The importance of the red meat sector for new farming entrants

I’ve always been conscious I’m one of the lucky few; farming is an extremely difficult industry to get into. Capital requirements are so very high for the land, machinery and inputs needed to start a farming business. School leavers obviously still have the potential to become an employee and work for someone else but for those with ambitions to farm in their own right the hurdles are very high. I grew up on the family farm and from my first days at Primary school I had an unwavering determination to follow in the footsteps of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents and return to the family business.  I fulfilled that wish and twenty four years later here I still am loving what I do. But this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my immediate family. But this article isn’t about me; its about recent news events involving our industry and what they will mean for the future of the agricultural sector.

On 21st May DEFRA announced plans for a lump sum exit scheme for retiring farmers. Farmers can take their remaining BPS payments upfront so creating opportunities for new entrants. At first sight this makes a certain amount of sense.  Firstly this isn’t additional funding; the same sum of entitlements are available for these farmers but over the longer wind-down period of BPS. It is recognised that the industry does have a stale, pale and male image problem. It certainly isn’t a good statistic that the average age of farmers in the UK is 59 and that there are a lot of active farmers still working well into their 70ies and 80ies. There’s no denying the age profile of the farming sector is far too top heavy. However will the retirement golden handshake scheme have a positive effect for new entrants as DEFRA have hoped? Clearly this scheme isn’t going to fund or support the new entrants themselves. It merely aims to add supply to the land market. Will the retirement scheme reduce land prices? This seems very unlikely.  The loss of BPS will apply some downward pressure on prices but the predominant issue will remain the tax status of farmland. I would suggest that existing established farmers and lifestyle buyers will still be the dominant players in the land market and new entrants will be little better off than they are now in acquiring this extra land. The amalgamation of farms into bigger units has been an ongoing trend throughout my farming career; is the retirement scheme simply going to exacerbate this? If so it becomes even more difficult for new entrants to enter the market as farms become bigger and bigger. But there’s another seismic problem coming down the road to make life difficult for new entrants which isn’t being talked about and that’s the fallout from the ongoing war on red meat.

Simply put a majority of new entrants into farming enter the industry via livestock. It isn’t really a surprise. A potential new entrant thinking of an arable business (or horticulture) more or less needs a lottery win sized chunk of capital to get things working. With a new arable unit tractor costing around £150,000 you can immediately see the scale of the problem without even thinking about grain stores, combines, attachments etc etc. Unsurprisingly, however, new entrants can start a viable livestock enterprise with some sheep or beef cattle. Grazing licenses are scalable, affordable and flexible. You might need some handling equipment and electric fencing gear but basically you can get a viable livestock enterprise up and running for £10k. I’ve locally met many people in this group. Hard working individuals, yes, but perhaps work can be done part-time and shared by family members. Profits can roll the business forward and create a base to look to a farm tenancy maybe through a Council farm. The obvious point I am making is that for most new entrants sheep and cattle are a viable gateway into the farming industry. And here’s where the second new story of the week gives those entrants a kick in the guts. The much heralded UK/Australian trade deal has opened a Pandora’s box of cheap imports. Maybe this deal in itself won’t be the knock-out blow but it’s being seen as a benchmark for similar deals with many other countries not least the US who will dig in their heals and demand similar trading arrangements to the Aussies.  So let’s be clear the red meat sector is in all sorts of stormy waters. Not only because the market will be completely undercut by all and sundry low quality imports from all over the globe in a naïve attempt to make food a teeny bit cheaper. Not only because Part II of the Food Strategy will herald yet another round of anti red-meat rhetoric. Not only because Fossil fuel lobbyists will insidiously continue to label red meat as the bĕte noire of climate change. Not only because fake-meat corporations will need to keep pushing dodgy propaganda to satisfy the monetary growth needs of their shareholders. It is indeed going to be choppy waters for the red meat sector with all these pressures abuilding. And the first to lose out will be the new entrants trying to get a foothold into farming with a few cattle or sheep on the first step of their farming ladder. The first to fall won’t be super-sized feedlots in the US or Argentina. It won’t be Australian farms, either, taking advantage of Truss’s rushed deal. Smaller UK farms which have livestock at their core and those on more marginal ground with unavoidable lower productivity just won’t be able to survive this onslaught with the knock-on implications for their local economy. And new entrants will have even bigger hurdles than they do now as their scalable gateway into the industry is closed. But, hey, steaks for the masses might be a few pence cheaper despite having to be chugged from the other side of the globe so maybe it’s all worth it? And will the average age of farmers reduce from 59? I’ll wager it’s trip over 60 by 2030. Bravo DEFRA.

Rewilding Fairy Tales



Rewilding schemes across the UK and Europe have been attracting a lot of attention. Here I present a farmer’s view on some of the irrationalities of such schemes. Ecologically the UK has changed out of all recognition from its original baseline before interventions from humans. Wide ranging prehistoric mega-fauna and predator extinctions caused by early hunter-gatherer societies effectively broke natural food chain webs whilst subsequent agricultural practices dramatically changed landscapes. This makes it extremely difficult to design appropriate new baseline-themed targets for rewilding schemes as many key species are long lost. Rewilding schemes also have a catch 22 whereby human activities are often key to economic success but the same disruption can negatively affect outcomes. Schemes need also to be realistic about additional indirect unavoidable human influences too; in particular the roles of invasive species, transient pollution, aircraft and transport influences and noise/light pollution. Schemes also overlook the many benefits of unnatural human-engineered landscape features such as hedges and wild bird covers. Rewilding projects should also consider the implications of exporting our environmental footprint to other countries when food/fibre production is deferred to other overseas producers when biodiversity is the only objective. I propose a greater emphasis on nature friendly farming initiatives and projects to promote sustainable farming; balancing the needs for food, climate mitigation and biodiversity enrichment.

Historical background

Once upon a time The British Isles was a magical place full of exotic creatures and plants. From brown bears to bison, great auks to aurochs, wolves to pelicans the ecosystem would be completely unrecognisable to any modern ecologist.  Before humans encroached into Northern Europe even elephants, rhino and hippo species would have been found roaming the British Isles (which in earlier times were physically connected to the continent). Undoubtedly these headline species would have had a complex entourage of associated bird, insect and plant species also long lost and forgotten. For example it is believed today that many tree species can withstand coppicing because of the natural equivalent disruption these ancient mammals would have wrought. The top of the food chain was shared by lynx, scavenging hyenas, leopards and even cave lions. It’s hard to envisage now but Northern Europe had just as impressive an itinerary of mammals as Africa still does today:

The debate is still open about why all these species were lost. Was it due to climate change as the Ice Age declined or was it due to the sophisticated hunting techniques of early hominid species? Whatever the reason the ecosystem we see today in the British Isles is a husk of its former glory.

There is also mounting evidence to challenge the theory that ancient Britain was closed canopy forest. The aforementioned megafauna probably engineered the landscape to give a patchwork of pasture woodland with clearings and sunny areas. This was until early humans came along and slowly changed from hunter-gathering to farming practices. In fact the early hunter-gatherer methods for gathering food were arguably far more destructive to ecosystems than early farming practices. Early man was just as much a specialist in mass extinctions and tree felling as modern man today despite the much lower population levels! We were particularly efficient at cutting down trees to create fields.  There is more relevant background information on ancient British landscapes here:

Why does this matter? In my view it matters because in trying to determine where we want to get to it is important to understand how things looked before we started ‘fiddling’! It might be the right moment to mention ‘shifting baseline syndrome’. George Monbiot first introduced this concept to me in his book ‘Feral’. The basic premise is that an individual recognises how biodiversity has changed during their lifetime but makes the flawed assumption that how things were when they were a child is how they ‘should be’. Giving some personal examples of this I remember seeing lots more caterpillars as a child (especially those black ones on nettle patches) but I don’t see them so often now as an adult. I remember seeing lots of lapwing on the farm as a teenager but see them rarely nowadays. However my father, grandfather, great grandfather etc. would have had completely different baseline perspectives on what ‘normal’ should be with very different examples. I have never seen glowworms but I’ll bet my Great-grandfather did! In reality all of us have distorted perceptions of optimal baseline, right back to when the first humans started interfering with the ecosystems around them in the dramatic ways already discussed. We are way off what normal should look like and our ecosystems are arguably broken; we are the apex predator now whether we like it or not and we are responsible for shaping the environment around us in the best way possible and keeping things in balance as best we can.

Ecological baseline distortions

Today just over 70% of the land-use in the UK is for agricultural purposes. Much of this area is farmed extensively for grazing ruminants. The wet, temperate climate is optimal for growing grass and ruminants are the best way to utilise this for food. About 13% of the UK is forested; lower than much of continental Europe but it is worth noting this level is well above historic lows; England’s forests and woods had dwindled to only 5.2% coverage by 1905 but have since been recovering!

The current UK population is around 68 million with about 83% of people considered to be living in urban areas. Sadly the majority of the population are disconnected from the natural world and many do not visit rural areas. Approximately 6% of the UK could be classed as being ‘built-on’ (9% for England). Despite the majority being used for agriculture the UK is less than 60% food self-sufficient and therefore depends on other nations to supply many of our calorific needs. Within this backdrop I want to make the obvious point that the UK landscape, whether urban or rural has been shaped by human intervention. Road and railway verges are some of our more ‘wild’ habitats. Parks and golf courses are significant habitats too. 27 million people in the UK partake in gardening and are inadvertently managing wildlife habitats to varying degrees. Looking specifically to farmland over 500,000 miles of hedgerow are managed by UK farmers. There are massively important habitats despite not being a natural feature. Though environmental schemes myself and many farmers manage fallow areas, wild bird covers, arable reversion land, hay meadows, ground nesting bird areas and many other diverse but totally unnatural habitats which are nevertheless essential to British wildlife today.

