The crime of acceptance.

In parallel with my job in nature photography, I’ve been a farmer for the last 20 years. Not a proper farmer you understand; not a paid up member of the NFU; no, I farm for wildlife on our humble plot of land in the Cairngorms. I’m a biodiversity farmer. I ‘produce’ nature – plants, trees, insects, birds and mammals. My next-door neighbour, a livestock farmer, doesn’t get it. He can’t see the ‘product’, the end result. He thinks our ‘unproductive’ patch of flood plain meadow and regenerating woodland is wasted. And yet in part at least, I farm for profit, just like him.

Many of my images (which I sell) were taken on our farm; many of our photo tour guests (who pay us) photograph on our farm and our self-catering cottage (which generates rent) attracts visitors who enjoy being on our farm. The insects, the birds and the trees all pay their way; they create revenue. What’s more, we don’t have to prostitute our values by getting into bed with those greedy supermarkets. No, biodiversity farming is a profitable and rewarding business.

There’s another significant advantage of being a land-owning farmer: I get a voice in the corridors of power. I’m no longer just a bunny-hugging do-gooder; I’m a legitimate part of the fabric that holds rural life together. As a farmer, I’m recognised as a proper custodian of the countryside. From such a privileged position I can legally kill things I don’t like. I can demand compensation for raptors attacking my lambs or game birds. I can get paid for geese scoffing my grass. I can apply to shoot cormorants, or even otters, taking ‘my’ fish out of ‘my’ river. I can object to beavers (if and when they arrive here) undermining ‘my’ riverbank. And as a landowner trying to earn a living in rural Scotland, people will listen; important people; people who make decisions; people who will put economics before almost anything.

As a biodiversity farmer I have no intention of complaining about the impact of other species on my livelihood. Oh but wait. Perhaps I can flex my land-owning muscles? Perhaps I do have grounds for retribution? If it’s OK to shoot corvids or foxes in the name of custodianship; if it’s acceptable to trap stoats and weasels; if I can get a licence to ‘manage’ (kill) geese or cormorants and receive a sympathetic ear to do the same to pine martens and buzzards, can I not simply shoot my neighbour’s sheep and cows for breaking the fence and scoffing my young trees and wildflowers? What about all those non-native, farm-reared pheasants that have been let loose and invaded my property, hoovering up my valuable insect life?

Are these not simply alternative examples of ‘inconvenient’ creatures impacting on my productivity? Perhaps sheep and pheasants are exempt from the ‘vermin’ list thanks to their (questionable) economic contribution to the rural economy? Or perhaps they’re spared thanks to some sort of illogical Grandfather Rights? Either way, I don’t get it.

Many farmers and landowners that I know make a valuable contribution to conserving and enhancing biodiversity on their land for wider public benefit. And so they should. This is not an attack on farmers or landowners, but on a broken cultural system that breeds irrationality and inconsistency; a system that encourages those that should be rewarded for protecting biodiversity, to selectively kill creatures whose only crime is that of existing. And as a society, our crime is that of acceptance.

Red fox (vulpes vulpes) killed by gamekeeper, Scotland.

 

 

 

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14 Comments

  • A very thought-provoking article. Our neighbours, ‘real farmers all,’ with their monoculture think we are mad, too. Recently one remarked how, whenever he crossed our ditch the air was filled with birdsong, not evident elsewhere-just as when he was a boy. Maybe its a start. The area of terrain is modest – just over 2 acres but the opportunities for photographing the small things..and some quite large is incredible. May your philosophy spread widely and rapidly, Pete.

  • Helen Thorpe says:

    What a breath of fresh air! I would love to see more areas dedicated to wildlife and nature just doing it’s thing rather than empty, barren land with just a few sheep on. Since moving to Wales I am shocked at the severe lack of wildlife.

  • At the risk of sounding condescending that’s your best blog ever. Not sure the farming community will be rushing round to slap you on the back but it is a valid point Of course they will argue they have 70 million people to feed………. And were straight back to the population thing.

  • Peter says:

    Great piece of text, Peter! I love this scentence:

    What’s more, we don’t have to prostitute our values by getting into bed with those greedy supermarkets.

  • Hilary Graham says:

    Very nicely put Sir. Enlightened thinking!

  • Excellent article, Pete.

    For the last week I’ve had to drive past a dead fox cub prominently dumped in a field next to the road as if it’s a trophy, a badge of achievement or, absurd as it may sound, a warning to other foxes. An adult fox has just about decayed beyond recognition a few metres away.

    The idea that they might do more than ‘eat lambs by the thousand’ is inconceivable to some.

  • Karen Thomas says:

    Excellent and very succinctly put. I guess it’s human nature to be all about “self” and therefore what affects that status. As you say we all tend to have issues with something, it’s how we deal wit it that can be the problem.

    However, without storytellers like yourself the wider population may never see the greater picture and how all things (even if we don’t like them) have their place somewhere on this planet of ours.

    S0, keep up the good work Pete, the message is slowly, but surely getting through!

    Karen

  • Chris Gomersall says:

    Well argued piece, Pete. I do hope you’re claiming all the EU agri-environment subsidies you’re entitled to!

  • Stuart Scott says:

    Excellent post !

  • Wish I had your writing skills. So much to say and endorse your thoughts, having left an intensive arable farm down south to take up a dog and stick custodianship of hill, coast and sea. To try and make a valuable contribution by conserving, enhancing and protecting the biodiversity for the wider public benefit.
    Please write more Pete.

  • Labrat says:

    “What about all those non-native, farm-reared pheasants that have been let loose and invaded my property, hoovering up my valuable insect life?”

    erm, yes, you CAN shoot them – I would have expected you to know that, you can also get recompense from the neighbouring farmers for damage caused by his cows and sheep.

  • Andy Paton says:

    Many thanks for understanding what it really is all about. Farming for wildlife, Guardians of the countryside and thinking of our future generations, but most of all for simply just getting on with doing without any fuss or attention. Wishing you continued success on your farm.

    Andy

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