At the recent meeting between SOLVE Hall Farm and the University of Reading I was slightly surprised to learn that of all our ideas for alternatives to housing at Hall Farm, actual farming was the one thing they did not consider to be particularly viable. I know they are the “experts” and my 10 minute Google search is not equivalent to one of the many qualifications they offer in Environmental Science. But I am at least open to ideas ;-)
Agroecology is sustainable farming that works with nature. Ecology is the study of relationships between plants, animals, people, and their environment - and the balance between these relationships. Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principals in farming.
Agroecology promotes farming practices that;
· Mitigate climate change - reducing emissions, recycling resources and prioritising local supply chains.
· Work with wildlife - managing the impact of farming on wildlife and harnessing nature to do the hard work for us, such as pollinating crops and controlling pests.
· Put farmers and communities in the driving seat - they give power to approaches led by local people and adapt agricultural techniques to suit the local area - and its specific social, environmental and economic conditions.
You do not need to be an expert to know that these are highly desirable things to try and achieve, do you?
Agroforestry is a great example of agroecology. It's the practice of combining trees and farming; it demonstrates how food production and nature can co-exist.
Grazing farm animals under trees gives them shelter and fodder, whilst their manure enriches the soil. And planting trees on land normally used to grow cereal crops can provide another crop - be that fruit, nuts or timber. This provides another income stream for farmers and also protects soils from erosion, as the trees' deep roots help create a healthy soil structure.
Agroforestry, like many agroecological approaches, is a win-win.
Hall Farm has many areas of ancient woodland, much grassland, much wetland and in my humble opinion has the potential to be the most significant area for Agroecology in Berkshire.
The human-made crisis engulfing the natural world is “just as threatening, perhaps even more so” than the climate crisis, one of the EU’s most senior officials has warned.
The report identified actions to simultaneously fight the climate and nature crises, including expanding nature reserves and restoring – or halting the loss of – ecosystems rich in species and carbon, such as forests, natural grasslands and kelp forests.
An example of just such an expanding nature reserve is the Weald to Waves project, which aims to create at least 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of nature-friendly land in corridors running from the rolling hills of the Weald down the valleys of the Rivers Arun and Adur to boost biodiversity on land and in the sea. The ambitious nature restoration plan is set to receive a big boost this summer with the government’s announcement of a multimillion-pound “landscape recovery” pilot, one of the new environmental land management schemes (Elms).
Why can’t Hall Farm be involved in such a “landscape recovery” scheme?
The rate at which infrastructure is built on prime farmland in England has risen a hundredfold in the past decade, a report has found, as it calls the country’s food security into question.
“Farmland that could grow 250,000 tonnes of vegetables a year has been lost to development, with 300,000 homes built on prime land since 2010. There was a huge rise in “best and most versatile” agricultural land set aside for housing and industry between 2010 and 2022, up from 60 hectares (148 acres) a year to more than 6,000.”
It has been said before, but in light of the recent scenes of chaos at our ports it surely need to be said again, we need to grow our own food locally.
Last, but not least, climate change is very much back in the headlines. Wokingham Borough Council have declared a "Climate Emergency" but what are they actually doing to rectify the problem? A few more uncut verges, a few more miles of cycle lane, a few hundred trees given to residents to plant are all steps in the right direction, but is it really going to be enough to avert environmental disaster?
The Council for the Protection of Rural England has produced this report: https://www.cpre.org.uk/news/planning-to-fail/
“Without clear strategies involving housing, businesses, industry and transport – which between them generate 62% of our carbon emissions – it’s unlikely that councils can meet their climate targets, especially given most local plans are designed to last about 15 years.
Crucially, government planning inspectors, who are responsible for signing off on local plans, aren’t required to prioritise reaching net zero or demand that plans are clear on how they help councils get there.
‘In terms of climate, we are planning to fail. It is impossible to hit net zero if it isn’t prioritised in local plans. Providing the attractive, affordable housing that people need and ensuring it is environmentally sustainable is not an either/or trade off. We need to do both at the same time and with the same commitment.’”
We have to persuade the new leadership at Wokingham Borough Council that our ideas regarding alternatives to housing at Hall Farm are not only highly desirable, they are also eminently practical.