While researching my article for Birds magazine, I had lots of suggestions for farms to use as case studies from RSPB staff all over the UK. One suggestion that particularly inspired me was the work that Amanda, Chris and Denise are doing on Peelhams Farm. So much so that I’ve just placed my first order on their website! I don’t eat a lot of meat – I’d rather eat less and buy better quality – but it does form a part of my diet so I’ve opted for an organic economy pack which should keep me going for at least a couple of weeks. Shopping for meat products can be particularly confusing, so in today’s instalment of this week-long special on food, we hear from Eleanor Burke, Food Project Officer, who sheds some light on how important livestock farming can be for wildlife, and how our choices can influence the health of our countryside.
“There is a growing awareness that we need to consume less meat both for health reasons and because it can reduce our impact on the planet. The meat that we do eat can also have hidden implications for wildlife. Many intensive livestock systems no longer provide the ‘Big 3’ (nesting habitat, winter food and summer food) which wildlife needs to thrive. Also meat produced in the UK can actually have a global footprint as they are often fed on crops, such as soya, grown on land which has been cleared of forest or other important habitats. So picking your chops or sausages carefully can make a real difference.
Some livestock systems are just more wildlife friendly and deliver a lots of other benefits too, like helping to reduce global warming by locking up carbon in the soil and protecting our best loved landscapes. These systems, known as High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems, are mainly found in hill and upland areas, where the remote location and harsh weather makes farming particularly difficult. HNV farms are economically vulnerable and the farmers and rural communities that depend on them often struggle to make a living. The future of HNV farming in the UK hangs in the balance; without a better package of financial support, their future is under threat, along with that of the incredible wildlife which thrives there.
(High Nature Value farming on our Geltsdale reserve. Andy Hay (rspb-images.com))
We as consumers can help by looking to choose meat from farms such as these, but how can we do this? One way way is to identify producers who are part of a certification scheme such as organic, LEAF or Conservation Grade. These schemes allow shoppers to make a difference by looking for and supporting schemes that have high environmental credentials. However, not all certification schemes are wildlife-friendly and some deliver very little. Certification schemes have developed for different reasons, some to deliver for wildlife and reward farmers for this and others have been set up to assure consumers that farmers are meeting legal requirements and food safety standards. Ones to look out for when buying beef or lamb are those that use traditional breeds and support low intensity extensive grazing, which is important for maintaining the habitats that many priority species rely on. Another way is to look out for farmers who are in agri-environment schemes. These differ in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but are designed to help farmers to put back habitats and features to benefit wildlife as part of their farm management.
Certification is an area that we’re very interested in and we’ll be starting work on a project this summer looking at what wildlife-friendly meat production schemes are available and what they do to benefit wildlife. At present, it is less straightforward to find wildlife-friendly meat as schemes are still in their infancy, but we are in discussion with different schemes to find out more. In the meantime, when out shopping ask lots of questions! If consumers demand genuinely sustainable and environmentally friendly products, food retailers and producers will respond.”
If you’ve received the latest issue of Birds, you’ll know that I’ve challenged myself to shop in a way that means my cupboards are filled not only with tasty food that’s good for me, but also grown in a way that’s good for wildlife. I’ve always been conscious of what I put in my shopping basket, but I lead a busy life and sometimes it’s hard to make the right choices when I’m in a hurry, I’ve missed the farmers market or don’t get home from work until after my local greengrocer has closed.
I often use Big Barn to find specialist local shops to explore, and even though I live in a town I’m surrounded by countryside so there’s a fair amount of choice. But often I have to resort to the supermarket (there are four to choose from within walking distance of my house!) so when I do, I want to know that my purchasing habits are not having a negative impact on the countryside. Even better if they have a positive impact.
Luckily, I have lots of friendly colleagues to call upon to help me in my quest – and in this week-long series on food, we’ll be hearing from some of them as they offer advice on what we can all do. They’ll be shedding light on the economics of farming on a global scale, as well as providing hints and tips on identifying products that are wildlife-friendly, whether they’re grown here in the UK or in the tropics. And as for me, I’m looking forward to having a good excuse for spending more time experimenting in my kitchen, and having friends over to eat whatever I create!
If you have any hints, tips, stories or recipes I’d love to hear them!
Sorry, hardly an original pun I know!
I was lucky enough to be a part of the March of the Beekeepers event in London today.
We got a great turnout - beekeepers, gardeners and others, many in fantastically creative costumes. I'm not going to try to guess numbers but we certainly made a big impact and hopefully generated a lot of publicity for the crucial neonics vote on Monday. The main rally took place in Parliament Square, and while we waved banners and sang stirring songs (Give Bees a Chance) a small delegation delivered a letter and petition to Downing Street. Owen Paterson can't fail to realise that this is an issue which the public cares strongly about - fingers crossed he will make the right decision on Monday.
Here are some photos for you to enjoy. I’ll let you know after Monday how the vote goes.