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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The NFU and the animals (and plants)

Appropriately enough it was The Animals whose refrain, ‘I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood‘ has been taken up by NFU President Peter Kendall.

Last week he said ‘Government should switch its focus from bio-diversity and concentrate on farm productivity‘ and ‘The point is we haven’t got a bio-diversity crisis in this country’ in a speech to the Agricultural Industries Confederation.

This week he said ‘There has been some deliberate misunderstanding of our position on this in recent days. When we say, as we do, that agricultural productivity must be stepped up, that does not mean that we want it stepped up at the expense of the environment.

“And when we say, as we have done, that there is no biodiversity crisis in this country, thanks to the progress which has been made with reducing fertiliser and pesticide use, improving water quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the success of Environmental Stewardship, it does not mean that biodiversity is not important to us, or that we are in any way complacent or that we are anything less than 100 per cent committed to the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

“But the fact has to be faced that if, in 40 years’ time, biodiversity in Britain is no worse than it is now, that will be a fair achievement.‘.

The fact is that the NFU President got the mood wrong and went too far in public last week and was surprised by the backlash that he received.  And this blog led the way on that.

The NFU is terribly weak on the environment and knows that it is on weak ground too.  Its website contains little environmental information but does have a handy factsheet for farmers entitled, rather objectively, Positive Facts about Farming.  It’s a pretty thin and highly selective document.

The NFU will push food production as hard as it can all the time and play down the problems with greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and biodiversity loss.

I see FWAG is appealing to the farming industry for funding to maintain its central capacity. I wonder what the ‘voice of farming’ has to say on that subject.

And yes, Peter, I’m sure you do ‘feel a little mad‘ sometimes, and you do ‘seem to be bad‘, and when it comes to biodiversity you do ‘seem edgy‘ but you haven’t persuaded me that you’ll be ‘long regretting some foolish thing, some little simple thing‘ you’ve done. Just sometimes remember The Animals (and plants).


Not quite the same

I have an article in the current issue of The Field and one in the current issue of Birdwatch magazine and both are on hen harriers.

Not surprisingly, given their readerships, the two articles are written from slightly different perspectives.

I have both magazines in my hands right now and they are interestingly different.  I know of a very few people who have read both articles but I am fairly sure that there aren’t that many.

For those of you who have never picked up either, and are considering which way to reach out in WH Smith,  then for your £4.10 (Birdwatch,  88 pages) or £4.20 (The Field, 188 pages) there are significant differences which can be illustrated by the number of times that various things are pictured on their respective pages.

For the November issues (December’s will be out soon for both, and both contain more words from me) if you see a dog, horse, gun or dead bird then you have picked up The Field but if you are looking at a telescope you have Birdwatch.

The Field does have more than twice as many pages but it has more than 10 times the number of images of people between its covers.  And it may surprise you that the gender ratio is two and a half men for every woman in The Field (including the only nude person in either magazine) but over four men per woman in Birdwatch.

Each man featured in The Field, if he were to wander through its pages looking for companionship, would find less than half a woman but be compensated by having about half a dog, a tenth of a horse and a whole gun to cuddle back at home, but he’d be struggling to find a pair of binoculars (7 binoculars shared between 400 blokes!).

His alter ego in Birdwatch (all 40 of them) would only find a quarter of a woman, no dogs, no horses and no guns, but would find some compensation in having two binoculars and a telescope all to himself.  And using those optics he could look at 185 images of live birds (and no dead ones) whereas when his mate in The Field had stopped patting his dog and horse he could only find about 50 images of live birds but 20 of dead ones.

And, of course, the live (and dead) birds on show are rather different.  The world of The Field is filled with pheasants, red grouse, grey partridges and the occasional duck and woodcock which don’t get much of a look in in Birdwatch.  But its pages are filled with a cornucopia of birds, from the UK and from much farther away, including difficult gulls, rare American waders and passerines, avocets, spoonbills and little auks.

Different worlds?


Defra – dire, egregious, failing, risible and adrift.

It’s more than 18 months since the current ministers walked confidently into Defra’s headquarters at Nobel House after the May 2010 General Election (with one change of Lord in the interim).  I’m glad that we have not seen too much chopping and changing of ministers under the Cameron (Clegg) coalition government, as that rarely leads to informed and confident government.

By now we have had time to come to some sort of view about the performance of the Defra Ministerial team, and I’m afraid it is not a good report card in my view.  If you were to put yourself in the position of wildlife then this is what you might say:

Forestry – stalled.  Despite some good things and some bad things in the government proposals we are now in a position where there is nothing visible happening, and the status quo is not a great place to remain on this subject.

Agriculture – no movement on tweaking or restructuring agri-environment schemes so that they deliver good value and more wildlife for huge public investment

Marine – hopeless lack of progress on international and national site designation

Wildlife – shifting focus to ecosystem services and away from endangered species with no comprehensive framework for government nature conservation priorities

Enforcement of wildlife protection  – no need for vicarious liability for land owners to match that in Scotland (says landowning Minister Richard Benyon) and dogged, albeit slow, progress towards a futile badger cull

Listening to stakeholders – independent voices (SDC, RCEP) abolished, agencies (NE in particular) silenced and wildlife NGOs largely ignored.  Moorland Association, NFU and others have the ear of Defra.

Clout within government – budgets hatchetted by Osborne in CSR, no ability to restrain CLG over NPPFand influence at, perhaps, an all time low.

Plants and animals (and all those taxa which are unsure of themselves), vertebrates and invertebrates, marine and terrestrial, upland and lowland, in the soil or in the air, pretty and ugly, useful and noxious, big and small – all, if given a voice, would say that they have gained little or nothing from the current government over the last 18 months.  They, biodiversity, are a top Defra priority and yet the prospects for wildlife get worse rather than better.  If nature were given a voice then it would be crying out in fear and in anger, and in disappointment and dismay.

Only if nature were given a vote, might politicians think a lot more about nature’s richness and a little less about our own.