• Framework Blog

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Jess Brooks, farmland advisor at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK, reflects on farmers as an audience for biodiversity.

How are farmers operating today?

So when talking about farmer clusters, we must remember that these clusters are made up of people and no two people are the same. 'Farmer' is used quite broadly here to refer to many different types of land managers who live and work on land. Some farmers will make their living from the land and produce food but others may not and may not even be involved with the everyday activities on the farm. So as an example, one of my cluster members is actually a stock broker who lives in Monaco and and he owns a farm here, but the farm work is contracted out. So that's a very different scenario to another member of my cluster in Dorset who manages a four hundred hectare mixed livestock and Animal Farm by himself and gets by on four hours sleep a night! So the appetite of those two very different people to improve biodiversity and work with their neighbours in a cluster might be the same, but the mechanism by which you work with them will be different. So the bottom line is that you are dealing with a broad spectrum of personalities, farm types and business models as well.

What prevents farmers from considering biodiversity?

The biggest problems is that there's an absence of trust between farmers and other entities, such as the government and the public as well. And we find that the whole conversation about farming the environment is very negative. And there are also quite large gaps in the knowledge of farmers and about what wildlife they have on their farms, how it's increasing or how it's decreasing and why that is important. Agri-environmental schemes at the moment don't really incentivise enough farmers financially. They're not monitored and they don't necessarily offer positive feedback and encouragement either about about what farmers are doing. So farmers in that kind of setting and landscape will never be inspired to do more. If they feel unappreciated and they feel persecuted. The system of farming that we have, the political the industrial landscape is very top down and it's it's full of blockers. We have a lot of rules. We have a lot of inspection limits, payment delays, and we have a heavy admin load on farmers nowadays. So they are under enormous pressure from the government, from the media, from the public and from environmental organisations. So with all of these mental and physical burdens on their time, it's no wonder that conservation, biodiversity and the environment feels like another thing to add to the long list of things they have to think about and do! But what we find with farmer clusters is that it kind of flips the whole thing around onto its head. A farmer cluster is an enabler. By joining up with neighbours, choosing a trusted professional environmental adviser to work with them, it instantly puts in place a support network for farmers. It's a source of advice and a place for them to be creative, to get inspiration.

What helps and enables farmers to consider biodiversity?

So the culture of the farmer cluster is totally different from this top down ecosystem. It's an enabling type of way of working. It's very difficult for [farmers] to understand the success of what they're doing, because there is quite an absence of positive feedback and encouragement and monitoring of what they're doing. Everyone's kind of struggling in isolation rather than working together and being cooperative which is a big problem. So the default position is for everybody to work individually on their own farms at a farm level. And there's only so much biodiversity improvement that can be done working like that. Wildlife doesn't need boundaries. Rivers run through more than one farm. So working at landscape scale is essential and everyone on this call knows that!

That's why we're here. So to avoid these problems, to help them succeed, we need to communicate with farmers better. We to understand their psychology, support them better, give them more credit, hold them up a bit, stop farmer-bashing and give them more free opportunities for opportunities for learning and training. So those are all the core activities of the farmer cluster.

Where are farmers coming from? What are their motivations and values?

The values and the motives for farmers include pride in being a steward of land, producing quality food, being a good business person, making a profit to support their family, respect for tradition, the lifestyle and a love and knowledge of the land and the local area. The very same motives for conservation and entering stewardship agreements include a concern for future generations, peer pressure from the industry and but also their neighbours as well. Pressure from science, government, the media, scientists, the public. Other incentives would be topping-up farm income with environment schemes, making money from unproductive areas of the farm and just generally a love and knowledge of the wildlife that's on the farm. And then the fact that you bring nostalgia into it. Many farmers have observed declines in wildlife in their lifetimes and they want to do something about that.

I would say the importance of a healthy, profitable farm or family business cannot be overstated when talking about farmer's motivations. And you don't become a food producer to get rich, do you? Some farmers live hand-to-mouth. They don't have a cent to invest in better ways of doing things and new technologies. And as a general rule, farmers often say to me, we will struggle to be green and environmental if our bank statement is in the red.

So I think that kind of commonality is all to do with keeping their head above water in this challenging landscape.

How do these motivations and values impact attitudes to issues of biodiversity?

Someone's attitude to all this and conservation will depend on several things, the health of their business, their education, their personality and quite a lot of ways their knowledge, their creativity. But there's no real set template. As I said before, for a farmer, they're all very, very different people. So as an example, someone entering the industry might embrace new technology. They might have rather a different attitude to, say, a farming family that's been doing things the same way for decades and have set traditions and ways of doing things. So they would be very different scenarios.

Some farmers have positive attitudes to looking after the environment and believe it's an essential, an integral part, of their business. And others see the environment as a separate thing or an optional duty.

And then the final thing to say would be - there's a lot of negative public publicity directed at farming in terms of biodiversity [loss] and environmental impact. And this means that farmers kind of have a negative attitude towards the government and the public because of that. They're quite cynical. A lot of them are distrustful and disillusioned.

But farmer clusters, on the other hand, again flipping it around. They are a mini positive community. They're a bottom up way of working based on trust and support and knowledge. So they certainly have potential to convert a negative attitude into a positive attitude.

Finally, what’s your top tip for researching and promoting biodiversity sensitive farming?

