Bees and Beekeeping, Farming, and the Countryside
The late David Bellamy remarked our English Countryside is one of the worlds
wonders, unfortunately it is little known England ranks amongst natures most
depleted countries! The 1947 Agriculture Act and more recently the European
Unions Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could be said to have unwittingly
provided the momentum for creating what has gone wrong.
Following Great Britain’s advent into the EU in 1973 accelerated this decline 1
Rachel Carson’s bestselling book, Silent Spring is considered the book that
started the global grassroots environmental movements as we know them today.
Under the CAP arrangements farmers received annual payments based solely
on how much farmable land they owned seeing any remaining land disregarded
irrespective of those pockets of nature’s habitats as not qualified elements as
they did not attract subsidy payments.
It is there for all to see the harsh impact this has had on our remoter, less
productive land and landscapes which includes our national parks. This
diminution has seen Great Britain become the least wild countries of Europe.
Conservationists and Diversity specialists argue that this has arisen through the
upland areas have systematically stripped bare of nature to make way for
millions of sheep. Notwithstanding generous CAP payments much of our nations
intensive farming does not pay: the reasons are complex.
However, the introduction the much-vaunted Agricultural Act 2020 is marked as a
turning point by the instigation of the Environmental Land Management scheme
(ELM) on the much-hyped government slogan “Public Money for Public Good”.
ELM is composed of three tiers.: Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local
Nature Recovery, and Landscape Recovery.
Sustainable Farming Incentives rewards the farmer for revised farming
techniques (Defra board members use the term “sounder”) including non-
ploughing orthodoxies for maintaining the soil, on the premise of working with
nature rather against it in the control of pests and other maladies.
Local Nature Recovery Incentives will pay farmers and growers to create
wildlife havens such as hedges, beetle banks, stag beetle hostelries, ponds,
natural streams all within a farmed landscaped area.
Landscape Recovery Payments funding for these projects is for individual
landowners and clusters of farmers across wholesale landscapes. The LRP is
attracting more bad attention than good. For my part the theory of rewilding is not
properly understood. Allowing heath and heather moorland left to nature is a bad
policy 2 . Heaths and heathers are a manmade habitat created by man and not
nature. Heaths and heathers are short lived circa thirty years, unless properly
managed by experienced moorkeepers involving periodic managed burning off.
Bees and Beekeeping, Farming, and the Countryside
The burning controls heather beetle and rust: the “Muir Burn” as it is called in
Scotland ensures the old heaths and heathers are burnt off sufficiently not to
destroy the root systems: the resulting potash and rains quickly give the young
heath plants an excellent start. Rewilded moorland if left completely to nature will
succumb eventually to bracken 3 . Bracken will replace other important habitats of
species-rich grassland. Bracken does inhibit woodland regeneration. Bracken
can harbour ticks which may cause disease in all forms of feral and domestic
livestock, game, and humans. Bracken is toxic and carcinogenic to livestock and
may have a negative impact on human health.
Government concern for the taxpayer is obviously admirable, especially
regarding ensuring money is well spent. At a recent lecture I attended a
conservation seminar to reassure the attendees that prioritising nature will not hit
food production or rural employment. The arguments proffered by turning the
least productive farmland toward nature recovery would be no more than 3 per
cent reduction 4 I was not moved to agree to the amount stated. There is some
merit in this statement as they maintain turning the least productive 20 per cent
of farmland to a nature-based recovery would make little to no impact on food
The DEFRA appointed experts state emphatically the over-intensification of
sheep farming in the overgrazed uplands as to be a net-negative in terms of food
production, nonetheless it is accepted that farming does not end in in wilder
surroundings. Wilder farming, the enormous grazing of our native cattle through
semi-open woodland mosaics, may be more fitting term than rewilding per se. On
the positive side rural employment is shown to increase by over 50 per cent
across the board in such regions.
My own concern in the real issues of food security is the unrestrained use of
100,000 hectares of our most productive land farmed for crops to feed bio-energy
vessel reactors: three million tonnes of home-grain feed to highly accepted
inefficient intensive feed-lot units, egged on by pressures from the main
supermarkets, in addition, to negative carbon capturing 5 of imported food to the
United Kingdom especially the use of soya, lentils and chickpeas. Perhaps the
wasted 9.5 million tonnes of harvested food should be highlighted. Since the year
2000 over 900,000 hectares of prime agricultural land has been lost to urban
sprawl and road, rail and warehousing and is expected to rise to 40,000 hectares
annually…. food for thought!!
Michael Badger MBE
1 “Silent Spring” is considered the book that started the global grassroots environmental movement. Released in
1962, it focuses on the negative effects of chemical pesticides that were, at the time, a large part of US
agriculture. Rachel Carson and her work began initiating a shift in global environmental consciousness.
2 See the authors published work Heather Honey: A Comprehensive Guide pages 27-93 inclusive.
3 Pteridium aquilinum, (Bracken) is the UK's most common fern and grows in dense stands on heathland,
moorland, hillsides and in woodland. It is a large fern that favours dry, acid soils and spreads by underground
rhizomes. Unlike many ferns, bracken dies back in winter, leaving brown, withered fronds that pepper the
landscape. In the spring, the tightly curled fronds appear, grow, and unfurl.
4 The annual reduction in prime agricultural land lost to motorways, trunk road, solar panel farms and massive
warehouse complexes is surely putting pressure on carbon milage for food imports.
5 Nineteen million tonnes of carbon dioxide are estimated to be released into the atmosphere by transport used to
import food, increasing the UK's carbon footprint by 17% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK is linked to food,
11% of this is related to transport.