I have touched on how UK fauna and flora is totally changed from the original pre-human baseline but there is another massive side to our meddling; the introduction of non-native species. The list is endless; I could write a very large blog on this subject alone but here’s a few examples of species which are not native to the UK and in effect shouldn’t be here:

Grey squirrel, American Mink, Harlequin Ladybird, Japanese Knotweed, Asian Hornet, Rhododendron, Muntjac, Pitcher Plant, brown rat, rabbit, hare, Fallow deer, parakeet, Common Pheasant, Canada Goose, Mandarin Duck, Goldfish, Common Field Speedwell & Buddleia.

This is a taster of UK non-natives; the list is much bigger than this and as shown includes some iconic much-loved species but the point is that, again, our theoretically aspirational ecological baseline is impossible to achieve because our ecosystem is so far removed from where it should be with species which basically shouldn’t be here.

The general gist of what I’m showing is that the UK landscape is a human engineered and managed landscape far removed from aspirational baselines. Dropping in a sprinkle of high profile introduction species like storks, beavers or wolves really isn’t going to be a game-changer and magic back ecosystems to where they should be.

The Climate Change ecological tsunami

Climate heating scares the hell out of me. I like to think of myself as a fixer of problems but this one is way beyond my abilities and literally keeps me awake at night. We already have around 1.2 degrees of climatic heating locked in and with so much inertia it will very difficult to stop unavoidable negative feedback loops worsening the problem. This backdrop for rewilding is significant simply because evolutionary adaption is really not going to be fast enough to adapt to climatic shifts. This is more evidence to the case for actively managing habitats; farmers will need to introduce new, appropriate species to the environment to maintain reasonable levels of biodiversity because in some cases, tragically, native species just won’t be able to adapt fast enough. It is still unclear where the British climate is headed but hotter, drier summers and wet, mild winters seems a reasonable assumption. With active planning landscape managers can incorporate fauna and flora species better suited to the changing environment to make the best out of a bad situation. Personally, in the context of inevitable rapid climate change, I believe leaving habitats to just get on with it themselves without active intervention is ill-judged and irresponsible.

Human disturbance

OK so I’ll freely admit I had a cracking day at Knepp wildlands last Summer. I went with a best mate and anyone with the remotest interest in wildlife cannot fail to be enthused by what they can find. The Burrells showed extraordinary courage and foresight to follow an unconventional path. The highlight of the day, which I will never forget, was when a Purple Emperor butterfly landed on my shirt sleeve. I’ve tried to ignore the fact that these beautiful butterflies are known to be attracted to dirty, smelly things! I also enjoyed seeing fields teeming with grasshoppers and many dragonflies. It was a good day, I learned a lot and it lit the touchpaper on several new ideas. However there is always a ‘but’! It was notable that the estate was having a growing issue with over-dominance by a herb called fleabane. It is unclear whether Knepp will self-regulate to deal with this as it did for thistles a few years ago but the plant was clearly smothering out other flower species and becoming a problem. Putting aside this botanical issue there was also the obvious paradox of high levels of human activity. Being a bit of a Mecca for wildlife enthusiasts unsurprisingly the footpaths across the estate were well-trodden. It was high summer but there was a very busy feel to the Estate. It is understandable that camping is part of the income stream for the business but the noise disturbance and trampling by people has inevitable consequences for wildlife. Where I’m getting at is obvious; Yes, Knepp does have some impressive recolonization stories but also has the Catch 22 whereby really rewilding should remove people from habitats but inevitably estate economics means the opposite needs to happen to replace income from food production with income from eco-tourism.

Looking to other planned rewilding projects there is also the issue of what I’ll call the ‘Sloth effect’. It was also a theme in the Jurassic Park movies. My daughter is mildly obsessed by sloths for no obvious reason. Cue multiple visits to wildlife parks and zoos to catch a glimpse of said Sloth. Unfortunately despite these steady creatures having relatively compact enclosures they are pretty damn hard to see by day. We had many failed trips before finally finding a camera-friendly sloth. Apply this problem of naturally shy animals to large rewilded estates and the problems are obvious. Lots of punters pulled in to catch a glimpse of a handful of wolves, beavers or lynx and having to make do with a look round a shitty visitor’s centre with lots of glossy pictures. Such creatures don’t tend to avail themselves to conveyor belts of gawping people when they have large areas at their disposal to hide in. There is therefore a risk of future rewilding projects using flagship controversial introductions as a lure finding they have disappointed visitors who see diddly squat except for a few grainy webcam vids.

On farms we have comparable issues with dog walkers and ground nesting birds. People do love to visit the farm and let their energetic pet run free. I regularly see walkers diligently keeping to the footpath whilst their dog pack sweep through a 250 metre zone on either side of the path clearing out the wildlife. “But what harm are they doing” I get told. And this is before you consider the added disease risks such as Neospora caused by dog poo. I do understand the vital importance of public access and agree with the Vitamin-N initiative but there are downsides to public access too for livestock and wildlife.

This makes me wonder which eccentric but pioneering estate owner of the future will decide to rewild an area with a condition of no public access at all. In my view true, honest rewilding projects should imply minimized human presence and not be themed around the eco-tourist.

As a footnote even if hypothetically you do remove physical human presence from a habitat there are of course still human influences. Whether by light pollution, micro and macro plastic pollution (think of all those deflated helium balloons dropping in), noise pollution (aircraft or traffic noise) or imported watercourse contaminants human influences will still be present without the people found throughout the UK.

Scale and tenure constraints

Rewilding projects are often ambitious and at scale. Many ecologists feel that unless this is the case renewed habitats are not fit for purpose for pioneering species reintroduction. For those advocates of flagship introductions such as lynx and wolves such scale is also entirely necessary; just as seen in Africa such apex predators need huge hunting ground areas to support them. On my own farm I have many field corners within our HLS scheme which to to my eyes are my own micro-rewilding projects. Some have popped up displays of orchids. Others are full of shrubs and small trees or dense patches of willow. I find lots of interesting wildlife on these patches but obviously they are not going to fit a big cat! They are, however, suitable to the scale of our farm and have their own merits and value. They also reinforce the long-term nature of rewilding projects; you have to have patience to see results. Such changes take a few years to bear fruit and here is a complication. The average English farm is 86ha in size. Around a third of this farmland is rented either on shorter term FBTs or old AHA tenancies. For most farm large scale rewilding is not a viable option both because Landlords are unlikely to support such a change (it can seriously affect the land asset value) and farms are just not big enough for a meaningful project. Sometimes, perhaps, local farms can collaborate for a larger combined project but this is often equivalent to herding cats as neighbouring farms often still retain a competitive streak and there will always be a rebel to a cause. So those advocating large scale rewilding initiative should be wary of tenure and viable scale complications.

Migration and global environmental footprints

This morning a tweet showing illegial bird hunting in Malta reminded me about the importance of joined-up conservation measures across migratory routes. As Spring unfolds and valued species such as Swallows, House Martins and Turtle Doves return to the UK from Southern Europe and North Africa it is a reminder how our best intentions here in the UK can so easily be undermined by poor practices elsewhere. As a butterfly enthusiast I am aware too that even insects are part of this migratory story; species such as the Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady also migrate long distances. No matter how good our conservation projects are in the UK for many species with multi-site homes the whole annual cycle is important and good work here can be undone elsewhere beyond our control.

There is some reverse logic to this regional narrative too. The UK has an environmental footprint far beyond its shores for food, fuel and all imported products. We are currently around 60% self-sufficient for our food. Hypothetically if the UK wound the Rewilding dial right round to full we would maybe see self-sufficiency halve from this level to around 30%. However our food would have to be grown (and then hauled) from elsewhere. Putting aside the risks of disrupted supply if this imported food comes with associated greater environmental degradation (including for all those migratory species) this decision would actually have damaged global biodiversity not improved it. Policy decisions here can have knock-on consequences elsewhere and as is so often repeated we must not export our environmental footprint and conscience or there is no net win.

An alternative path

Late last year Rewilding Britain pulled out of the Summit to Sea rewilding project in mid-Wales which they helped set up. It has become a classic example of why rewilding projects should engage and get the endorsement of affected local communities. The UK has 68 million people sharing the environment and landscape with our wildlife. I earlier, tongue in cheek, implied true rewilding should probably come with a zero-human commitment but in practice this is impractical for our populous nation. Both from an educational and eco-tourist perspective I understand how the commercial side of rewilding is inevitable and projects have to engage people and communities. However, as a farmer, I ask myself if there an alternative pathway to wildlife recovery/protection? Is there another way farmers could step up a gear for habitat restoration and have bespoke initiatives they are super proud of? Is there a way we find balance for the triple challenges of supplying wholesome, affordable food, climate change mitigation and biodiversity enrichment? Are we going to be dictated to or are we going to be proactive and make our own solutions? Will we patiently wait for Governments to spoon out meaningful funding via ELMS (over a depressingly long start-up phase) or find a way to get stuck into our own agendas? Is there a way we can design and manage new habitats to match the scale and character of our own farms? Can we then intensively manage them proactively to maximise gain whilst still involving the people living and working on those farms? Can we demonstrate how livestock, incorporated sensitively and appropriately within these new schemes, can enhance the biodiversity of farms and not degrade them? Can we attract finance from the private sector to pilot fund these flagship projects? I believe the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘Yes’ and farmers have a ‘can-do’ attitude. But the baseline for moving forward with these challenges has to be profitable farms. Only businesses with sufficient resources and capital to invest in their holdings can be enabled to reasonably contribute to projects and drive agendas. If farmers find themselves constantly treading water struggling with marginal market prices ambitions will be drowned out to financial realities. But onto specifics; what actions should farmers and land managers actually do? Of course every farm is different depending on their circumstances but in general a good place to begin is to plant more trees and hedges. Perhaps we can subdivide fields again putting back old historic boundaries? We must certainly conserve existing notable habitats. Try to reduce energy and fuel usage. Use improved varieties and wide cropping rotations including Spring Cropping. Minimise use of mineral fertilisers, agrochemicals and cultivations where possible. Experiment with cover crops, herbal leys and companion cropping and try to avoid exposed bare soil especially on sloping ground. Use buffer strips, beetle banks and grass margins to protect adjoining features. Use animal manures with best practice. Avoid compacting soils. Don’t overstock or overgraze. Dedicate an area of the farm to wildlife habitats. Investigate agroforestry opportunities. None of these ideas are rocket science and all can help to improve farm biodiversity and profitability. Beyond these generalised guides individual farm will have their own projects and initiatives often championed by being part of a growing network of farm cluster groups. I will discuss my own flagship project concept in a near-future blog which is called the ‘Intensive Habitat Project’.

