A busy week

Congratulations to the re-elected NFU President, Peter Kendall, whose speech at the NFU Conference was described as ‘shocking and regressive‘ by one of his own members on this site on Wednesday.  That farmer said he voted for the NFU in the Nature of Harming ‘award’ and writes rather harshly that  ‘Peter Kendall is a PR disaster for the true farming community and seems intent on destroying any vestige of respect for us in the public eye‘.  Having seen the email address of the alleged farmer who wrote that comment I cannot be sure that he really is a farmer but it certainly looks as though he probably is.

And congratulations to the RSPB for linking up with TESCO, although around the time when this news appeared in Birds magazine a few weeks ago the TESCO share price fell alarmingly. I was invited to the launch of this new partnership but had to earn a living instead. It’s a pity, I would have liked to have heard more about the details. I may come back to this subject – maybe quite soon.  See coverage in Guardian, here , here, here and here.

Also on the same day, I was invited to a CLA press lauch of their new report on rights of way.  I would have liked to have attended this too.  But I will read the report and maybe come back to that too.

Yesterday I attended part of the Oxfordshire Recording and Conservation Day and gave a little talk.  This was a fun event and I learned lots about bio-blitzes from John Tweddle’s talk, lots about wetland creation from Curt Lamberth’s and lots about commons from Rachel Sanderson’s.  Thanks to the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre and the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum for the invitation.

Thank you to @Ianwellesz on Twitter for pointing out to me an interesting article on farmers written under the name of ‘New Bio-Waste Spreader’ in Private Eye (aficionados of PE will get the reference).  It draws attention to the decline of farmland birds, suggests that few farmers are interested in non-shootable biodiversity and suggests that the idea that farmers are wildlife friendly is ‘nonsense put out by farner organisations‘ – the only farmer organisation mentioned is the NFU.  And, in case you are wondering, I didn’t write it, although I do wonder whether the author ever glances at this blog.

Thank you again to Gary Burgess for his Guest Blog from a pigeon fancier’s point of view – there are now over 100 comments on it and they were still being added yesterday.

My MP, Louise Mensch, wrote to Caroline Spelman on my behalf on 15 December asking about compliance with the EU Birds Directive.  Ms Mensch seems to be being ignored by Defra – over two months and no reply is a poor show.  I will expect a finely crafted and comprehensive reply after all this time and effort.  I’ll keep you informed on this one.

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11 Comments

  1. John Miles

    Quiet humerus for a northerner hearing about southerners trying to create wetlands!! With Yorkshire Water £200 million in debt I suppose you expect us to give away our water!

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  2. Jon

    Yes, congratulations to Peter Kendall. Given the voting arrangements the NFU has in place (insert link to Mark's blog on this here...) the fact that he has managed to get back into office yet again suggests that for all we try to pretend that farmers collectively and the NFU individually are 2 totally different entities, Peter Kendall's outrageously biased and retrograde opinions clearly fall on fertile ground where his electorate are concerned.

    Yes, there are 'good' farmers out there - ones who are prepared to farm with biodiversity rather than at it's expense. And yes, there are farmers and landowners who find Mr Kendall about as palatable as a dose of DDT. But by god, it seems like they're in a very small minority...

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  3. Dennis Ames

    Yes it matters not one jot what the official NFU line is on wildlife as lots of farmers are trying their best to help conservation admittedly with payments but so they should,people in all walks of life get legitimate payments.
    Mark really p***** of with people like your twitter correspondent who don't know what they are talking about but shout about rubbish anyway.

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  4. Jonathan Wallace

    Mark, my MP (Chi Onwurah) wrote to the Minister on my behalf on14 December to raise the issue of the hen harrier's disastrous status in England. Richard Benyon's reply to her was finally forwarded to me on Friday (24 Feb) so hopefully your reply should arrive with you soon, assuming that it takes a similar time to filter its way through the system. I would agree that over two months for a reply is a poor show but at least I have one.
    For what it is is worth, Benyon gave assurances that raptor persecution is taken very seriously by the government and 'is currently one of the UK's wildlife crime priorities'. With respect to vicarious liability he stated that there are no plans to introduce such an offence in England but that the government would be looking closely at how the new offences in Scotland work in practice and would consider this when shaping future wildlife crime policy.
    It is of course nice to know that the government is committed to saving the Hen Harrier (though the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries was never likely to say he couldn't give a tinker's cuss about BoP!) but he did not say anything to suggest that 2012 is going to see any major changes in what it does about it. Ah well, at least every letter they receive on the topic and signature they see on the petition is an indication to our politicians that this is an issue about which people care and which may affect their voting intentions.

