An open letter to Peter Kendall, President of the NFU

Dear Peter

As the President of the National Farmers Union you claim to be the ‘voice of farming’ and last week you made a speech where you said that there is no ‘biodiversity crisis’ and government should ‘switch its focus from biodiversity’ to production.

Speaking as one of the people who pays for your and other farmers’ Single Farm Payments that isn’t what I want at all.  I’d like better value for money from my taxes going into farming.  If you are representing farmers as a whole when you call for a switch from biodiversity to production then I’m not sure that I want my taxes to continue to be used as income support for all farmers, rich and poor, good and bad, wildlife friendly and wildlife unfriendly.

I don’t own a farm, but I have spent a lot of time walking in the countryside and I can tell you that both where I grew up in north Somerset, and where I live now in Northamptonshire, the countryside is shockingly poor in wildlife.  Millions of birds have been lost from farmland because of the way that ‘we’ farm.  We can do so much better, as shown by the RSPB at Hope Farm and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust at Loddington.  Both farms show how wildlife and productive farming can go hand in hand.

And in my previous role with the RSPB I met lots and lots of farmers who were doing good things on their farms – and I was pleased that those good things were funded by government grants (ie our taxes) that the RSPB had argued for in Europe and Westminster and more recently in the devolved administrations.  During my time at the RSPB we increased our farm advisory staff, brought in the Volunteer and Farmer Alliance Project, bought Hope Farm and instigated the Nature of Farming Awards.  We, and I, did our bit to get alongside farmers and farming.

Now as an independent writer, and as one of the millions of people helping to fund farming through the payments you receive and the grants you are offered, I’d like to hear from you about your vision for a countryside richer in wildlife and how it can be achieved.  I’m sure you’ve thought about this a lot.

I’ve spent quite a bit of my life defending the large amount of money that goes into farming from the taxpayer and never got much thanks for that from your organisation.  I am now wondering whether, if your views are even widely held, let alone held by a majority of farmers, we shouldn’t be thinking of a radically different deal for British farming.  I wonder whether I should get some of my taxes back – how would you persuade me I’m wrong on that one?

You can email me at this website or offer a guest blog here to make your case – and I’ll also pop a copy of this letter in the post to you too.  You might get a few letters from readers of Birdwatch magazine too as in the December issue this letter is mentioned.

I hope I hear from you, as you are economically indebted to millions of people like me.


Peter Kendall is based at the NFU, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, CV8 2TZ.  The NFU represents farmers in England and Wales.

But there is also a NFU Cymru in Wales whose President is  Edmund Bailey who is based at: NFU Cymru, Agriculture House, Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells, LD2 3TU

In Scotland, the NFUS President is Nigel Miller who is based at: NFUS, Rural Centre – West Mains, Ingliston, Midlothian
EH28 8LT

In Northern Ireland there is the Ulster Farmers Union, whose President is John Thompson who is based at: UFU, 475 Antrim Road, Belfast, Antrim, BT15 3DA



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13 Replies to “An open letter to Peter Kendall, President of the NFU”

  1. As you might have gathered, Mark, I think we've reached a crunch point and I fully support you in trying to bring these issues to a head. Peter Kendall's recent betrayal of what he really thinks is what has precipitated it.

    The question is - is the countryside more than just a factory floor ? I believe it is - and the public reaction to the Government's forest sales proposal rather supports that view. But 50 years of intesnification has turned much of our richest agricultural land into a desert for anything other than crop production. Now, with the excuse of food security, and the playing out of the flawed 'cheap food' policies of both Government and farmers as supermarkets drive our agriculture into the ground we are being asked to support even further intensification. I simply don't. I don't want my money spent on its and I've had enough.

    I want a rich and diverse countryside and I'm ready to pay for it. I would storngly support farmers farming water where that's right and even pure biodiversity. We are already spending the money: a new paporach might even save money. And it could do wonderes for growth - as farming and forestry have mechanised jobs have inevitably gone down and donw and nothing is going to change that - but multi-purpose land use is reversing that, to the extent that many nof England's national forests are now employing more people per 1,000 acres than most high quality arable land. And they are doing it with real, not subsidised, money as they provide the services people coming out from towns looking for beautiful countryside actually want, from cafes to mountain bike tracks and, especially, exciting wildlife like the Lake District Ospreys.

  2. Roderick, You sum up the opportunities that exist in the countryside and I cannot agree more. It is about time we realised that land is not just about food or conservation. It exists as a jigsaw of outcomes, opportunities and service, whether it is human food, animal food, equine industries,leisure services and the other services you describe. This mixed model (certainly at a local level) will help to maintain diversity but it can only work if we understand that. Pushing the Government to support one outcome rather than others cannot be the way forward.

  3. At the last meeting of the Biodiversity APPG I put this to the minister Richard Benyon. I said with all these competing land-uses - sustainable intensification - ie more food production; pressure for development from the NPPF, biofuel production, recreation etc etc, biodiversity and other ecosystem services will always be priced out by the competition.

    I suggested that what's needed is an integrated land use strategy which recognises that there are multiple uses and values for land, beyond just intensive food, energy or wood production; and that strategy influences the way landowners and managers manage their land, to provide those multiple benefits, through incentives, regulation and education. I was expecting RB to fob the idea off, and indeed he did start talking about five year plans, great leap forwards and targets for Ukrainian tractor factories. But actually after this he did suggest that there was some merit in taking a strategic view on what land is for. I think it's something that collectively we need to start advocating - if for no other reason than it's a very strong argument against the NFU et al position on the need for more intensification, sustainable or otherwise.

  4. Well think you may be surprised but thanks to the fact that you appreciate all that lots of farmers are doing for wildlife which in a way contradicts what P K originally said then I am completely with you and think you worded it excellent.

  5. I agree with much of what you say Mark, and I applaud the work you have done both with the RSPB and as an independent writer. It's important we challenge words and actions we don't agree with, particularly when the person behind them is elected to a position of influence and representation.

    I also believe it's important the public ask questions about how and where their money is being spent, if nothing else it's a great way for people to learn how the countryside really works. The farming industry above all others needs to be as open and honest as possible.

    I hope readers of you blog will not interpret Peter Kendall's comments as those of the farming community at large. Whilst I don't doubt there are many farmers who will agree with Kendall's comments- and they are entitled to their own opinions- equally there are many who do not. It's important when we challenge these attitudes we don't appear to attack the wider farming community or attempt to hold farmers to ransom- there are a lot of good people out there working hard to farm the land in an environmentally sustainable way.

    The decline of farmland bird populations is ongoing, Single Farm Payments are making positive changes- but change takes time. Finding ways to maintain and restore biodiversity in balance with the demands of a sustainable and productive farming system is very difficult and we're all learning as we go along.

    1. Farmland birds - thanks for your comment and welcome! I like your blog from your small pastoral farm and i agree with much of what you say too. There are lots of good farming people out there, and the more they stand up and differentiate themselves from the views of the anti-environmental NFU the easier it will be to make progress on this issue at last.

  6. Well said Mark. From your previous blog, (which didn't seem to be accepting my comment for a technical reason), Mr Kendall, in his damage limitation exercise following his initial statement, still seems very confused about what constitutes biodiversity. He seems to think it includes reductions in farm emissions and reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides. Actually, no, biodiversity is all about the presence or absence of wild plants and animals, which have suffered huge loses on most farms, but not all thanks to considerate farmers. It is therefore surprising that a senior member of the NFU should still, apparently, be confused as to what biodiversity is all about.


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