SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Working with Nature in Farming and Conservation

An event organized by academics from SPRU and the School of Life Sciences has brought together experts from diverse strands including land management, sustainability and biodiversity, to discuss the findings of a multidisciplinary project – “Managing Large Herbivores for Food Security and Biodiversity in the South East of England – funded by the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP).

The event, titled “Working with Nature in Farming and Conversation,” was held on Wednesday 6 March 2019 in the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), and convened by Dr Rachael Durrant and Dr Adrian Ely (SPRU), alongside Dr Nicholas Balfour and Dr Christopher Sandom (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment, School of Life Sciences).

Gathering land owners, farmers, conservation managers and policy makers from the private, public and third sectors, the event provided an opportunity to present the findings of the project and explain the MCM methodology used. The event facilitated fertile and wide-ranging discussions and debate on the way forward for agri-environment policy.

The event was split into two sections, the first being a workshop with interviewees from the above project. This gave them an opportunity to discuss with other key participants the findings of the project, identifying what these might mean for them and how they could affect their work/organization in the future. Professor Andrew Stirling led the structured discussion and reflection in ‘perspectives’ groups.

The second section of the event invited further delegates to participate in an engaging panel debate on the “Options for Reviving an Agri-Environment Policy”. The session was introduced by Professor Joseph Alcamo, Director of SSRP, with Professor Ann Light as rapporteur, and Chaired by Anna Hill, presenter of Farming Today and On Your Farm, BBC Radio 4. Participants were invited to bring forward their proposed interventions on the role(s) large herbivores will play within future land management, acknowledging the relevance of large herbivores within conservation and sustainable agriculture.

The panel consisted of:

  • Vicki Hird - Farming Campaign Coordinator, Sustain
  • Gareth Morgan - Head of Farming and Land Use Policy, Soil Association
  • Lisa Norton - Head of Land Use Group, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre Gavin Ross - Head of Environmental Land Management (ELM), DEFRA
  • Tony Whitbread - Ex-Chief Executive, Sussex Wildlife Trust & Member of Knepp’s Advisory Board

Once the panel had spoken on their proposal, the floor was opened to questions which led to a lively and interesting debate. Once all members of the panel had spoken and answered all questions, attendees were then asked to vote for the policy intervention that had the highest priority for them/their organisation This was won by Tony Whitbread, who was awarded with a bottle of champagne from the local Bolney Vineyard.

Fran Southgate, Sussex Wildlife Trust, spoke positively of her participation in the event:

It was a privilege to speak with so many inspiring and influential people from both a local and national context. We are very much in need of a new dialogue around farming, biodiversity and agriculture. It is reassuring to know that practitioners, policy makers and academics are coming together to stimulate positive action which recognizes that the environment and food production are part of the same solution.

The Drinks Reception following the event presented another opportunity to the attendees to discuss the issues further.

Further information:

View Working with Nature in Farming and Conservation programme

SSRP Working with Nature in Farming and Conservation 2019