The Oxford Real Farming Conference (OFRC) is always a very special event. Credit to Colin Tudge, Ruth West and team, thank you again for such a great conference. Being there makes me feel very lucky to be sharing time and space with the informed; people who share the view that the land, wildlife, animals and people should be valued and treated with kindness and respect. The people who are transforming the real world, farm by farm, field by field, exploring innovation and reviving historic respect for soil health and its essential role in our past as well as our sustainable future. The people who understand the essential need for herbivores in carbon sequestration and building soil carbon (as long as the cattle come out of intensive barns and graze diverse pastures as part of arable rotations) to build active soil carbon and soil biology. One of the most memorable sessions for me this year was run by Russ Carrington who discussed the impact of intensive dairy production on mental well-being and the pressure experienced by the herdsmen, the land, the cattle and wildlife. Russ noted the joy when the herdsmen joined the Ethical Dairy, where the land, wildlife, animals and people are valued with kindness and respect. It was an inspiration and highlighted how different it could be if we support a change in our food production systems for the benefit of our farmers, who work so hard.

This is a critical time for environmental policy. Many authorities have declared a Climate Change Emergency, but admit they don’t really know what to do next. OFRC is a place where farmers, practitioners and partners come to set out their stall for policymakers as to how to make positive steps forward. As I mentioned, many delegates are the ‘informed’, and know exactly what we need to do and how to do it. I saw this through many exceptional sessions showcasing regenerative farming, building fair and just food communities, integrated local delivery for communities and how to build resilience and prepare for climate change with the essential support of an environmental adviser. I also heard about the essential role of specialist facilitators in supporting groups of farmers working together across catchments/landscapes, demonstrating a methodology for mapping natural capital through UK Habitat Mapping and creating a platform for payments for Natural Capital Recovery and how to integrate investment from public. As well as this I saw private and third sectors demonstrating collaboration and goodwill, all with humble knowledge. These essential threads to connect and act for our survival seem inspirational to all the delegates, but somehow, as essential practical solutions at a local level, there seemed greater focus on policymakers, voyeurs and report writers.

On leaving the OFRC this year, my feelings remain that it is a brilliant platform for those that know what to do next and are delivering real change in the real world. We must ‘reframe’ the language around ‘local level’ and there must be greater value given to people who live and work on the ground. People seem to see policymakers as being more powerful and influential. Yes, strategies, policies and research are vitally important and we value the work of our policymakers. However, what is the point if people of influence don’t have time to read research papers or even know where to find them? Climate Action has been on the agenda for nearly 30 years, there is research out there to tell us how to take action. It also appears that some of those who are making internationally important policy have just read one research paper and built all their ideas on a single-issue that might not tell the whole story, e.g. that grasslands do not have a role to sequester carbon... ?!

I have many research papers from over 10 years that say integrated local delivery, as a framework, works and is the most cost-beneficial approach to delivering environmental gain when compared to any other international case study or approach. It is, I believe, the only framework for environmental delivery that is totally transferable and enables us to all take meaningful local action on a global scale. However, after nearly 10 years after the first research paper was written, nothing has changed. I can fully understand why Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and friends are angry; "listen to the science" they say, which means read the research papers and act, change policy and support delivery at a local level; it's is the real world we need to change. 

We are acting, on farms, in communities and as practitioners, but we could do it quicker with the policy that supports the essential role of environmental advisers to integrate transformative action for climate change. We need help from the media, we need the wider public to realise that herbivore (grass-fed livestock) are essential for climate change and soil health. Young people are being misled, they are being told to eat vegetables alone, which require cultivation and can, if not done well, cause habitat degradation around the world.

A call to act, please. Everyone, together, now!


And just in case – here are the research papers for your reference (click the bullet point to follow the link):