May is set to be a very busy month with conferences, exams, final bits and pieces of coursework as I enter the final stages of my agriculture postgrad at the Royal Agricultural University and various other commitments. I apologise in advance therefore if thinkingcountry posts are slightly less frequent over the next few weeks! Nonetheless, there is certainly no shortage of material to write about. Southern England has been glimmering in the sunshine for the past few days as the season of Spring seems ever more present. I look forward to a Spring and Summer of exploration and new experiences once I escape the seemingly never ending period of deadlines and computer screen imprisonment. My bank holiday Monday was a welcome relief from screen work and I spent it on the northern edges of Exmoor, climbing Selworthy Beacon, looking out across the Holnicote Estate and the Bristol Channel and working to identify species and document the experience. As the host landscape of my next project (with the National Trust and Bristol University) it is a place I will no doubt be writing about through the summer and I look forward to getting to know it better.
Above: Half way up Selworthy Beacon. Copyright: Ben Eagle, 2016
Tomorrow I will be heading down to Dorset to the Rewilding Dorset event, organised by Bournemouth University and Dorset Wildlife Trust. The day will bring together a large number of academics and conservationists (and I hope farmers and landowners but we will have to see on that front) to discuss and explore the prospects for lowland rewilding. I will be tweeting throughout the day (@benjy_eagle / #rewildingdorset) and will of course write a blog about my thoughts and experiences.
At the end of the month I will be spending a week traveling around Yorkshire farms with fellow students, an experience that will no doubt further influence my thinking about land management and food production.
I’ll also be at the Hay Festival on 26th May, attending, among other things, a debate on rewilding chaired by my fellow consensus seeking rural commentator, Rob Yorke. Looking forward to this!
Anyway, I now come, in this rather meandering post, to the Farming Today event I went along to in Bristol last Friday, part of the Bristol Food Connections Festival, taking place in the city from 29th April to 7th May. Hosted by presenter Charlotte Smith and Radio 4 Rural Affairs & Environment Editor Dimitri Houtart this event brought together a panel of food producers and commentators to discuss ‘the future of food’ in front of a live audience. It is a subject that is often fondly returned to at food and farming events to seemingly acknowledge the direction in which we are heading, even though, in reality, none of us know what the world will look like in 2050, 2100, 2200 etc. The panel included Connor McVeigh from McDonalds, Tom Webster from GrowUp Urban Farms, Eddie Andrews from the Sheffield dairy farm ‘Our Cow Molly, the business that won the ‘future food’ category at the BBC Food and Farming awards the previous night, and agricultural commentator Cedric Porter who has recently published a report entitled ‘World Agricultural Prospects: The Road to 2050‘. Topics discussed ranged from the future of the food and farming workforce to urbanisation and the implications for production, sustainable beef and dairy production, environmental impacts of farming, how to best utilise natural assets such as Great British grass as well as innovation and technology. For me, my main gripe was that there was not enough time allowed for discussion and audience participation at the end (more air time allowance for Farming Today please BBC!) and I for one was not able to ask my question to the panel (which incidentally involved the perhaps dry but vital topic of transportation infrastructure investment). I would also question the diversity of faces both in the audience and on the panel – something that the food sector, like so many others, needs to work on. However, the event was nonetheless highly enjoyable and a good way for the BBC to engage with their license fee payers at the Bristol Food Connections Festival.
To listen to the full recording of the event click here.