Food Strategy England highlighted in the film. We need a New Green Revolution were food production works with nature. And it is imperative that there is government and business support for farmers to achieve this. One way that policy can do this is by funding On-farm Nature Based Solutions (NbS), which are key features in the farmed landscape like planting and enhancing hedgerows, creating ponds and multi-species grasses, or restoring bogs which provide services for wider society through nature’s ability to sequester carbon, prevent flooding and reduce the risk of heatwaves to name a few.

Watch the full 'Hungry for Change' film which reveals the impact of the food system on nature in the UK and explores what actions businesses, employees, and farmers can take to reduce their impact.

Following the film showing Rachel Martin prompted the discussion with questions concerning nature positive farming and business. When asked to consider how a farmer could take first steps to farming more in harmony with nature Ruairi Brogan acknowledged that the necessary change won’t happen overnight. Taking steps such as extending the hedgerow by letting it grow out a bit more can increase habitat for nature on farms. By providing more habitat, biodiversity will start to return on farms including bird and pollinator species. Ruairi emphasised that the B in RSPB means birds but can also stand for biodiversity. Birds are good indicator species for the wider array of healthy ecosystems. When you're looking at benefits for birds, you're looking at benefits for pollinators and soils so all those actions farmers can take really add to the wider health of the ecosystem.

Image: Panellists from The National Trust, RSPB NI, Danske Bank and the Nature Friendly Farming Network come together to discuss how nature positive farming can be good for farm businesses, nature and climate.

Aspirations for the future include bringing back nature into food production and changing our relationship with food. NFFN have proven that putting nature at the forefront of farming can transform the profitability of agriculture, help tackle the climate emergency, make the UK more food secure and benefit nature in the process. To achieve this a Just Transition is necessary to provide enough investment and support to farmers who are key to delivering a low carbon, nature friendly transformation of farming in NI.

To learn more about “Hungry for Change” or nature positive practices in Northern Ireland follow the link.

Or contact Ruairi Brogan, Policy Officer for Sustainable Agriculture at