UK agriculture is already much more focused on environmental targets than was the case in the past. Farmers are already engaging with ELMS pilot schemes to develop the ‘public good’ schemes of the future. I am sure with the right encouragement and political atmosphere farmers will get stuck right in to new challenges.



Rewilding agendas clearly frustrate me as a farmer but also leave me a bit conflicted. As someone who loves to experiment I understand and commend attempts to do something different. I accept there is a niche in the marketplace for rewilding projects and that they do have genuine value. My primary concern is that they will be overbaked and alternative more balanced and compatible alternative schemes will be lost in the excitement and noise. As I have outlined I am sceptical about the conflicts of human interventions into these sites and cynical about the use of honey-trap apex species introductions to lure in visitors. There needs to be acceptance that a true representative ecological baseline is unachievable because 1) so many keystone species have been long lost, 2) the environment is distorted by multiple non-native species 3) climate change pace is running far faster than ecosystems can adapt to and 4) human influences are unavoidable in the UK context. A plus for me of rewilding projects is how they use ruminant animals sensitively to enhance biodiversity. The disturbed mosaic habitats created by mega-fauna are much more diverse and enriched than closed canopy woodland habitats. This is a story worth telling but rewilding also displaces food production to other parts of the world and can inadvertently cause indirect, unseen habitat destruction offsetting the visible benefits.

Farmers need to be proactive, collaborate locally and develop their own alternative schemes. Such schemes can involve local communities and employed labourers to design, shape and then manage sites to optimise biodiversity. Nature never invented the hedge; people did and yet hedges are now one of the most important features in our landscape. Water features, wild bird covers, scrapes, tree belts, ditches, wild flower hay meadows, nest boxes, predator control, supplementary feeding, fencing and so many more other direct intervention tools can be used to manage and adapt the landscape in conjunction with livestock to create admirable, eye-catching sites well suited to the scale of individual farms. Will farmers chose to be led or do the leading themselves?



Some thoughts about Covid-19



We are living through the defining news story of our lives. The repercussions of this pandemic will resonate for a generation socially, politically and economically. People are asking when things will return to normal but in reality things will never be the same again after the impacts of this metamorphic disease. For those who lose friends or loved ones it is of course infinitely more awful and made especially cruel that funeral gatherings are understandably forbidden. Not being able to express and share grief in the usual collective way must be hard to bear. Most of us look at the rising numbers of deaths in a rather detached way but things feel very different when the statistics include someone you know. As a society we will better value the NHS and medical profession who are putting their lives at risk every day on the front line of this pandemic. It is also evident how we are trusting the advice of scientific experts to drive decisions which is absolutely the right thing to do.


Historical perspective

As a civilization of around 2000 generations of people we have been here before many times. The last major pandemic was just over 100 years ago in 1918 when a flu pandemic killed 20-50 million people. Prior to that further back in history bubonic plague threatened to kick us back to the Stone Age. In 541 AD the plague of Justinian killed off around half the population of Europe. We really should have anticipated a novel pandemic as inevitable and been better prepared but what politician was going to promote the filling of warehouses with spare ventilators ‘just in case’ before the need for them was made evident. At least this time around we better understand the science of diseases, how they spread and how we can control them. Pandemics of the past were really a mystery; no one knew the differences between say a bacteria and a virus and treatments were next to useless. This time around we have the superpower of instant global communication and a full understanding of the agent responsible and how to beat it. No cause to point fingers at witches, demons, comets or monsters this time around. At least this takes away the fear of the unknown; we all understand the nature of the protagonist. The downside of modern times is that we have rammed the planet full of 7.8 billion people, often living in close proximity in urban environments. We’ve then loaded the risk by flying approximately 6 million people around the world daily thoroughly mixing diseases loading at about 575 miles per hour! No one should be surprised at the emergence of a new pandemic when considering our history and modern lifestyles!


Personal perspective

For me the virus has already been quite personal. I somehow managed to become infected in early March about two weeks before the UK lockdown. Symptoms began for me with a moderate penetrating headache which lasted for about 2 days. This then progressed onto a mild fever at which time I realised something was wrong. Having had a flu jab in November I realised I was unlikely to be experiencing seasonal flu. I had two days tossing and turning in bed with the fever and also excruciating lower back pain. The fever then broke and I shifted to another set of unusual symptoms including throbbing eyeballs, diarrhoea, lack of appetite and the symptomatic loss of taste and smell. Eventually this shifted to cold-like symptoms including a mild productive cough. It was all unpleasant but my symptoms were moderate at worst and I never had any breathing difficulties. Very fortunately my immediate family only expressed very mild symptoms as we self-isolated. The biggest issue for me was just starting; my parents were showing early symptoms. Being in their 70ies and with my father being an asthmatic this was concerning. Looking back although we were starting to limit contact there was some overlap in the farm office (I had to sign cheques and things) just before I started experiencing the headache. I cannot be sure it was me that infected my parents but it seems likely as we now know you can be infectious at early stages of the disease before you show any symptoms. The summary to this story, to save the suspense, is that they both have fully recovered although my father was much more severely ill than I was. His fever lasted 12 days and he had significant weight loss but, like me, it never went to his chest although he had coughing fits. We all collectively as a family now feel very lucky having survived an unintentional game of Russian roulette. I do understand this is only our assumption we have had Covid-19 because we cannot get a test but it seems very likely. I still have zero sense of smell a month later on which was actually quite handy this week when I was emptying the slurry lagoon!  Having talked to a neighbour medical expert the good news for me is that I have likely got immunity now to Covid-19. The bad news is that no one knows how long the immunity lasts. My medic friend says a study of similar virus diseases suggests natural immunity may only last around 140 days although there are ongoing studies to determine that. This doesn’t mean I can take unnecessary risks but it does save a little anxiety as there is some reassurance from thinking I have overcome the virus first time round without needing hospitalisation.


The Big Picture


Herd immunity.

Unfortunately the UK was a little slow off the mark in initiating the lock-down. This hesitation was in part a silly attempt to ‘seek our own independent path’ in our post-Brexit world before it was understood the virus doesn’t give a damn about our politics and will spread regardless. However, in my opinion, we are now still effectively adopting a protracted herd immunity policy stretched out as much as necessary to stop the NHS overloading. It’s quite simple; we won’t probably have a vaccine which can be rolled out for widespread use for 18 months. You cannot expect everyone to stay locked down at home for 18 months and so the only realistic alternative is to stretch infections over as long a time period as necessary so health services (and in particular ventilator resources) can cope. So when the lockdown is finally eased it will be done in gradual stages and potentially paused or rescinded as required to ‘flatten the peak’ in a manageable way. Gradually as more of the population recover herd immunity becomes inevitable. Of course the primary difficulty to this is that vulnerable groups will have to stay unexposed to the virus and in lockdown as long as it takes to get a workable vaccine. Another problem is that sometimes vaccines can be rather ‘hot’ and cause their own side effects, complications and allergic reactions so clearly roll out cannot be rushed whatever the urgency level. There is also the uncertainty around how long natural immunity lasts.

Our civilization is only as strong as its weakest link.

I cannot stress this enough. This disease exposes how bad practice anywhere in the world can put everyone else at risk. We live in a globalised society of nations sharing resources, people and information. Nationally we can have as high as standards as we like for things like animal welfare, wildlife protection and antibiotic use but if other countries ‘let the side down’ with bad practices which lead to disease outbreaks we are all exposed to the consequences. We cannot lock ourselves in behind ‘Trump walls’ in the 21st Century and so globally we must all act responsibly with common values and behaviours. If, as believed, Covid-19 started in a wet market selling bats for food (bats are well understood to be carriers of human-compatible diseases) then such bad practices must be called out and banned globally. We all have to collectively behave in a responsible way or we all take the hit when things go South.

Bioweapons development.

One of the unpleasant outcomes of Covid-19 is a realisation of how destructive a communicable disease can be to your enemies. Why spend billions on a nuclear deterrent which can never be practically used when for a modest sum you can collect nasties from a bat cave, weaponize them with some relatively simple biotechnology and release to order with very little chance of being traced as the source. I am not suggesting Covid-19 is such a disease but unfortunately it does expose how destructive bioengineered (or even totally natural) diseases could be if deployed as a weapon. Such diseases need not have a particularly high mortality rate to still cause economic mayhem to your competitor countries. I can only hope that a global ban on such research can be agreed by treaty and signed off.

Climate Change.

