Oxford Farming Conference: Report highlights wider social benefits of farming

BRITAIN’S farmers hold the key to unlocking solutions to some the nation’s biggest problems, such as mass water storage, flood defence and even social care, according to a ground-breaking study.

The report, commissioned specially for the 2013 Oxford Farming Conference, which ended yesterday, aimed to highlight some of farming’s less recognised social benefits, with the findings being based on a review of published literature.

“Farming’s contribution is much, much greater than you might think,” said Mike Gooding, the conference’s 2013 chairman. “The research concludes that UK farmers are making significant contributions to national biodiversity, accessible green space, health and communities.

“The statistics in our study are staggering,” said Mr Gooding. “For example, UK farmland biodiversity is ‘valued’ at �938million; people are prepared to pay an extra �2,000 annually to live in a house close to high-nature areas and health – as well as happiness – has been proven to improve with access to farmland and nature.”

The conference organisers now believe that farmers could play a major role in the response to “big issues” such as mass water storage, flood defence and the care of those in society who are in need, and they hope the findings will support policy-makers in their long-term planning.

“For therapeutic purposes alone there is irrefutable emerging evidence that there is considerable potential for farming to help address urgent issues of social inclusion and the care of disengaged and vulnerable people – via both structured day visits and, most notably, care farming,” added Mr Gooding.

“Our farmers have the skills and geographical reach to address some of society’s fundamental challenges such as health, well-being and self-sustaining communities; but turning that opportunity in to reality requires a better connection between wider society and farmers, and it is a two-way process.”

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The study was undertaken by Dr Peter Carruthers of Vision 37 Ltd and Professor Michael Winter, Professor and director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded at www.ofc.org.uk .