My top tip would be to forget the outcomes that you want and start with the farmers, understand their psychology! You need to know what their blockers or barriers are but also what excites them as well. And the key to the success of the process is getting to know people, building trust and forming relationships, once you've made good progress with that the conservation work will follow.

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  • Framework Blog

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Dr Graham Begg, project lead at the James Hutton Institute, UK, gives an overview of the project.

So what is the Framework project?

In the Framework Project farmers will work together to enhance biodiversity across the landscape. They will work with scientists and engineers to increase knowledge and to find solutions to problems of managing biodiversity. And they will also work with citizens, retailers, processors, government policymakers and others to ensure that biodiversity sensitive farming is valued and fair incentives are offered to drive adoption.

Why are projects like this needed?

In Europe, where agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of land use conserving farmland, biodiversity could make a significant contribution to countering the alarming loss of biodiversity that we're experiencing. Neither relying on the adoption of nature friendly approaches like organic farming or efforts to promote our environmental protection through legislation has been effective. While the loss of biodiversity is a local and global tragedy, there's also an urgent need for agriculture to feed a growing global population.

Biodiversity has an important part to play in this by delivering essential ecosystem services to maintain productive agro ecosystems as sources of affordable and nutritious food.

Framework is an ambitious response to these critical problems. The project will create a biodiversity sensitive farming system that will encourage and enable farmers to conserve biodiversity, promote a rebalancing of agriculture in a way that capitalises on the value of biodiversity, and improve the capacity of farming to deliver food and nutritional security in the face of climate change, disease, pandemics and other pressures on the system. Framework will produce a prototype to improve system level, practise learning from its development and its testing with the ambition that it's rolled out across Europe in the years following the project.

What might a Biodiversity Sensitive Farming System look like?

The blueprint for the framework biodiversity-sensitive farming system includes four elements - advanced farm clusters are the foundation of the system.

The system will see local farmers work together collectively on landscape scale management supported by a cluster facilitator with expertise in agriculture and the environment, and with links to a cluster stakeholder group to inform and promote policy and practise.

This approach recognises the importance of landscape scale processes in promoting biodiversity and also the power of collective approaches to land management.

It will build on lessons learnt by the success of the farmer clusters in the UK, where a framework project partner the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has been instrumental in growing the network to more than 170 clusters. In support of the advance farmer clusters, the framework system includes a second element, one focussing on technical knowhow in which specialists will provide advice, methods and tools to support biodiversity monitoring and management.

Scientific innovation is the third element, and this will focus on understanding the ecology, sociology and economics of sustainability and agricultural systems with the aim of inspiring guy and guiding the creation of new solutions. And lastly, the citizen observe between information help.

The fourth element is a digital platform for sharing information, data and resources, and for promoting virtual and real activities with the aim of creating a multifactor action network in support of biodiversity sensitive farming.

How are we delivering this Biodiversity Sensitive Farming System?

Over the next five years, framework will work to translate this blueprints to fully functioning prototype tried and tested and ready to roll out across Europe to begin with. Framework will establish a permanent network of farm clusters throughout elevon dedicated pilot studies from Scotland to Italy and from Spain to Estonia. The project will link these with local cluster stakeholder groups and provide support from cluster facilitators. We will oversee biodiversity management activities, selection, implementation and evaluation. Standardised methods will be used across the pilot studies to monitor outcomes, including biodiversity, ecosystem services and farm operations. The clusters will also operate as living labs, providing real world platforms for landscape ecological Studies.

Framework will also build the Citizen Observatory and Information Hub, through which we will share tools and advice for farmers, trading modules and a range of materials. Support citizen science monitoring campaigns. We will use the Citizen Observatory, an information hub, as a portal to share new sets of citizen generated data and collaborate with other citizen observatories and link with other biodiversity projects and initiatives framework. We use data from the pilot studies to evaluate the effectiveness of advanced farmer clusters and the biodiversity sensitive farming system as a whole. It will assess the economic, social and ecological costs and benefits of the system and identify the drives and limitations of success using this knowledge to promote effective policy level decision making.

How will we make an impact during the project and after it?

Throughout the project, pilot studies will be used to instigate change in their regions by demonstrating best practise and inspiring other farmers, thereby establishing a self-sustaining and growing advanced farm across the network across Europe.

To do this framework has brought together a comprehensive set of actors, including a large network of farmers and extension services. University supplied research institutes in Assamese. We have academic excellence in the key disciplines of agro ecology, agricultural sociology and behavioural economics. And these are complemented by considerable expertise in agricultural and environmental science, including transdisciplinary approaches in applied research and the extensive resource base to go along with this. In addition, framework includes specialists on communications and media production and training, and in citizen science and participatory research framework. Partners are leaders in their respective fields and all have a strong track record of successful participation and coordination in large multi partner in international projects. Working together to learnedly by example is at the heart of the framework approach through a strategic combination of participatory activities.

Framework offers a short pathway to innovation based impact. Framework will empower co innovation by linking together for the first time the necessary components for a comprehensive, biodiversity sensitive farming system. And in the process, return an array of innovative tools to agricultural stakeholders and provide evidence to support policies in agriculture, food and the environment. Each of these innovations will have an impact on the way farming is done. But it is in combination as the framework biodiversity sensitive farming system that they will have their greatest impact and have an enduring legacy making biodiverse, productive, resilient and sustainable agriculture more achievable across our agricultural landscapes.

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