Before things kicked off over the virus the big issues of the day were of course climate change and biodiversity loss. These havn’t gone away and will be back to the fore when the virus finally fizzles out. What the virus has revealed is an unfortunate truth as to the pathways to a lower carbon future. The reality is that, as individuals, we of course aspire to having rich, fulfilling lives but this comes with a carbon price tag. If you buy lots of stuff, have two homes, fly around the world and have four kids you are going to have a big carbon footprint. The lockdown of the virus has exposed how carbon emissions can be dramatically reduced but clearly we can’t solve things by confining people to their homes. I think we can have more of a debate around whether we actually need to fly around the world several times a year for a holiday when the previous 1999 generations of humans managed perfectly adequately without such luxury. Clearly we need to continue decarbonising our industry and livestyles but with the global economy seriously wounded the temptation will be to get back to how we were as quickly as possible. There is talk about the virus presenting an opportunity for a ‘reset’ on how we live our lives and whether this can be made more sustainable. Will we waste this opportunity for some reflection on the way we live our lives or rush headlong back to the way things were before?


Clearly globalisation has brought many benefits including year round supplies of seasonal food, affordable technology and complicated trade relationships but Covid-19 is now inevitably going to bring some realisation about the drawbacks. The UK and many developed economies have evolved to become service-based and outsourced manufacturing of many things. Why would UK workers want to work long shifts in factories doing inane tasks? This is all well and good until something like a global pandemic comes along and demonstrates why outsourcing things like PPE, testing chemical precursors, medical equipment and even fruit and vegetables to save a few quid is not a great idea. When the chips are down superpowers like China and the US are going to understandably look after their own. If we don’t have a manufacturing base for essential items we will not be able to import these items no matter how much money we throw at orders. Going forwards all countries will have to redress what things they need to have capacity to make themselves or at least have some pretty strong agreements with nations who can make provision if things get dicey. We have seen a recognition of the differences between skilled workers and key workers and the same analogy should be applied to key supplies and non-essential goods. Clearly food and medical supplies are paramount when the chips are down but we can manage without a new Google Alexa!

Western world arrogance.

Is is just me that thinks the West has been caught on the hop? We have seen past epidemics wax and wane in Asia such as the SARS virus but the sluggish reaction to the Covid-19 threat smacks of a certain amount of complacency that in some way we wouldn’t succumb to such problems in the naïve belief we are in some way naturally more resistant. A virus doesn’t care about status, geography or nationalistic hubris. It is oblivious to political systems or liberal attitudes. The US in particular seemed to think that a simplistic nationalistic belief in being ‘great’ would be enough to subdue the virus. Unfortunately we can now tragically see the consequences of poor leadership at the top and an inability to adapt to changing collective circumstances. This virus is a reminder that we are all the same species with the same genetic heritage and economic superiority counts for nothing when you’re a novel coronavirus. Biologically we really are all very much the same with similar strengths and weaknesses regardless of our country of origin or wealth status. We must continue to look out for each other with common goals rather than being adversarial if we are to overcome the wider problems of the 21 Century world in which we live.


A new global pandemic was inevitable. The only surprise is that it has taken 100 years or so to happen. Countries will have to reassess key resource production capabilities and the need for contingency planning will be better understood. Our lives will have to adjust to ensure this doesn’t happen again; we cannot simply return to how we were before. Despite all the horror and loss this virus will cause it isn’t going to be the end of our civilization and in this sense it is a warning shot. The next time this happens the emergent disease could have a much higher mortality say in the 10-20% mark. We need to be much better prepared with stockpiled resources, faster reaction times to lock down transport networks as required, better share knowledge between countries and ideally have a global oversight organisation in place to make the big difficult decisions. At least there is now a broad acceptance that experts should be listened to and that adopting sound science is the best pathway to resolution. We will dodge this bullet just as we have done many times in the past but should still start to prepare for the next one heading our way and be better prepared.



Election Reflection

One of the worst attributes of being a regular social media user is it gives you an over-inflated sense of being right about things through reinforcing preconceived ideas. I, for one, felt pretty confident I could sense the pulse of the nation through scrutinising the threads of politicians and I believed a divided nation was unlikely to produce an unambiguous election result. I was betting on a hung Parliament or possibly a slim Conservative majority. We all know what happened next with the Conservatives decisively winning the election with a big 80 majority not seen since the 1980ies. It has left me feeling slightly shell-shocked and concluding a number of points. I have a few thoughts from a personal, national and agricultural perspective. I still remain in a partial state of gob-smackery!


National Perspective

I was pleased to note the election voting process itself has been beyond reproach and all above board. Whatever you think of the result the voting process itself was efficient and accepted by the electorate. No one is crying foul even though the outcome is dramatic. A December election was fraught with risks of bad weather but counting was unimpeded. This Election did show me my own political sixth sense is askew. I had naively assumed that genuine concerns about social inequality and environmental issues would have shifted political allegiances to the political Left. I had concluded a period of left wing governance was becoming  inevitable. I also thought three years of political paralysis would have pushed sympathies towards a majority wishing to remain in the EU. On both counts I appear to have been completely off-track; the national political heart is evidently right of centre and the Brexit saga has shifted EU sentiments more towards Leave, maybe out of frustration and wounded national pride. The clues for this were visible in the results of the European elections when the Brexit Party came out of nowhere to become the joint largest party in the EU. The poor performance of the Liberal Democrats, with even their leader losing her seat, is further evidence of these two assertions as they bet all their cards on remain and even lost their leader.

Politically it was a simple but messy election campaign playing on fear and Brexit weariness. I have not considered before now there are clearly two aspects to successful electioneering campaigning; you not only have to promote yourself and your own ideas to bag votes but at the same time an equally important tactic is to simultaneously discredit those leaders and policies of your principal opposition thereby potentially robbing them of a key vote to an alternative party . The Conservatives won not by massively increasing their own share but by collapsing the Labour vote through discrediting Jeremy Corbyn as a realistic leader.

One observation of the campaign was the similarities in tactics between Theresa May (in 2017) and Boris Johnson in 2019 by rigidly sticking to short sound-bites (‘strong and stable’ versus ‘get Brexit done’) and a cautiousness around interviews and yet one succeeded where the other failed. Perhaps Boris’ increased attack on his opposition was more effective this time and public attitudes had changed in two years or maybe it was simply the right tactic at the right time.

The political hard-left is now wondering in the wilderness for a long five years. The Labour party will be convulsed by infighting on whether to double down on hard-left policies or make an about-turn back to New Labour style policies. Parliament works best with a strong government and a strong opposition so I hope Labour can get their act together quickly to fulfil this important role. I don’t want a Conservative autocracy!

I have no doubt the country as a whole was acutely ashamed by the events of the last few years with our national image diminished and ridiculed. I suspect much of the 2019 election outcome was an unconscious attempt to draw a line and regain some National pride and attempt to turn a page on the Brexit purgatory period.

The biggest threat going forwards now nationally is that of the break-up of the Union. Scotland, with a landslide SNP vote, now has a clear mandate for a second Independence Referendum. On this issue alone the Brexit vote may leave a terrible wound on our national character if the Union is broken and starts off a domino effect. Boris may have an 80 majority but issues like this could well blow up in his face. He will also be judged on whether he can achieve an EU trade deal or whether we will be pulled into WTO default status through no-deal on trade. We may be leaving the EU but discussions on our relationship will continue for all of this five year term. I won’t go there on the promises written on the side of a bus!


Personal Reflection

Five Years ago I would have been delighted with a stonking Conservative majority in a General Election. Not surprising really given my demographic; a farmer living in a very rural constituency. For this 2019 election I feel much less enthused about such an outcome mainly because this election represented a final opportunity to redirect the Brexit pathway towards staying in the EU which is something I still hoped might be possible.

The reality is now that any resistance to enacting Brexit is now completely futile; I’ve got to finally ‘suck it up’ and accept on this subject I’m on the losing side of this argument. I think some of my sense of melancholy at this result perhaps stems from a silly wish to see things go pear-shaped so I could go all pointy fingered and say “told you so” to Brexit-voting friends and colleagues! I had anticipated a ‘vote Brexit, get Corbyn’ outcome was inevitable but how wrong I was! Perhaps I need a good kick in the pants to see some obvious positives. Firstly a degree of certainly and stability will bring an economic dividend. I have no doubt a Conservative administration will be much more competent than a Labour one would have been. A strong majority means the next General Election will most probably not be until late 2024 which is a good chunk of my remaining career farming years left. The fact that I am sitting down and writing again at all is actually a sign my own disillusionment and negativity is beginning to lift.

And what did I vote this time? Well, Green actually, but there’s a whole new blog to chew over another day and I’m not going there now.


Implications for British agriculture

Clearly Brexit paralysis has left many farm businesses in strategic limbo; unable to make investment decisions with any confidence and struggling to move forward. At least now with a strong majority government in charge the political logjam will clear, answers will be forthcoming on support payments and an agriculture bill will be ratified. I am sure that an overwhelming majority of farmers will also prefer to be operating under a Conservative government rather than a Labour one and it is a relief to, in all likelihood, not have to worry about another General Election for a cool five years. Hopefully an emerging sense of positivity will charge a period of reinvestment and renewal. The Conservative party are generally considered to be sympathetic to Agriculture and to be rural-centric. They will not want to undermine their rural base. At the same time they have strong ideologies of free market economics and liberal trade which has implications for Agriculture. They do not like subsidies and protectionist policies and yet these have been essential to underpin agricultural incomes. Issues of fairness around trade and a level playing field for production standards will be critical for agricultural fortunes. We mustn’t be sacrificed on a cheap food altar thereby exporting our agricultural footprint.

In the background will the declared climate emergency dominate farming policy in this political term or will the Conservatives ‘Trumpize’ the issue and for the short-term sweep it under the muck heap? If we really do boldly go where no nation’s farmers have gone before with Net Zero ambitions the changes needed are going to be breathtaking. The Brexit fog may be lifting but farmers may well not like what they then see!

