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Nov 29, 2018

Future of Landscape and Farming in Focus at North Wessex Downs Annual Forum

Brexit and its possible effects on farming, landscapes & wildlife was the theme for our Forum this year.

Rushall Farm tour
Forum delegates touring Rushall Farm

How will Brexit affect farming in our nationally protected landscapes? What will that mean for landscapes and wildlife?
These were the questions up for discussion at the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Annual Forum on 17th October.

Around 100 farmers, landowners, councillors, conservationists, residents and supporters attended the event held at Rushall Farm near Bradfield in Berkshire. The event was hosted by the John Simonds Trust with support from our sponsors Doves Farm, Larkmead Farm Vets, Openfield and SoilBioLab.

With so many unknowns for farmers and the wider rural community, the Forum was an opportunity to discuss what the future might mean for the landscape and wildlife, and just what the Government means by when it says it wants to shift public farming support to paying for “public money for public goods”.

Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB, Henry Oliver, said:

“This is a time of enormous uncertainty for farming and the countryside. That carries big risks but it also presents us with our best opportunity for 45 years to make a better system that benefits farmers, our environment and the public. It’s fantastic to see so many individuals – farmers, residents, conservationists and business owners – get together to consider how we can best support, sustain, protect and enhance this outstandingly beautiful landscape in future.”

Key speakers included Andy Guy of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), the farming and environmental charity, who addressed some of the big questions facing sustainable land management, food production and profitable farming.

Also speaking were Phil Jarvis from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust; Merrick Denton-Thompson OBE, immediate past president of the Landscape Institute; Peter Lemon, local landowner and farmer; and Chris Musgrave, farmer and conservationist.

After a hearty lunch of local hog roast and apple pie, accompanied by apple juice from Tutts Clump, in the afternoon participants went out on field visits:

  • woodland management for commercial return and conservation, looking at the impact of Ash die-back and other threats, led by Richard Edwards of the Englefield Estate;
  • catchment sensitive farming on the river Pang: measures farmers and land owners can take to help improve and protect the quality of our world-famous chalk streams, led by Charlotte Elliott, Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer;
  • a trailer tour of Rushall Farm with Steve Waters, who runs the farm on a share-farming agreement, looking at benefits and challenges of an organic mixed enterprise with sheep, cattle and cereals on the varied soils of that part of West Berkshire;
  • History is Everywhere: a walking tour of Rushall Farm to understand how it has changed over time, led by Lady Sian Crisp, Patron of the John Simonds Trust.

The day ended with tea and homemade cakes back in Rushall‘s atmospheric and beautiful Black Barn.

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