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Food, Farming and Folly

By 8 February, 2018 No Comments

I received an invitation the other day to speak at a meeting of 300 Norfolk farmers – I accepted because I like Norfolk and I have several good friends who are Norfolk farmers. But as in all things there are always good and bad – so I know Norfolk farmers – Prince Charles is one, who give both conservation and farming high priorities, but there are others where the bank balance appears to be of far greater importance than the health of the birds and bees that share the land with us, and then of course there is the health of the soil itself to consider – it is the soil that allows our crops to grow and keep healthy.

Norfolk has had some quite remarkable farmer-naturalists. The late Henry Williamson was one who farmed for several years at Stiffkey. Who can forget his wonderful story of Tarka the Otter? More recently there was Philip Wayre, the man who turned his farm into a wildlife centre which became the headquarters of the Otter Trust. Through Philip’s wonderful work the captive breeding of otters and release saved the English otter. Largely thanks to his pioneering work otters are again breeding in every single English county.

Another pioneer is my good friend Chris Knights. He is the man primarily responsible for saving the Stone Curlew – a remarkable bird –a summer visitor and breeder. His work was then taken on by the RSPB – which is good – but the initial, urgent work was led by Chris, yet already his input appears to have been almost forgotten. Instead he should have received an honour. I think MBE is too small – he should be Lord Knights of Norfolk.

Another real Norfolk star is Bill Makins – a man of great wisdom and experience fighting for the turtle dove. Bill has no biological qualifications but because of his experience he is a great field naturalist. The boffins should spend less time chasing research grants and more time talking to people like Bill.

I hope the Norfolk farmers listened to me. I urged them to revolt against “Open Farm Sunday” due to be held on June 10th. I am completely in favour of getting people onto farms, but not in June the busiest and most important month of the year for breeding farmland wildlife.  Do we really want skylark nests flattened in the car park; the mother hare kept away from her leverets (young) and orchids trampled. No June is the wrong month for mass visits to farms and shows that those who selected the date appear to be detached from the reality and needs of farmland conservation.

Please, in future years have Open Farm Sunday in the second half of July.

Robin Page – February 2018