Some thoughts on GM crops

I recently read a very thought-provoking blog written by @farmingGeorge on the contentious subject of GM crops which can be found here:

In these times of imminent dramatic changes to our farming industry having these discussions is really important and so often the views and thoughts of farmers are drowned by the noise from environmental lobby groups so I always appreciate those making the effort to contribute in this way. The whole topic of GM crops I find particularly interesting and I felt the need to respond to George’s blog with some counter-views but also some points of agreement. I was myself one of the 755 farmers who voted by a majority of 77% in favour of using GM technology on my farm given the opportunity. Right now 28 countries around the world are growing GM crops on over 179.7 million hectares (> 10% of the world’s arable land). The EU imports >34 million tonnes of GM soya beans every year and this is only 1 of around 70 GMO products authorised for import; our food supply is already underpinned by GM produce. EU farmers are however banned from growing these very same crops as those undercutting our markets via these imports. This situation is both untenable and entirely unreasonable and drives an argument for compensatory agricultural support to level out the playing field.

When it comes to talking about GM crops I should point out the obvious; I am not a plant biologist and I am not a dietician. I may be a farmer (and fully qualified as such) but my views on these other topics are those of a layman with no academic back-up and should be treated as such. GM is a hugely complicated subject and try as I might I’m only able to scratch the surface of the knowledge base. Sweeping statements about GM crops are inadvisable from either side of the debate because the issues relating to them are so multidimensional.

An initial frustration is the whole abuse of the GM label as an umbrella term for all the emerging breeding technologies. GM technology has been around for around 37 years. In that time many new plant breeding techniques have been developed which are unrecognisable to the pioneering technology which caused so much controversy and it is an ever expanding field. For example Crispr plant breeding is comparable to using a surgical scalpel to edit the genome compared to the sledgehammer approach of earlier techniques. As such, changes are much more targeted, focused and better understood. Unintended consequences are much less likely because changes to the genome are less dramatic and often single-site. There are also exciting developments in many other plant breeding fields such as plant ‘grafting’ techniques which, because they were first pioneered thousands of years ago, sit much more comfortably in the label of traditional breeding and yet could be transformational. Another key advantage of these modern technologies is the speed at which traits can be created and released commercially. You can find some more details on the wide range of NBTs here:

I recently attended a local variety trial run by Agrii where a crop breeder gave a physical demonstration of how traditional breeding is undertook. I was stunned that the timescale from creation to release of a new variety cultivar is about 8-10 years and therefore how inefficient the whole process is. The result is that positive traits attached to new varieties being released right now are those attributes plant breeders thought to be important about 10 years ago. In a time of rampant climate change, accelerated pest and disease surges and unexpected agrochemical toolkit losses we need a much faster breeder response time than 8 years to tackle these new issues of the day; Gene Editing fast-tracks this process and can significantly boost productivity as demonstrated by this link:

I will not refer to GM crops for the rest of this article but instead NBT to reflect this wide spectrum of different fields.

George suggests a narrow range of priority focus for NBTs of either disease and pest resistance or drought tolerance but there are many other lines of enquiry being followed up. A good example is attempts to improve shelf life. Food waste is very topical right now and rightly so; in the UK alone a shocking 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted every year. If fruit and vegetables can be developed which keep fresher for longer this has got to be a positive especially if less plastic packaging can also be used. The very first GM product release was of course famously the ‘flavr savr tomato’ which was in pursuit of this goal. Another subject I watch with interest are attempts to make crops more nitrogen efficient (or even able to fix their own nitrogen in the same way as legumes do). There is an urgent need to reduce the amount of inorganic fertilisers being used because of the undisputed environmental damage they cause once they leave the farm and I need not dwell on this further; if there are ways plant breeding can assist in significantly reducing fertiliser inputs the benefits are obvious for the farmer, consumer and the environment.

George is critical of science being touted as the ultimate decision-maker but I see no alternative being proposed. I would personally always trust scientific consensus above the views of politicians, religious leaders or the public even if Science sometimes gives us inconvenient truths. Multiple studies pooled together and analysed by meta-analyses can give conclusive results even if this requires statistical tools; there’s nothing wrong with that if the results are sound.

George is quite correct that we have a range of sizable agronomic issues at the moment to grapple with but this is not surprising. Natural selection and evolution means that all organisms are unconsciously always fighting back against our farming methods to try to get the upper hand. Whether you are talking about antibiotics, agrochemicals or GMOs  all have an unavoidable shelf-life. Even if we use them responsibly (and often regrettably we haven’t e.g. strobilurin fungicides) eventually all these tools will fail when pitted against an unending evolutionary arms race.  Like it or not nature does unconsciously fight back against our ordered attempts to produce food because we are trying to support a human population way above what Planet Earth intends. All we can do is keep developing new tools to try to be one step ahead or accept the defeat consequence of a human population crash.

But I digress; I accept there have been negative consequences from our ways of farming in the past and yes we must continue to make space for nature and seek to farm in more harmonious, sustainable ways;  I doubt few would dispute this. However I would disagree with George’s notion that we have caused “the complete desertification of the British countryside”; for example farmers have planted or restored around 30,000 km of hedgerows in the UK and are focusing more and more on environmental improvements given the legitimate concerns about biodiversity. I genuinely believe farming has been turned a corner in recent years and will continue to step up to new expectations.

George suggests as farmers we are now producing “nutritionally empty calories”. I struggle with this concept and his extrapolation to explain rising levels of obesity. I would point to the following link which examines the studies done comparing the nutrition of organic and conventional produce and finds no meaningful differences between the two and therefore counters this assertion:

As said before I am not a nutritionist but my own theory to explain rising levels of obesity would be they’re more about the move to more sedentary lifestyles and workplaces (our stomachs are basically now too big for our calorific outgoings and so we can’t help over-eat) combined with poor, sugar-saturated diets. I accept that healthy, micro-nutrient rich soils are probably more likely to give nutritionally rich foods but basically if we see micro-nutrient deficiency symptoms in our crops we treat them and sort them out or the yields gets hammered. As an aside I read recently (via AHDB) that atmospheric rises in CO2 levels (about 21ppm / decade) is increasing  plant growth rates by about 5% every 10 years. Perhaps plants are therefore growing unnaturally much faster than they should be and perhaps this might genuinely adversely affect nutritional quality as well as increase stress and disease but difficult to prove.

There’s much I applaud about George’s vision for farming. Yes we can and should plant more trees. Yes I’d love to have a greater list of potential crops we might be able to grow ( and I would hope NBTs would enable many more crops to be tailored to suit our shifting climate) and yes, I agree, a return to more mixed farming methods has clear potential benefits for ecology and the wider environment. Finally a big yes too that we should all be using IPM principles to work with nature rather than always seeing things as a pitted battle. However would NBTs lead to even less people working on farms as George suggests? If this is because fertiliser and pesticide inputs are not needed then bring it on as I consider that a greater good! I don’t think in reality NBTs are any more a threat to farm labour than robotics, AI or the other emergent technologies we are told we will see on farms. It is regrettable that much of farm productivity gains have been made by reducing labour requirements in the past but that’s just how things are and how things will continue to be for all industies, not just Agriculture. It’s a concern for me there is so much push towards fruit and nut trees in this context; who is going to pick this produce when the Eastern Europeans are blocked from coming here and aren’t these crops cheaper to grow than in other parts of the world? George is also spot on that there is a societal disconnect with food production and perhaps cutting edge new emergent technologies are sadly only going to make this worse and raise levels of suspicion. Thank goodness for open farm Sunday and facetime a farmer campaigns; we need many more of these initiatives to keep the public on board.

But again I digress….I do that a lot! I’d like to finish with a few final independent thoughts on the whole GM theme. This has all, of course kicked off because of our new Prime Minister’s pronounced enthusiasm for GM crops. The cynic in me says this is more about a No-deal agenda based around a foreseeable panicked trade deal with the US and the need for an enabling alignment of our food production standards. If the caveat of a relaxation of GM tech in the UK at this present time is an opening of the floodgates to US corn and beef imports then any potential benefits will be lost in a tsunami of undercutting imports. If this is what Boris’ pronouncements are all about then I’d personally rather keep the status quo for now especially if such change simultaneously shuts down potential trade with our EU neighbours (currently account for the majority of our exports). I am therefore very suspicious of Boris’ motivations and not convinced he has the best interests of UK agriculture at heart. He also specifically talked about blight. Potato blight control is horribly complex and I’m sure fish and chip fans would probably welcome lower fungicide residues with their salt and vinegar but this was surprisingly specific and I have no idea why he picked on this particular trait. It would seem to be obvious that there needs to be a collective global consensus on these NBT introduction so all regions of the world are singing from the same hymn sheet as global food needs change but maybe I’m being naive to think this is ever possible.

Will there ever be GM crops grown on my farm? In my view it is only a matter of time. I genuinely believe that Climate change is far more serious than people understand and as our weather becomes increasingly psychotic it will be harder and harder to produce enough food. The current huge complacency around our food supply will evaporate pretty quickly and we will soon need every new tool to stay afloat. I have this notion that by combining the emerging fields of AI and plant breeding robust crops will be rapidly developed to cope with these challenges rather than increasingly relying on imports from other continents (directly triggering further losses of precious rainforests and wild lands.

