Grumpy Old Birder

Bo Be­olens ex­plains why he thinks a ‘back­ward step’ in our farm­ing meth­ods would be best for wildlife

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Bo wants to see the re­turn of tra­di­tional farm­ing meth­ods for the sake of wildlife

HALF A CEN­TURY ago, a Malaysian friend told me of his dream. He wanted to write, but first needed to earn enough money to buy a small plot of land where he would dig a pond for carp, plant bread­fruit trees around it and keep pigs. He would al­ways have wa­ter, and food, hav­ing carp, pig meat and bread­fruit; his dream was of agri­cul­tural per­pet­ual mo­tion. Bread­fruit would fall from the trees for the pigs to eat, pig ma­nure would keep the trees healthy and shov­elled into the pond would feed the carp, any leftovers from the carp would be quickly eaten by pigs! Not my idea of heaven, even if the bread­fruit trees held broad­bills and bee-eaters, I don’t eat meat, don’t like bread­fruit, don’t re­ally fancy shov­el­ling pig dung un­der the hot sun, and the only time I ever ate carp it tasted like mud with bones in! How­ever, it is an ideal sus­tain­able life-style. Un­til the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, every coun­try had its ver­sion, here it was a mix of crop ro­ta­tion, ir­ri­ga­tion or drainage and the use of an­i­mal and hu­man ‘night soil’. Un­til rel­a­tively re­cent times, sewage was a bless­ing not a prob­lem, and land was kept in good heart by its re­cy­cling. Pests were kept in check by the con­tin­u­ous switch­ing of crops around the fields. I’m not try­ing to bring back the night soil men; un­treated hu­man waste can carry dis­ease and in­testi­nal worm eggs, but ‘sludge-man­age­ment’ as it’s called, would save the coun­try mil­lions in im­ported fer­til­izer and save the earth from be­ing de­spoiled and the seas vac­u­umed clean of all life. How­ever, sludge man­age­ment would need an up­grade as mi­cro-fi­bres build up in it from our wash­ing of fleece jack­ets and mi­crobeads of plas­tic from ex­fo­liants. Their ef­fects on the land is un­cer­tain. Sorry if you are en­joy­ing break­fast, but what is it with our use of our toi­let bowls as waste dis­posal units? Eco-con­scious city dwellers re­cy­cle their Mer­lot bot­tles, hang their Har­rod’s ‘bag-for-life’ in the crook of their arm and sort their Daily Tele­graphs into the pa­per bin with their shred­ded restau­rant re­ceipts and un­paid tax de­mands. So, why can’t they re­sist the lure of the flush­ing mael­strom, but must add to its tur­bid waters that which can­not rot, so half the coun­try’s sew­ers are clogged

with cot­ton buds and less men­tion­able non-re­cy­clables! All too of­ten of course, these even­tu­ally flush into our in­creas­ingly pol­luted sea. I live in ‘Cau­li­flower City’. Here, the fields grow con­tin­u­ous cab­bages. Half the crop is re­jected by the su­per­mar­kets and ploughed back in. Within weeks the same field sports more of the same. When the plough is in ac­tion, the corvids, gulls and pi­geons fol­low more in hope than ex­pec­ta­tion. There­after, the agri-desert is even de­void of doves. If you add the cost of fer­til­izer, her­bi­cide, pes­ti­cide, wasted seed and un­bought crops to­gether the mar­gins are too tight to sus­tain in­di­vid­ual farms, just the com­bined ‘units’ of land held by mas­sive busi­nesses. Turn­ing back the clock to ro­tat­ing crops is a no brainer… mil­lions could be saved on the chem­i­cals used to scour land of dis­ease and the re­turn to a healthy, al­beit man-man­aged eco-sys­tem would go to­wards our own well-be­ing. Step­ping back to cen­turies-old meth­ods would not just see wildlife re­turn, but sold di­rect to lo­cal shops would see farm­ing prof­its re­turn, too. It is of­ten said that to sur­vive, farms have to grow in size, cover every type of agri­cul­ture and di­ver­sify into other ac­tiv­i­ties. But I sub­mit that a back­wards step could ac­tu­ally be the key to pro­gres­sive farm­ing!

Bo Be­olens runs fat­birder.com and other web­sites. He has writ­ten a num­ber of books.

TRA­DI­TIONAL METH­ODS

Old-fash­ioned farm­ing would help our wild­ife

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