Author Archives: Stephen Fell

Farming: Public Health Benefits

In this post, LEAF Chairman, Stephen Fell, shares his views on farming and public health following a recent Green City Conference.

Part of my own farming business is growing turf, wildflower turf and vegetation mats for green roofs. I have long had an interest in greening urban spaces and have developed a range of products to make that possible. We as farmers who take green space for granted, perhaps forget that over 90% of our population live in urban areas and don’t have ready access to healthy places.

I recently attended a Green City Conference where delegates from around the world debated the benefits of urban green spaces and the issues surrounding the implementation of green infrastructure plans.

What was really interesting was the synergy of thought between what we do in LEAF, in particular through the Let Nature Feed Your Senses programme, and those in the medical and landscape professions speaking at the conference.

Broughton Grounds Farm - Aylesbury College June 2010

A Let Nature Feed Your Senses project visit at Broughton Grounds Farm

Sir Richard Thompson, physician to HM the Queen, concentrated on the health benefits of green spaces. Green gardens in hospitals improve the mood of patients and staff alike “There is a gym outside your window!”. He went through much of the well documented evidence that recovery times are faster and that physical and mental well being is significantly enhanced by access to green, living landscapes. There are huge savings to be made to the NHS budget and architects and builders of hospitals must be made aware of the green benefits. This chimed absolutely with the paper given at LEAF’s recent President’s Event by Gregor Henderson, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.

The Landscape Institute represents professional landscape architects. Dr Val Kirby produced their outstanding document ‘Public Health and Landscape‘. It is well worth reading, remembering that we as farmers are landscape architects on a grand scale. The Institute believes that much greater priority needs to be given to prevention of ill health in public and social care. Their challenge was to answer the question: can landscape help create healthy places?

Dr Kirby’s report has an evidence based approach to 5 principles of healthy places. In outlining some of them you will start to see the synergies I mentioned earlier:

Healthy places…

  1. Improve air, water and soil quality, incorporating measures that help us adapt to, and where possible mitigate, climate change.
  2. Help overcome health inequalities and can promote healthy lifestyles
  3. Make people feel comfortable and at ease, increasing social interaction and reducing anti-social behaviour, isolation and stress
  4. Optimise opportunities for working, learning and development
  5. Are restorative, uplifting and healing for both physical and mental health conditions

See what I mean? Integrated Farm Management and Let Nature Feed Your Senses. Town and Country, City and Farmland. Our urban cousins are realising what we have long known – that being out in a green landscape is good for you. It’s much more challenging to create and maintain that green space in the middle of a city, but we as the large scale ‘landscape architects’ have a wonderful opportunity to improve the health of the nation.

By opening our farms, encouraging disadvantaged or convalescing people to experience, see, feel and smell what we can take for granted is a precious gift – perhaps we should all think more about the links between public health and landscape.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


Changing Perceptions

What a sea change we have seen over recent years in the consuming public’s perception of agriculture. True, the same weary suspects still trot out their mantras about intensive farming ruining the environment, hedgerows ripped out and farmland bird populations reaching dangerous levels, but the reality, I believe, is that many people now have a much greater appreciation of agriculture’s role in producing safe, wholesome food, and that they care about the land that they are custodians of.

The horse meat scandal, the effects of atrocious weather with repercussions affecting two harvests, the plight of some farmers in less favoured areas, and the real hardship of farmers coping with bovine TB, have been regular features in the media.  More people have taken holidays in the UK this year and have discovered how truly beautiful our countryside is.  Here in Yorkshire where I farm, we are spoilt for choice with the unique landscape of the Dales, the purple majesty of the North York Moors, and the rolling splendour of the fertile Wolds.  The barren wastes and the ‘silent spring’ don’t seem to exist as the London based left-wing intelligentsia would have us believe.

LEAF has played a major part in this, with its role in improving communications and engaging local communities. Over a million people have visited farms during Open Farm Sunday since it started seven years ago.  Others visit LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the year. The NFU has also played a huge role in calmly putting farming’s case in the face of scares and media hysteria.

608The recent “Harvest” series of three programmes on prime time BBC2 shows how far we have come. Andrew Burgess, a LEAF trustee and LEAF Marque producer demonstrated in a most genuine way his passion for growing a range of wholesome vegetables to the highest standard, on a large scale to high environmental standards.  What was noticeable was that the presenters were so enthusiastic about this modern, technology driven harvest, and there was no carping about industrial farming and reliance on poisonous pesticides and fertilisers. Andrew, and his fellow farmers on subsequent nights, have made us a lot of friends out there.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.

Simply Sustainable Water

Water management is a global issue; however, the solutions must happen locally. The challenge and opportunity for farmers is how to produce more food, using less water, whilst protecting its quality. In the UK we have historically taken water, and its availability, for granted, but the last five years of extreme weather patterns has started to make us increasingly more aware of the challenges and importance of its management.