Some contributors to the thread on George’s tweet have said but what’s in it for me; will it make me more money? I find this extraordinarily selfish; for me this is more about planet before profit. I do foresee that those who actively choose to refuse adopting these new technologies will be left behind and will be less profitable than their openminded peers. New technologies cannot be shut in a box; if other around the world use these tools we are in danger of being left behind. I wonder if similar conversations were had on my farm in the 1930ies as tractors started to appear in the valley challenging the roles of stables full of shire horses! I have also long since accepted that farming is never going to be a high profit enterprise and consequently given up on the dream that it ever will be; we have too many tax breaks and support payments which can be removed in a jiffy should we be perceived to be raking it the cash! For those who think this also only an issue for wealthy countries I would also say :think again and read this link about the Indian farmers actively challenging their Governments for the right to grow GE crops for real benefits to their personal health and the wider environment:

George finishes with some what-if questions and rightly asks whether there might be unintended consequences to using GM. This is always possible but it is important to treat each potential introduction on a case-by-case basis rather than blanket-dismiss the whole field. I would ask whether there will also be unintended consequences of NOT using NBTs? No one wants to see images of African famines or snaking food bank queues and I have no doubt sustainably feeding 10 billion people is going to be super challenging whatever path we take:

In short there is no right or wrong answer to this hugely complicated subject but the important thing is to keep talking to each other in a civilized manner, find common ground and work the problem! We all want the same outcome; a safe, prosperous, healthy world for our children but we just see different ways to reach that noble objective.

Brexit-free zone; Christmas reflections!


I’ve used the Christmas period to wind down a bit, read a few books, get in some local family walks and stop worrying about Brexit! Christmas is a great time for thought and reflection. There seems to be mixed views on 2018’s legacy on Twitter but despite some ups and downs for me it has been a vintage year on the farm with good memories centred on the hot, sunny summer which made harvest operations so straightforward. Despite ongoing concerns about forage stocks I’m going into 2019 in a positive mood and full of new ideas. Despite this I have two concerns outside of the navel gazing of the Brexit impasse:

  1. In recent months mainstream media have taken repeated ongoing swings at farming (particularly livestock agriculture) which I’ve found enormously frustrating mainly because these accusations are being formed from world view generalised perspectives and not tailored to the specific circumstances of the UK. For example; trees are not being cut down in the UK to create pastures for livestock and yet this assumption is being included in greenhouse emission calculations. There seems to be an agenda to firmly place agriculture in the naughty corner as part of the whole climate change debate.
  2. The government are using the withdrawal from European CAP agricultural control as a convenient excuse to reboot objectives and priorities under a ‘Green Brexit’ banner. This is understandably going to bring a lot of rapid change as agriculture support is withdrawn and there will rightfully be some Industry push-back and debate; I suspect the current smear campaign portraying farmers as wealthy, unproductive and holding entrenched views is quite deliberately being run to ‘butter up’ the public for the seismic changes being considered. Most unreasonably there seems to be a deliberate attempt to ignore and forget all the environmental work that has already been done over the last decade.

During my Christmas family walks on neighbouring farms I was struck by the huge run of hedge and tree planting, as well as habitat creation happening locally around Wiltshire. The Pewsey Downs Farmer’s Group (PDFG) is coordinating local ambitions to do some really impressive projects and fast track Countryside Stewardship initiatives. Here is a selection of some of the planting projects spotted over the last few days:


(2018 hedge planting in pasture)


(Well established double hedging)


(Former arable area planted to trees and fenced)


Establishing Hedging


Newly planted hedging


Flower margins below Pewsey Hill

On our own farm we have done:

  • 3 Miles of new hedges
  • 5 miles of field margins
  • 7% of arable area in HLS options for wildlife:
  • 12 ha Wild Bird Covers
  • 6 ha Fallow for Stone Curlew plots
  • 12ha Annual Field Fallow area
  • 2 ha Unharvested cereal Margins
  • 10 ha Field Corners

and many overwintered stubbles with green cover used for spring cropping. Our farm is not unusual; along with others we have been thinking about environmental enhancements for a long time. You might not think so though with the media continuing to portray inaccurate outdated mindsets. I have no doubts that our own regional efforts are reflected across the country and not atypical.

I mentioned I have done some reading over Christmas and this was the book I enjoyed most and would (perhaps surprisingly) recommend to farmers:

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It might come as a surprise to some after what I’ve said so far but I found this book an excellent read for several reasons:

  1. Knepp demonstrates the essential roles herbivores play within a healthy, balanced ecosystem.
  2. Knepp demonstrates that grazed environments have more valuable biodiverse and complex habitats than closed-canopy forest alternatives.
  3. Knepp is an excellent case study of the problems arising when you try to mix public goods (such as access) with wildlife’s needs for seclusion
  4. Rewilding Knepp style represents a benchmark for the limits of what a farm can do for wildlife enhancements but tips the balance away from food production priorities.
  5. Wilding makes a convincing case for including meat in modern diets.

Yes; this book doesn’t have any kind words for the necessities of intensive conventional agriculture and also fails to point out that Knepp-style transitions are entirely inappropriate for most of the UK’s farms but it does trigger the farmer reader to think what more could they do on their own farms? Should I even consider re-wilding a small part of my farm? In practice I can continue to tweak the balance to do more of what I’m doing already and hold my head high that I’m playing my part; more hedges, trees, ponds, margins and bird habitats. As long as the farm remains profitable the resources to do these projects will be forthcoming. Perhaps I can look at doing more flower hay meadows instead of ryegrass leys? I will also look again at legumes such as Lucerne to see what role they can play for my livestock nutrition. In principal though I do not need to consider radical changes to still be holding the environment on my farm in high esteem and as a nation how fast do we really expect our farms to change?

The public have falsely been led up the garden path to believe UK farms are currently in a really bad place environmentally and that Europe has done little to set sensible agendas:


  I don’t believe this is actually true and from my own experiences and efforts I’d say farmer’s mind-set balance between food production and environmental projects is a more reasonable and practical 60/40 split:


My concern is that our Secretary of State seems to think the environmental tail should be wagging the food producing dog as some form of Knepp-style utopia:



This is flawed for many reasons not least that the UK is already only 60% self-sufficient for food for its 66 million inhabitants. Importing significantly more of our food equates to exporting our environmental footprint elsewhere with no net biodiversity benefits and will lower our self-sufficiency further. Production standards of imported food may also not be as good as our own (think welfare or antibiotic use) so there are hidden issues too. In practice a re-nationalisation of agricultural policy will quite reasonably show a priority shift but it’s about getting the balance right and what’s not to like about a 50/50 balance aspiration:


I’m quite happy to shift the emphasis of our priorities from a bit less food to a bit more environment if this is what the public wants but there has to be a reality check too. If the taxpayer is no longer willing to pay farmers support payments (I prefer to think of them as rural investments anyway) then the consumer will have to pay larger food bills to foot the environmental costs. Lower agrochemical and fertiliser inputs could all be achieved too but if we have lower yields our food has to become more expensive to settle the differences. I’m all in for pushing up the numbers of red-listed birds on my farm and helping out pollinators and insects too but the great British public have to realise they can’t have their cake and eat it. Elmley and Knepp are both exciting thought-provoking projects which have shown me what can be achieved if farmers focus entirely on environmental dreams but the reality of modern life is that our burgeoning population and their bare necessities need servicing. More Yellowhammers and red-tailed bumblebees on my farm would be great and something to talk about but these valued species won’t pay the farm rent or fill the supermarket shelf.  





Brexit Part II – Reasons to be cheerful?

Back in the distant past in the referendum campaign there were things I don’t remember talking about like the now centre-stage Irish border. Other topics changed focus; when talking about migration back then conversation was always dominated by the Calais jungle (which we never hear anything about now) but now a key issue is the realisation that filling unpopular roles such as those in healthcare and fruit/vegetable picking requires some tolerance of economic migrants. There was one question I do clearly remember regularly asking friends to ask themselves : “What do you think Mr Putin wants to happen?”   I would answer by telling them he wanted disharmony and instability in the West to cause disillusionment in our political systems; clearly I was sure he’d be gunning for Brexit and in response it was one of the reasons I voted Remain. Over the last two years those conversations stick in my mind as I see positions becoming more and more entrenched and a growing cancer of instability. Mr Putin must be laughing his socks off watching our Westminster pantomime performances.

            I don’t intend to go over the ground of my last Brexit blog (every Brexit blog has  only a one week shelf life before becoming hopelessly out of date anyway!) except to emphasise that I still fully accept the outcome of the 2016 vote and the necessity that we do leave in March 2019 to honour that clear mandate. I have no desire whatsoever to see a People’s Vote crashing into the party at this late stage; this would be an extremely dangerous political act and open the road to even more division and delay. The principal change between the last blog and now is that leaving with an agreed deal (with a soft Brexit landing) now looks very unlikely due to the constipated state of the UK Parliament. The deal on the table is not up for negotiation but is unlikely to ever achieve a parliamentary majority due to its Backstop flaws. Any attempt for renegotiation would imply an extension of Article 50 and as such would be a national humiliation in not being able to ratify the agreement that 27 other countries were able to sign off. So it looks like to still leave in March 2019 a ‘no-deal Brexit’ is now the most likely scenario. Not what I had hoped for.

Putting on my farming hat on I recall the clear words of the NFU President on a no deal outcome; “a catastrophe for farming” so rightly I am really concerned about this probability. However, and I choose my words carefully here, it is important to realise that a no-deal state is not automatically something which runs for a very long time-period. There is no need to set No-deal in concrete!  In fact a disorderly no-deal reality could well be the trigger for a new phase of EU-led negotiations and proposals for a lighter touch membership rearrangement. A no-deal Brexit clearly comes with potential risks and shocks but it is not the end of the world some are claiming. So in an attempt to look on the bright side of things here are a few thoughts on a no-deal dawn:

  1. The UK would not be a ‘muted’ rule-taker but free to make decisions on science and technology to suit our own interests.
  2. A No-deal Brexit will likely trigger a further fall in the £ making exports more competitive (Yes I do know about the tariffs but we do sell goods outside the EU too).
  3. Sometimes giving things a good shake-up can be a good thing; new and established businesses can find new economic opportunities and markets to tap into. The UK economy will adapt and evolve. Perhaps a trend towards more ‘staycations’ will rejuvenate the domestic tourism industry.
  4. Perhaps a no-deal Brexit can instil a greater sense of national identity and common purpose and boost sales of domestically-sourced goods and services (including food).
  5. £39 Billion is a lot of cash.

