Farming and conservation in the UK has a chequered history. Since the Second World War farmers and wildlife enthusiasts have often been at loggerheads. Whether it was the clearance of thousands of miles of hedgerows in the 1960s and 1970s or, currently, the heated debate on grouse moors and the future of uplands, we are not living in a green and pleasant land when it comes to farming-conservation relationships.
Things are changing and A Rocha UK wants to play a bigger part of this change. The farming community members can make outstanding conservationists; they understand the seasonality of the land and they know how to manage productivity to benefit nature as well as make a profit. Increasing numbers of famers are looking at permaculture, rewilding, crop rotations and agri-tourism; and at inviting the public to volunteer and support the transformation. Some of the biggest farmed estates in the UK are more determined than ever to move away from production-based subsidy to a future in which they are paid for more sustainable land practices.
Under the Government’s new post-Brexit ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme) farmers will be encouraged to farm in a way that benefits nature. Indeed they will receive levels of payment that reflect the farm’s ability to become more sustainable. The aim is to maintain productivity whilst giving back to nature. If it works it could be a hugely exciting opportunity.
On the back of these changes, A Rocha UK is hoping to partner with many more farm-based Partners in Action. From urban farms focussing on small scale change to much larger sites, we want to support change at a scale which will benefit significant areas of the country for nature and for the people visiting. ‘Creation is groaning’, as the apostle Paul writes in Romans, and we want to help the Christian farming community to act fast to change around the fortunes of many declining habitats and species. Our two newest partners to join our conservation network both share our vision for redeeming our land for nature now and for future generations.
Aldermoor Community Farm (ACF) is a city-based project working on 2-acres of land in Southampton. Working with permaculture principles ACF have transformed abandoned land into a beautiful, biodiversity rich productive farm with an emphasis on engaging the local community in sustainable food growing. ACF’s desire and focus is to recognise and nurture the potential of both people and land, seeing God’s love and stewardship of the land as the foundation of all the work they do. Whilst continuing their food growing, they are currently looking into improving biodiversity on their site by further developing their existing wildlife ponds as well as putting up house martin boxes. They are also continually working on finding new, exciting ways to take their local community on the journey with them. They are now building an outdoor kitchen which will be a classroom to run ‘The Edible Schoolyard’, a project that seeks to teach young people and their families integrating hands on organic gardening with seasonal cooking.
Tinhay Retreats, located in a small village near the Devon/Cornwall border, is our newest Partner in Action. It is a family run retreat centre with a small holding of 8 acres, within which there is a campsite and a wildflower meadow. The Retreat Centre and the smallholding are managed for the benefit of wildlife and to increase biodiversity. Having been involved in many aspects of Christian ministry, land owners Robert and Suzy were inspired to establish a small retreat centre in Devon and felt called to a ministry that brings together their concern for the environment and their concern for people on many different spiritual journeys. Within the small holding Rob and Suzy grow their own fruit and vegetables, keep free range chickens for eggs, home a couple of bee hives and look after a small flock of sheep. They are continually working on becoming more self-sufficient and minimising their carbon footprint by harvesting their own produce.
Alongside the small holding they also have an exciting retreat programme and small campsite, designated a ‘Hideaway Site’ in recognition of its quiet and secluded setting. Their wildflower meadow is particularly rich in terms of biodiversity and a great place for their visitors to encounter the local wildlife. Rob and Suzy are also focusing their conservation work on hedgehogs and bats knowing that they have many different bats on the smallholding which has a perfect environment of mixed hedgerow and is of close proximity to the River Thrushel.
Have you visited Aldermoor Community Farm or Tinhay Retreats yet? Or perhaps you’ve visited one of our other Partners in Action (listed here)? We’d love to hear about your experience!