On farm, water is one of the most important natural resources, whether sourced from rain, rivers or aquifers, too much or too little can cause major challenges. Sudden rainfall events can lead to loss of nutrients and crop protection products and loss of timeliness of operations, while in severe droughts, farmers can struggle to keep livestock and crops alive. Increasingly, farmers will need to adapt to the ‘yo-yo’ effect of drought and flooding, however, putting effective long term risk management strategies into practice can be challenging.

SSWToday, we are delighted to be launching ‘Simply Sustainable Water’ in association with ASDA and Molson Coors Brewing Company. Demonstrating our joint commitment to raising awareness and opportunities for the best of water management and protection.

Measuring progress and delivering change is at the heart of LEAF’s work through the adoption of Integrated Farm Management and this booklet will help you do just that. If you make only one change on your land this year as a farmer, then make this your first step.

‘Simply Sustainable Water’ is available to download free of charge here and you can see a video showing the booklet in practice at Overbury Farms below.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


Bringing it all together

Last week, LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell, joined our Technical Day in Yorkshire. Here’s what he had to say.

Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman, with James Hinchcliffe, Top House Farm, and Lynda Deeks, Cranfield University

On Tuesday of last week I headed off to our local LEAF Technical Field Day hosted by the Hinchcliffe family at Rawcliffe Bridge near Goole, Yorkshire. BASF have been carrying out field trials there for 16 years and for the last 10 have supported biodiversity practice to show how good commercial farming can be totally compatible with good environmental management.
I was greeted with a chorus of skylark song – so on cue that momentarily one suspected an amplified recording!

The interesting thing is that the skylarks nest in the cover crops but feed on insects in the wheat. The Hinchcliffes haven’t used insecticides in their crops for many years and are now appreciating the multiple benefits of that policy.

This day brought together experts in soil structure, water quality management, active biodiversity management, new chemistry and communicating with the public. Quite a range you might think, but all areas which LEAF brings together so well in the wheel of Integrated Farm Management.

I found the new chemistry fascinating – increasing the kilograms of wheat produced per kilogram of nitrogen used, reducing the tonnes of water used per tonne of wheat produced by 30%, and most interesting of all, ways of increasing root biomass by up to 45%. I firmly believe that learning how to grow roots is at the heart of our next leap in yield – and this encompasses soil structure, and a much greater understanding of soil microbial activity and nutrient availability.

Soil erosion was something I always thought happened in areas of arable cultivation on steep land in the high rainfall areas of the country. I was knocked back to learn that the Elvington treatment works in the Vale of York removes 10,000 tonnes of topsoil from water every year. We certainly still have a lot to learn about managing soil runoff. We all think we know about soil compaction, but how often do we actually take out the spade and dig the hole? The good operators do.

In charting the astonishing increase in bird species and numbers as well as pollinators, over the years, Graham Hartwell, BASF’s Stewardship Manager, had an important message – “the simple things make a difference”. The areas of cover crop and bird seed mixtures don’t need to be huge (2% of the farm in this case) but go for a continuity of food supply by planting something in the autumn and the spring, using mixtures that are proven, and feed birds extra over winter if necessary.

Tamara Hall, a successful Yorkshire pioneer in Open Schools Days in the run up to Open Farm Sunday, again gave simple messages about communicating with the public. The rewards to both giver and recipient were plain to see.

What a good day it was, with all attendees going away with plenty to think about. I would encourage any of you to go along to one of these LEAF events – they are so much more than just a farm walk.

Creating a Buzz

I hope many of you have been watching Sarah Raven’s recent programmes on Bees, Butterflies and Blooms on BBC 2. In the first programme, well known LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Duncan Farrington answers Sarah’s well founded concerns that modern agricultural crop production offers little room for pollinators, exemplified by shots of Duncan’s immaculate (to farmer’s eyes) crops of oilseed rape and wheat. He is working hard to establish wildflower mixtures in the 6 metre margins around his fields, a much more challenging prospect than straight grassy margins. Inherent fertility is the enemy of wildflowers and time will bring it down, but in the meantime, controlling pernicious weeds and aggressive grasses requires special management and we will follow Duncan’s efforts with interest.

Pollinators have really shot up the political agenda with Defra’s Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman putting an estimated £430 million value of pollinators to British agriculture. There is a mounting interest by gardeners and local authorities in providing suitable habitats for a wide range of beneficial insects but farmers ought to be leading the way on a scale that attracts attention. On many of the farms involved in this year’s Open Farm Sunday, pollination will be a major feature. We are pleased to be working with Syngenta, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and other experts on a national survey of pollinators.  Open Farm Sunday continues to grow in stature by doing much more than just providing an enjoyable day out, by informing and educating about our responsible role in countryside management.

How about creating a buzz on your farm this June by getting involved in the pollinator survey and inviting your neighbours and local schools to your farm on the 17th June? How about also letting us know your experiences of establishing wildflower strips? Knowledge shared will benefit many more of us.

About the author

Stephen Fell 1Stephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.

The “S” Word

10.3.2004 shop & Tour 022sky

In an era of climate change hysteria, diminishing natural resources, discussions about food security and political posturing, the word shouting out at us from every angle is “sustainability”.

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