NFU Comment: Nature works fast to reclaim land, says Robert Stacey

Robert Stacey, NFU council delegate for Essex.

Robert Stacey, NFU council delegate for Essex. - Credit: Archant

One of farming’s greatest challenges has always been how to tame nature in order to feed an ever increasing population.

To this aim farming has been hugely successful in keeping up with the demand for food, but what happens when the land is left unfarmed and nature, in all its guises, retakes it back from man?

Well from some examples I have seen in Essex it takes it back remarkably quickly. One nature comeback happened in south Essex at the unlikely site of the old Shell Haven petro chemical works.

This highly polluted industrial site had been shut down and left for a number of years. Eventually it was sold and redeveloped into a new shipping container port but before work could start on the site a wildlife survey had to be undertaken. As a result more than 150,000 reptiles and amphibians had to be relocated to other, more suitable, sites.

Another example involves some arable land that we started farming for a neighbour. After a few years of cropping he asked us to put one of the smaller fields down to grass so he could let it out for horse grazing, which we duly did, and after it was all fenced a couple of horses took up residence in the field.

Eventually the horses fell from favour and the field, which was about seven acres, was left to its own devices. Within three years the field had turned from grass to semi-scrub, consisting of small trees and lots of brambles, nettles and thistles.

After another three or four years it had changed again into what could only be described as a semi-mature wood full of oak, ash and field maple. It looked just as if someone had planted it, with many of the trees over 20ft high.

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This shows that, given a break, nature will not miss any chance to gain a foothold and proliferate. I also believe it demonstrates how important farmers are when it comes to managing land for both food and the environment. That is a message we are looking to highlight in the run up to the General Election in May.

Many people see it as being one of the most unpredictable for decades and a major factor seems to be the rise in popularity of smaller parties such as UKIP, the SNP and the Greens. Now there is no way that I would suggest where you should put your cross come voting day but, as a farmer, I would ask you just to think about farming and the countryside and ponder a few facts.

For example, please think about the 3.5million jobs the farming and food sectors provide and the £97billion they generate for the UK economy, plus the fact that, partially due to over regulation and our science base being eroded, we are now only 60% self-sufficient in home grown food.

I could go on with lots of facts and figures but all I am asking you to do is go and talk to your local MP and councillors about what they are going to do to back British farming and safeguard the nation’s food supply. If you feel any way passionate about food and farming please visit the website at

: : Robert Stacey is a fourth generation farmer from Chelmsford, working in a family partnership of 1,000 acres growing combinable crops. He is NFU council delegate for Essex.