For me, food security is now an imperative. The majority of agricultural practises today are responsible for the loss of soil, fertility and biodiversity in our rural landscapes. To farm the land so that we may create abundance, resilience and diversity, we need to manage landscapes differently. Holistic thinking and regenerative technologies are already a success across the globe and we in the UK need to catch on quickly. – Kevin
Who are we?
We are a group of land based designers and farmers who have attended Darren Doherty’s regenAg programme in 2011 where we were introduced to the regenerative agriculture approach. This action learning group was born out of a desire to integrate this approach into our working toolset.
Holistic Management is a layered approach with a set of principles, assessment and decision making tools. Keyline planning is a landscape-scale approach to water and soil management based on P A Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence Permaculture is a design system based on a set of ethics and ecosystem principles. Together, these systems feed into regenerative agriculture and help us to make better and more informed decisions that balance the social, environmental and financial considerations while leading us towards regenerative lifestyles. Working with livestock is integral to this farm-scale thinking.
What are our aims?
We recognise that agricultural practises in the UK today are harmful to the environment and will not sustain us in the coming future. It is therefore, imperative that we seek more integrated approaches to broadscale farming and regenerative agriculture offers this possibility.
Collectively, our RegenAG Learning group seeks to build on our shared interest, distributed knowledge and experience gathered. We want to create a regenAg knowledge base while accelerating our own individual learning, gain competence towards becoming skilled practitioners, designers and consultants. We hope to support each other, maintain momentum and interest towards creating a brighter future for farming in the UK.
How will we achieve these aims?
In early November, a number of us gathered at Haye Farm, Worcestershire. Stuart Norgrove’s family have owned and managed the farm for 50 years and it continues to be a traditional working farm. Our group comprised of mainly locally interested people and a few who travelled from far and wide. This was our first meet up so it had a relatively free flow to it. Stuart took us on a farm tour and described his challenges and his successes. We talked about polymarketing and the need to diversify to build resilience. Stuart has recently renovated his barn and this eco conversion now provides space for teaching and accommodation. There are a couple of coarse fishing pools and a small caravan site too.
Haye farm comprises 50 acres, made up of hay meadow, orchards and ancient pasture. Rare breed Dexter cattle and Wiltshire Horn sheep graze the orchards and flower rich meadows with a foggage winter grazing system. The land is in a Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement and so is managed to enhance its wildlife value. As we walked the farm, we subjectively surveyed the land, and the quality of the pasture given the grazing pattern. We took the opportunity for a “Bullseye” grassland analysis used to ascertain the soil life activity and reading of the cow dung for evidence of biological cycling. We took soil samples from different fields and assessed the amount of soil carbon we found.
Looking at the grassland at this time of the year was useful. It also made us realise that only regular use of the Bullseye tool will give a meaningful reading of the quality of the pasture and its improvement (or deterioration) over time. In the first year, at least four seasonal checks seem to make sense, and subsequently each time before and after putting animals on a particular patch of land.
In our discussions, it became apparent that both permaculture and holistic management have their strengths and weaknesses and that by combining them, a more well rounded whole farm planning scheme can be developed. It is this level of critical thinking that we are seeking to develop as we build up the action learning guild.
We also discussed how a holistic grazing regime could be combined with agroforestry approach, to provide shelter and additional fodder from trees. We discussed several layouts for this that might work on Stuart’s farm.
Look out for an invitation to the next meetup which may be a two day, more in-depth event.
It was clear that Stuart would welcome design support and the local team are willing and ready to support this need. There are other land owners who are practising regenerative techniques, both locally and within the regenAG network, so we are hoping to arrange some site visits.
Encouraged by the success of this first small meeting, we want to keep this group open to people with an interest in farming. Primarily we want to involve people who have attended some regenerative agriculture training, but we are open to others who are willing to learn with us.
We are planning more meet ups for next year and will link up with the work of the Permaculture Association’s FarmLAND scheme and farming working group.