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  5. Guy Smith

    Hello Mark,

    havent looked at your web-site for a couple of months but note you are still banging on about how dreadful Peter Kendall is. Personally I think you have some sort of weird obsession which you ought to move on from but I supppose the good things about blogs is that they allow us to excercise our demons
    It's next to impossible to evaluate leaders of organsiations in terms of being in touch with their membership but unfortunately there is a lot of objective evidence that Kendall is one of the most popular Presidents the NFU has ever had. The best way to evidence this is through the fact that the NFU has been losing membership income since 1960 until five years ago when it turned the corner and has started to increase under Kendalls Presidency. No doubt you think this is because the NFU are a bunch of wildlife killing numpties but again that says more about you than it does the average farmer member of the NFU.

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    • Mark

      Guy - always good to hear from you but you mustn't feel that you have to read my blogs.

      I guess you saw the comment by a fellow farmer in my blog and thought you ought to deflect attention from it.

      It would be better if you didn't put words in my mouth because I have never used words like those you suggest about the NFU - the NFU's own published words are what I base my blogs upon.

      But you are clearly right that PK is very popular. So what should we take from the fact that the most wildlife-unfriendly NFU Pres for ages is the most popular?

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  6. Guy Smith

    Presumably the statement 'PK is the most wild-life unfriendly NFU Pres for ages' is from your mouth and not the NFU's own published words. And having studied the policies of all 33 NFU presidents I am of the view you are quite wrong, I would go as far as to say PK has one of, if not the best, record when it comes to backing wildlife friendly farming both on his own farm in Beds and in the way he has launched the CFE and backed the agri-env schemes. But why let a few facts bother your prejudices

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    • Mark

      Guy - you are being much wittier than usual here

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  7. Dennis Ames

    Well I bet that the average farmer member of NFU never goes to meetings,never votes on who should be president,like all loyal customers pays his sub,gets his insurance from a rep that is probably almost completely paid by the almost exclusive right of selling insurance to his group of members.Probably one of the organisations that a small group of people do more or less what they like and wield considerable power in the process.
    One of the hardest organisations to have a influence on from people outside the circle because of course most who might change things do not want to get in that environment and if you did they make sure you are outvoted.

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  8. Ian F

    When I wrote as a real living farmer and NFU member also, I was writing with my business and my chosen future in mind. The NFU via Peter Kendall is keen to pursue the global food production angle at a cost to promoting the local and in many cases very profitable smaller units. To expand on my comments: The NFU has to widen its approach, we all have to get used to a fact that the continued fixation on growth, which has hardly helped farmers for the last 30 years, is not necessarily the right direction. The ‘no growth’ much more regional model is one which could actually have real potential for farming and one which sees (as Spelman wants) farmers and farms as a central hub in their rural community, as we did before the railroading by supermarkets and international corporations who have proved time and time again that they do not care. I stand by what I said about Peter Kendall and the NFU direction as a whole at present. But it is easily changed with some more thought by the NFU given to the other and in my opinion more likely outcomes in the future. Certainly the NFU needs to look much more closely at ecosystems services as farmers are set to become the richest sector in the UK with such programmes but not unless we are there at the front from the outset.
    If this requires a two tier NFU, one looking at the international stage and global food production and another looking at local systems including working much more closely with nature as an asset, it will be double its strength! Not weaken it and should widen membership by attracting that new demographic flood of ex city landowners chasing the good life by purchasing farms which have fallen victim to the realities of trying to sustain a high growth, international perspective.

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  9. Jon

    Ian F - I couldn't have put it better myself. Thank you for taking the words right out of my mouth. As a small-scale farmer myself, it's heartening to know I'm not alone in feeling completely let down (and frankly embarrassed) by the apologists for big agri-business that the NFU has become.

    It's good for the readers of Mark's blog, both the general public and the politicians (and the civil servants that inhabit the shadowy hinterland somewhere between the two), can see that there are landowners and food producers out there in Britain who don't feel that the NFU or Peter Kendall are representative of what they do, how they think, or how they want to produce food without compromising biodiversity outputs. Food production and conservation aren't mutually exclusive, no matter how Mr Kendall might care to spin it with his alarmist rhetoric.

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