Farming feature: A breed apart: bringing down ‘town and country’ barriers

Ben Blower NFU environment forum member.

Ben Blower NFU environment forum member. - Credit: Archant

We often hear of the disconnection between town and country. We bemoan the fact that over a short space of time the number of people with a proper understanding of the country has drastically reduced, writes NFU Environment Forum member Ben Blower.

To some, farmers have become a breed apart – people to be feared as they bear down on you in an enormous tractor, or frustrate you as they hold you up on an important journey or to be blamed for unleashing a cocktail of chemicals on the crops. This stereotype of farmers as pariahs who are wrecking the countryside is unsurprising as it’s the image often highlighted by national media. With fewer people now able to earn a living from agriculture it has become much more difficult to redress the balance.

My experience on my small farm near Beccles is perhaps a little unusual but is an example of how barriers can be brought down.

Just over 40 years ago my father first made an arrangement with the local bird society to allow them to have access to an area of alder carr (fen woodland). He was a keen ornithologist and wanted to share his enthusiasm but also he was anxious to bring people back into the country and give them a stake in looking after it.

This year I have completed the latest renewal of the agreement and have made the land available for the next 20 years. This is with Suffolk Wildlife Trust as the area is now managed as one of their reserves open to the public.

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For its success this depends on the extraordinary expertise and knowledge of the wildlife trust staff and the brawn of an ever-more knowledgeable group of local volunteers. When the arrangement started it was enough that a few people enjoyed messing about in the wood, sharing the delight of spotting a rare bird.

Now it is more complex as we have to make sure that the management works within the tight rules created by the multitude of European and national regulations overseen by Defra and Natural England that govern the way in which we look after these special sites.

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It has become much more than a bird watchers’ paradise and now we are looking after and protecting a range of insects, reptiles, crustaceans, fungi and plants.

This has been hugely successful and not just for the environmental benefit achieved. Its success is also reflected in the number of people who have grown to love this place by looking after it, observing it and enjoying the fulfilment this brings to their lives. It has also promoted to a small extent a greater understanding of country life.

There is a great deal more to farming and land management than the public sees. Many people do not realise that it is often the same people carrying out the commercial agricultural activities now required to produce our food who are also behind the creation and preservation of some very special ‘natural’ environments.

NFU Environment Forum member Ben Blower owns a mixed farm at Ringsfield, Beccles, in the Waveney Valley.

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