Am I trying to polish a turd here; perhaps!

There are really two likely outcomes for a no-deal reality: either the hard Brexiteers are right and it will not be an economic catastrophe but a tolerable re-boot or alternatively six months of no-deal will be enough to make it abundantly clear that we would’ve been better off staying in the European fold. Either way a six month no-deal trial period should be enough to settle this argument once and for all.

From the European perspective the worst eventuality would be if the UK actually manages to hold things together and make a go of it. Would that not put huge pressure on their leaders to get on with a round of trade negotiations before our independence becomes set and a model for other members? We may well have the upper hand in these talks as other EU countries observe our plight and wonder about themselves.

If the no-deal reality is clearly an economic disaster a six month toe-dipping should be sufficient time to settle these arguments. Would Europe throw us a lifebuoy and help us out of the quagmire if we need this; probably as it will still be in their own interest to see us return with our tail between our legs and full-reverse our decision. If there is future People’s Vote (sometime in 2019 after the 1st referendum has been enacted) I want to see a result with a massive majority this time; no 50/50s but 80/20 to settle this for a generation!!

I guess my hope for 2019 is that Mr Putin doesn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. All of us need to be open-minded and respectful of views contrary to our own. My wish is for a more tolerant and respectful 2019; further polarisation will get us nowhere. No-one really knows how a no-deal future will unfold but it doesn’t have to be permanent if we don’t like the way it shapes up; there will be options. There are ways we can all help the most vulnerable in society if there are hard times and we should strive to do so.

The recent French riots were a fresh sign that all is not well in the European core; Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Germany and even Belgium have seen riots or have underlying core problems. My natural instinct is to work with people and collaborate for the common good but perhaps the European project really is heading for the rocks and we are better to sail a different path. An important attribute is to always be prepared to listen to others and more than that to be able to change mindset when the need arises and as circumstances change.

We must not all allow our opinions to become further entrenched but respect alternative views; both camps must be prepared to be open-minded! We all want the same outcomes; a successful UK and a good place for our children to live and work and I really hope we can find a path towards that common goal.

Soon time to jump off the diving board and find out if we sink or swim….

Medics and Farmers; brothers-in-arms?

I guess everyone using Twitter has their favourite accounts; those who use their 280 characters in a particularly inspired and precise way to sell a message or agenda. For me the top award would have to go to the inspirational @Botanygeek whose common-sense straightforward messages have attracted an understandably large following. I have also been drawn to those from the medical profession working to defend their trade from growing naturopathic illusions. In particular I would have to highlight @HislopMD and @DocBastard for their excellent efforts to set the world straight.

The Agricultural Industry and medical profession actually have a great deal in common. Both have been fantastically successful in their own fields to enable modern civilisation to succeed. Agriculture has overcome the warnings of Thomas Malthus to feed the majority of the 7.5 billion people alive today with a health, complete diet in a way he would never have believed possible. Modern medicine continues to develop stunning techniques and has pushed life expectancy above an incredible 79 years. Both areas have also recently suffered increased public mistrust with ideas such as ‘Big-Pharma’ and ‘Big-Ag’ being used to damage our image and provenance. Alarmingly both sectors are also in the frontline of the new ‘Information War’ being waged by Russia. It has been highlighted that Russia is actively attempting to sow concerns about both vaccinations and GM technology in the minds of Western populations to spread discord and division:

Anyone shadowing these subjects and champions on Twitter will have witnessed Russian trolls in action pushing this agenda; it is really unsettling and worrying mostly because it is working.

The bluntly named @DocBastard account pulls no punches. The pinned tweet says it all: “It has taken medical science 200 years to advance humans to the point where people are so healthy and living so long that they can deny that science and medicine is what got us here”. Admittedly under the shadow of anonymity the account holder goes after naturopaths and savages their snake-oil wares; pretty much ordering them to delete their account. But this comes from the wisdom, authority and life-experience of a trauma surgeon and I love the conviction and determination of this individual to put the world straight. Do spare a look at the ‘trauma lesson of the day’ thread too; your day is going much better than some other luckless individual in @DocBastard’s operating theatre.

To get to the point of this blog; these two giant stalwarts of modern times need to give each other urgent cross-support. The problem is that doctors promoting medicines and farmers pushing  crop technologies both run the risk of being accused of ‘feathering their own nest’ and serving their own interests. Medical professionals can give invaluable support on the necessity for healthy, balanced diets with components sourced from all food groups including meat and dairy. Nutritionists can come forward with stories and warnings of dietary deficiencies resulting from all-plant diets and give people the unbiased information they need to make safe choices for their family and friends indirectly giving farmers a boost. What can farmers do in return? Fight the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda with a fully justified  pro-science retort. Call out natural remedy and homeopathic treatments for what they are; false!  If anyone has any doubts at all about doing remember this:

Resurgent diseases once contained by vaccination are again causing misery and death across the Western World. So to all the twitter farmers out there struggling to explain their vital needs for modern technology to a suspicious public (and also those concerned about the anti-meat agenda) let your medic friends know you have their back, share their frustration and perhaps together we can assist each other to make the world a more stable happy place. Agriculture also urgently needs a few @Docbastards to put myths straight so any volunteers get cracking!

Veganism; dietary choice or substitute religion?

“I am David Butler and I am a farmer”. You could say being a farmer is my primary  ‘self-identification’. I wanted to be a farmer when I was at Primary school and will probably still think of myself as a farmer when I pop my clogs. It’s who I am and all my friends and contacts are made fully aware of this fact! As my wife points out I have an unfortunate tendency to talk about little else at social events without a sharp reminder to do so!

Its estimated there is now approximately 3.5 million British citizens self-identifying as ‘Vegan’. “I am Joe Blogs and I am Vegan”. For many of these dietary converts this self-identity defines who they are and the set of values they want to exhibit. Amongst this number is a quiet majority of vegans who see this as simply a personal dietary choice. I know there are some friends I’ve met who are Vegan but they have never found cause to have to tell me. Millions of Brits are presumably also on a spectrum of alternative dietary choices; low calorie / nil-gluten / low carb / low fat etc etc but again these advocates don’t see this choice as a primary ‘self-identification’. I myself have self-selected quirky dietary restrictions; I’ve now omitted chocolate, crispy snacks, caffeinated drinks, pizzas and booze from my own diet….partly for the challenge of self-restraint and partly because it will make me healthier. You know what though; I have no intention of promoting my own dietary choices to others or self-identifying as anti-coffee, anti-chocolate etc.

I do offer an element of ‘respect’ to Vegans for their self-restraints as someone who really enjoys eating meat and needs this as a component of my diet in order to feel full and satisfied. To then add to this the removal of all dairy; butter, cheese, yogurt, milk and Ice Cream would leave me very unfulfilled in life! I would find it really hard to follow a strict Vegan Diet myself and imagine I would be flipping from a state of hunger to a state of bloatedness as I tried to pack in a huge volume of low calorie food to meet the demands of an active lifestyle. I have no doubt such a regime would leave me feeling totally miserable as I have a Labrador attitude to food.

The concern I have at the moment is that for some Veganism is so much more than a dietary choice. It has become a symbol of a whole set of associated values. The extremist vegan subset have mixed together political, spiritual and moral  inclinations into a Vegan-themed formulation. Ultra left-wing resurgent politics has big links to the growth in veganism.  Suddenly this dietary choice has become something so core-based for individuals it has evolved in to no less than a substitute religion; filling a void created by a more secular society as Christianity continues to look out-dated and wane in popularity. Veganism is more than a dietery choice; it comes with a set of ethics and principals which some feel compelled to spread. By becoming a pseudo-religion extremist vegans are driven to increase the following/community of their sub-set as a key priority.

What is the counter to this trend; what is the response? Does it matter? Yes actually it does because there is plenty of evidence that following a Vegan diet can be bad for your health. As evolved primates it it sensible to fall back on our own genetic design; we have evolved over thousands of years to have a mixed diet including meat. Our evolutionary neighbours, the chimpanzees, mostly eat fruit but they also regularly hunt for meat. Their main prey are red colobus monkeys. The human digestive tract is not that of a herbivore; our teeth are not designed to chew the cud; our forward pointing eyes are those of a hunter/predator. Our ability to eat (and cook) meat has been key to our evolutionary success. To deny this is to deny who we are and how we are designed. There are a multitude of concerns about vegan diets; it is particularly difficult to absorb enough protein (and specifically key amino acids) from a plant based diet. It pains me to say it as an arable grower but there is also evidence an over-reliance on grain-based products such as bread and cereals is linked to poor gut health. There is also particular concern about B12 deficiency in pregnant vegan women (leading to tragic birth defects) and the bone mineral density of those children and breast-feeding mothers consuming an inevitably low-calcium vegan diet. Vegan followers need to understand the risks and potential consequences of their choices and ask themselves if the pointers of evolution support their arguments.

There is also an environmental catch-22. Many vegans have a collective vision of how they would like farms to be run and farmed animals are not part of this picture. Those vegans also presumably want farmers to use less pesticides and fertilisers to grow the crops they eat. What is being overlooked is the sustainability and suitability of mixed farming systems to help meet this second goal. Much of the world’s meat is produced by grass-eating herbivores. Herbivores are also an important component of the ecosystem. If cattle and sheep are lost from farms then so will the grasslands; would the inevitable cultivation of much of this land to grow crops inorganically (lack of manure means artificial fertilisers are used) really be a step forward?

