The day nature friendly farmers took over Stormont

Our Northern Ireland External Affairs Consultant Victoria Magreehan reports back on an inspiring day at Belfast’s Parliament buildings.

Stormont Farmers Market NFFN UK and NI Chairs joined by local NFFN farmers on steps of stormont 25032019

Martin Lines (NFFN UK Chair) and David Sandford (NFFN NI Chair) along with NFFN members from across NI who were exhibiting at the event.

In our work to restore nature throughout the countryside, we are really clear that we don’t and can’t do it alone. A big part of my role in the National Trust team in Northern Ireland is partnership working, and this week I was privileged to be able to play a small part in supporting what felt like a big moment for our nature friendly farming partners in NI.

On Monday 25th March, Stormont (Belfast’s parliament buildings) hosted a ‘Nature Friendly Farmers’ Market’ where farmers from across Northern Ireland showcased their goods and brought a clear message that farming and nature can work hand in hand.

Over 40 of our MLAs, representing every party, and one MP attended, showing lots of interest in what the farmers had to say. At the event members of the group highlighted the need for a sustainable farming policy for Northern Ireland. They were calling for significant change in the status quo, to help address issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss, whilst safeguarding long term food production.

What happened in that room felt like a great moment in the current context of Brexit uncertainty. There is of course much uncertainty and frustration about what deals or no-deals might mean for the farming industry here, but by far the strongest buzz in the room came from the passion and optimism that we can create big changes for farming in balance with nature, both individually at farm level, and country-wide at policy level.

The event, in Stormont’s long gallery, had a really diverse range of speakers, all centred around the shared belief that decisions made now and in the future could ensure that farming here secures a sustainable future and does far more to help nature to survive and thrive. The attendees heard from the Chair of Nature Friendly Farmers’ Network in NI David Sandford, the UK-chair Martin Lines, MLA Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit and John Blair – Alliance Agriculture and Environment spokesperson – who kindly hosted the event.

The panel discussion heard three farmers make compelling cases about how and why they have embedded nature friendly practices into their business models, with a very clear theme that we are all in it together and that as farmers, connection with nature and wildlife is a big perk of the job. The discussion included calls to see future government policy supporting public money for public goods.

Well known chef, and previous star of Saturday Kitchen, Danny Millar addressed the crowd with an inspiring message that he as a local chef relies upon local farmers to produce the best product, grown in wonderful local places and with the best of care. 

For me, perhaps the stars of the show, were the young ambassadors from Down High School who made a compelling case for managing land with wildlife in mind. The audience were interested to hear of their 2018 study of two Co Down farms where the farm which incorporated environmental farming scheme options had over 6 times greater abundance of bumblebees than that of the control farm.

Their wise words painted a picture of the future they want to see where the environment is looked after. The group of teenagers are so passionate about the plight of pollinators that they have started a Westminster petition asking government to support devolved institutions by having a UK wide strategy to provide funding to support farmers delivering valuable ecosystem services, such as providing wildflowers for pollinators.

What I heard loud and clear was a huge amount of passion for a nature friendly future from the farming community, many of the politicians and most certainly the young people. The Market was the first big statement that the Nature Friendly Farming Network has arrived, and it was clear that diverse range of local farmers from throughout NI have already got onboard. We were pleased to be able to play a small part as a partner in what was a really helpful event, and we look forward to working in partnership with the Nature Friendly Farming Network into the future.

And finally, the quote of the day for me, was from one of the farmers on the discussion panel who captured the essence of sustainable farming in saying:

“Live like there’s no tomorrow, farm like you’ll live forever”

For more information on the Nature Friendly Farming Network, check out:

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