Although Jake Fiennes worked for a period for the Knepp estate – famous for ‘rewilding’ – this is more about ‘Regenerative Farming’. The idea is that farming can be profitable and also maintain the wildlife and the soil for generations to come. The book is dedicated “for those with mud on their boots and calluses on their hands”.
Jake is currently Head of Conservation for the 25,000 acre [10,100 hectare] farming at the Holkham Estate in Norfolk. He believes strongly in biodiversity and farming to benefit the environment.
He is extremely knowledgeable about wildlife – particularly birds – but he has also been a hands-on gamekeeper. This involves being very observant of all the movements of wildlife and what it feeds on. Obviously, the current lack of insects has a bad effect on the birds and animals that eat insects. Of course, some insects are beneficial and eat other pests that we don’t want.
Pest control and fertilisers
I went organic and ‘no-spray’ in my allotment when I realised that actually the sprays didn’t work, and you got more of the wrong pests after spraying. You need to be more specific about which pests to remove and sprays do not discriminate only against the pests, but kill other wildlife too.
It is not only pesticides that poison the land and the rivers, it is also fertilisers. These run off the land and into streams and rivers which has a bad effect on us all, not just on the fish. Leaving the land untouched by ploughing – particularly in the winter – helps to prevent run-off of soil and fertilisers. The idea of ‘regenerative agriculture’ is not to disturb the soil. It is important to have cover crops in winter to stabilise the soil. However, not growing a profitable crop in some fields can still allow a farm to make a profit.
Grass: Britain’s strength
He also believes strongly in ‘grass-fed’ meat because grass is what grows well in Britain, so there is no need to import soya and other animal feedstuffs, which can have a devasting effect on biodiversity in other parts of the world. Keeping grazing animals on the land is a tool for the regenerative farmer as the soil is not only not disturbed, but also fertilised.
There are arguments that say that cattle and sheep contribute much to global warming. This is particularly true of animals fed on imported feedstock. If cattle are left to graze naturally, then the carbon will remain locked in the unploughed land and the cattle will naturally have enough water to drink. Cattle will still burp out methane, but they have longer and happier lives.
Working with nature, not against it
Fiennes says, “Each season brings its own rewards and it’s the movement and signs of the cycle of the year that I find pleasing. Nature is about patterns and relationships, and making sense of the way everything is somehow connected.”
In Britain, we do need to produce as much as possible of our own food, but in the most sustainable way possible. This may involve us eating less meat, but it may also mean giving up ‘ultra-processed foods’. This may also make us all healthier.
Land Healer: How farming can save Britain’s countryside, by Jake Fiennes
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN 1785947303 / 978-1785947308