Vegans should also be mindful that there is no such thing as a ‘conscience-free’ diet. Demand for more exotic products such as avocados can result in a bigger carbon footprint for the extra food miles and can cause habitat destruction in those countries less concerned about biodiversity issues in the pursuit of a fast buck. All plant-based production also necessitates the killing of animal pests from billions of attacking insects to birds and mammals such as rabbits and pigeons which graze agricultural crops. To eat we take away habitats from wild animals and there will always be unavoidable pain and suffering to some sentient creature caught in the crossfire. Animal pests are blind as to whether their lunch is organic or conventional; all crops have their ‘fans’ which need to be addressed.

So; all respect to the commited Vegan for their self-control and sacrifice. If your life is more wholesome and fulfilling due to your self-restraint then that’s your choice to make and good for you but don’t assume for one minute your choices are a free pass to a long, healthy life or that you’re giving the planet an impact-free environmental footprint; things are a whole lot more complicated than that.


Brexit – “Dog’s Dinner Deal”

Brexit; the saga everyone is sick to their back-teeth hearing all about. Respect to you dear reader for being prepared to read yet another blog on this soul-destroying subject. Just think, though, if things had turned out fractionally differently on 23rd June 2016 we could have now been in the penultimate year of a majority Cameron government; a government which might have been focusing on modernising the UK economy to meet the new challenges of AI & Robotics and properly getting on top of the National Debt problem which we used to hear so much about. But this is all irrelevant now because we all know the entire energy of this Parliament has been spent instead walking the Brexit ‘tight rope’ to an inevitable crunch-point in March 2019.

I want to use this blog to state my personal standpoints and also make some predictions of how this saga will achieve closure. I remember thinking on the morning of 24th June 2016 ” Well that’s it then, we have to leave”. What I meant by that is that the democratic process has to be enacted. The vote had a clear majority and a good turnout. No different to any General Election; you may not like a democratic result but it is what it is. David Cameron stated that it was a ‘Referendum not a Neverendum’ and he was absolutely right on this point. So I will be clear; I voted Remain but I accept entirely we must leave the EU. I appreciate there were some underhand tactics employed by both sides in the campaign but the vote was still legitimate. I may not like the result but the democratic process has to be respected. So I can be clear that now the leaving deadline is set I do not believe there should be any second Referendum prior to leaving the EU. Keen-eyed readers trawling through my posts might find the proof I attended the people’s vote march. I did, but I never signed the associated petition and principally went along because I wanted to hear Gina Miller public speak (regrettably an underwhelming experience). The march itself was badly organised with an anti-climatic finale leaving a sense of disappointment. A new referendum vote on the final deal isn’t sensible, practical or achievable. The autonomy of Parliament to sign off the final deal (or no-deal) is sufficient enough rubber-stamping to the conclusion of this sorry tale and prevents the risk of the negotiations being skewed by the looming threat of a second vote.

Brexit does have a few positives! What I hear you say; like what? For one; it is an endless conversation starter in awkward social occasions as everyone has a viewpoint and is keen to tell you theirs. It has also caused a resurgence in interest in Politics particularly amongst the younger generations. I’ll bet that General Election turnouts will be consistently higher going forwards than before the Referendum. Political parties have also been ‘stirred up’ and are having to redefine their core values and fight out internal battles on issues such as immigration. Brexit has also stimulate a sense of national identity. Whilst this has a potential ‘dark side’ a greater sense of patriotism and national focus can help national manufacturing. Brexit has also given Brussels a much needed “kick in the balls”. For too long the European project has been slow to change, prone to corruption and fixated on ‘ever greater Union’. Whatever the outcome I hope the remaining 27 countries push for greater flexibility, accountability and humility from the Brussels elite.

On the other side of the coin Brexit has undoubtedly left the UK sometimes inward-focused and divided by polarised, entrenched opinion. I have no doubt that consensus has not shifted significantly since the vote and the majority of Leave voters still stand by their decision. Big, important economic issues have also been pushed to the sidelines as Brexit agendas have dominated too much Parliamentary time.

So prediction time; where do I think we are headed? I think it is clear that EU negotiators are driven by an agenda to ensure the UK isn’t perceived to leave with a good deal in fear that other countries will look for a similar path. Any deal cannot damage the integrity of the Single Market. The political motivation to leave the UK electorate ‘punished’ is also imperative. The Irish border is an intractable problem whereby a hard land border solution is a politically unusable option for a DUP-controlled Government but is the only inevitable solution for a European frontier land-border in Ireland. I believe the EU are playing the long game with their key objective to make an example of us despite the economic collateral.

Crystal ball time

Difficult to decide whether a no-deal can now be avoided. A bit of a cop out but I will now outline two possible scenarios. If pushed my money’s on the second option: “Dog’s Dinner Deal” simply because a no-deal scenario looks so disruptive and damaging. Please treat these scenarios as simple thought-experiments.

No Deal Scenario A

Negotiations will fail and the UK will stumble into a No-deal scenario. This will probably be apparent by December 2018 by which time it will be too late for parliamentary bodies to ratify any new negotiated agreements before the March 2019 leave deadline. A basic operations framework will be agreed early 2019 to keep planes flying, power flowing through cables and vital commodities shifting. The UK will be given 3rd country status and reset to WTO rules. Hard border infrastructure development in Northern Ireland is demanded by the EU.

The no-deal reality will trigger an immediate leadership election for the Conservatives as Mrs May will step down in admission to failing to deliver her promised “good deal”. The new leader will be chosen with the expectation of a looming General Election. Boris Johnson is eliminated in the first round in a ‘no-deal backlash’ as he is seen as being too unpredictable. Michael Gove is selected as the new leader of the Conservatives in the second round (seeing off alternative contenders Gavin Williamson and Sajid Javid); seen as a safe pair of hands with the required Brexit credentials for the brave (foolish?) new world. The reshuffled minority government will hang-on by a thread with minor collateral damage resignations at cabinet level.

The no-deal Brexit will, by April 2019, be triggering a succession of large-scale redundancies by major UK manufacturers. Supply chains will be ‘just about managing’ to adapt to the new border requirements with shortages of some key products. The Pound will have devalued to Euro parity giving a boost to export values despite new tariff regimes. The FTSE will minimise at 6500; the largest falls happened in December 2019 as ‘no-deal reality’ triggered a fall. The EU will require all UK travellers to apply for Visas (work & holiday types) with long waiting times causing frustration /  travel industry woes and public consternation.

By May 2019 economic problems will be worsening as exporters come under pressure from tariffs. Unemployment will have surged to over 2 million, inflation risen to over 4%, interest rates will have risen to 1.25%. Supply shortages by major retailers will be continuing leading to some panic buying. The NHS will be in the middle of a full blown crisis as staff shortages, drug supply problems and increased demand pile on the pressure.

By early June 2019 a vote of no confidence will be carried in Parliament triggering a new General Election six weeks later. The electorate are in ‘angry mode’ and seek to punish the Conservatives for economic instability and perceived Brexit mismanagement. Labour win a landslide victory in July 2019 with a 90 seat majority with leadership under Jeremy Corbyn. Further falls in the FTSE and inflationary rises continue as Labour begin their dramatic economic reboot project.

The new Corbyn government begins a radical reform programme and state renationalisation drive. A flight of capital from the UK triggers a further run on the Pound. The Labour government is still split over Europe with many wanting a closer relationship and re-membership of the Single Market to bring some economic stability against the instincts of the leadership. Rises in import costs with the weaker pound give a greater emphasis to nationalised production. Negotiations begin for a single market arrangement with the EU but as immigration policy red-lines are crossed stalemate continues under an increasingly hostile backdrop and a war of words.

Pressure mounts from both Scotland and Northern Ireland for UK independence in light of economic turbulence; new Referendums are debated in devolved Parliaments.


Last minute “Dog’s Diner Deal” Scenario B (hereby to be known as “triple D”)

November 2018 will be the moment the EU weighs off political pressure with economic necessity. EU negotiators will push brinkmanship right to the calendar limit and then concede a soft border approach for the Irish border to unlock the 11th hour negotiations. A modified version of Mrs May’s checkers proposal will then be mutually agreed. A ‘defibrillated’ checkers is brought back to life despite the protestations of hard Brexiteers.

Can this then be rubber-stamped by Parliament? This would require moderate support by the Labour Party and effectively the fate of Brexit will be in their hands. If they vote against the agreement they will effectively relapse the process to no-deal status as there will be no time to renegotiate a new deal but they would run the risk of being accused of betraying the will of the people. Labour may also wish to grasp the opportunity to trigger a favourable General Election. Their problem is, however, that they will then have ownership of the renegotiation process and risk egg-on-their-face repercussions if they cannot improve on the proposed deal. I believe that, despite the odds, parliament will pass the modified Checkers arrangement with MPs putting constituent’s referendum votes and ‘country before politics’ to save us all from a disorderly no-deal Brexit and ill-timed General Election.

Can Theresa May’s government cling onto power? The debate will rage as to whether the deal is satisfactory and fair enough in the longer term but the consensus will be to soldier on and push on through the March ’19 leave date. Some MPs will resign over the ‘common rulebook’ constraints but a bruised government will limp on through the Spring of 2019 as markets gradually stabilise with confidence growing from a degree of Brexit ‘closure’. The EU will remain the UK’s largest trading partner and there will be no supply crises. UK holiday-makers will suffer the most with long customs delays at European destinations; the travel industry will  be the worst affected sector in Spring 2019.

Will this arrangement be stable long-term? Probably not but the ‘will of the people’ will legally have been upheld and the UK will to all intents and purposes have left the EU. Finally we can all begin talking about the more important changes needed for a modern economy… hallelujah!


Brexit is defining our times and the final path will dictate the fate of the next Generation. At this point it is very difficult to predict the outcome but it is essential that the democratic process is respected. This will be a time of supercharged change and upheaval; there will be winners and losers and UK politics will mutate to a new form. The fact is that 29th March 2019 is not the date we will stop talking about Brexit; it will be around much longer than that.