Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Catching the learning curve

Animal and plant disease has been much on my mind recently, as Relu's projects on this theme come to fruition. I have been working on policy and practice notes from the research and on our briefing paper "Growing Concerns: animal and plant disease policy for the 21st century" which draws heavily, not just on the impressive work being carried out by research teams in the programme, but also on the stakeholder workshop we ran in London on 10 May this year. This does give the document a relevance and "real world" feel that I think it might otherwise lack. We owe much to people who are willing to spend valuable time enhancing the research in this way - and who are prepared to be quoted, as many have been in this briefing paper. Putting the publication together has been a great learning process for me, on a topic about which I knew nothing. But that has been the story of my involvement with the programme.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

All hands to the plough

I have just returned from a brilliant holiday in Romania, visiting cultural sites. The mediaeval painted churches are particularly dazzling. But we drove through the countryside I was also struck by the amount of subsistence farming. There were strip field systems that looked as mediaeval as the churches, and people working them with horse-drawn ploughs. One or two cows would be tethered by the roadside and presumably they were milked by hand. My companions on the trip were very taken by the idea of the organic produce on offer at the roadside stalls. It's true that the plums, apples and watermelons were delicious, and it was heartening to see families working together in the fields. But I couldn't help wondering whether such a labour-intensive approach can continue now that Romania is part of the European community. Not many people in the UK would want to work so hard to produce food.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Beautiful and useful

I spent a lovely couple of days in the North York Moors for my birthday last month (21 and a bit since you ask). We didn't even get rained on much. It's an untamed and beautiful landscape and I hadn't really given much thought to the benefits that we get from it - beyond the obvious aesthetic enjoyment. But of course, increasingly, we need more and more from our limited allocation of land in the UK and areas like the uplands provide us with some of the real essentials - not just food but water, carbon storage and renewable energy. Efficiency is everything, even for ecology. So how can we squeeze more from these landscapes? If farmers collaborated, that would help - scale is usually a factor in efficiency - but there is little tradition of this in the UK. Relu's latest policy and practice note for local government is a rallying cry to national parks to provide a lead and they are well-positioned to do so. Perhaps these beautiful, wild landscapes provide an example for us all. They will be providing a focus for discussion at the Relu/Northern Rural Network event on 14 September where the note will be launched.