Monday, 11 February 2013

Unite scientist challenges UN claims that there is little new agricultural land

Charlie Clutterbuck, who is an executive committee member on the Unite  Agricultural Workers National Committee, is mapping the Ribble and Calder Valleys in Lancashire and Yorkshire to highlight how the land there could be used to grow more food by prioritising fruit and vegetables.  

Clutterbuck aims to challenge government and United Nations reports that claim there is little new land worldwide for agriculture and that therefore farmers must raise yields on existing land without damaging the environment. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations calls this process “sustainable intensification” but critics say that is a contradiction in terms that can’t be achieved.

Clutterbuck, a former adviser on securing food supplies to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee agreed there is no additional land for wheat or rape production in the UK. But he said: “There is land, much of it uncultivated and classed as waste, that could be – even helped by climate change – turned from grass to fruit and vegetable production.

“Victorian gardeners once grew pineapples in Cheshire, so change is possible. Scientific research should be directed towards strategies that seek to improve access to locally produced foods, which will also increase social cohesion between urban and rural dwellers.” 

Clutterbuck envisages grazing or pasture land for livestock and brownfield sites would be turned over to fruit and vegetables. The Ribble and Calder valleys are mainly used for grazing. Upland moorland would become forests with clearings for growing everything from herbs to strawberries. 

Clutterbuck has welcomed plans by the new owners of a 20-acre Yorkshire farm near Todmorden. Monica Murtagh and David Templeman are planting over 11,00 trees on sharply undulating land at Warland Farm. The joint project with not-for-profit re-forestation group Treesresponsibility could help combat the flash flooding that has hit Calder valley Towns such as Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. Trees soak up as much as 30 per cent of water and help bind together the soil to help prevent erosion and landslips. 

Coppice woodlands were once common in the UK, but today there is just 21,583 hectares of actively managed coppice.  The UK, with just 12% of land under woodland cover currently lags well behind the rest of Europe, where the average is 36%. 

The wood at Warland Farm will belong to the landowners. They intend using some for fuel and selling some of the rest. 

Wood will also be used in the woodwork shop currently under construction in one of the large barns. “People with traditional skills will be able to practice and pass on their skills, while also manufacturing products for sale,” said Murtagh. 

Templeman added: “Alongside tall apple, cherry, pear and hazelnut fruit trees that are nitrogen fixers, forest clearings will be used to grow gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, herbs like thyme and sage, quince currants and common vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb. The major benefit of a  forest garden is that it consists of perennial plants and once they are settled the plants grow and bear more crops as the years pass. There’s less work as there’s no replanting, little tilling of the soil and no pulling out of dead plants. 

The biggest work of a forest garden lies in its design. If we get that right then the harvesting of the food is the biggest job. 
“We think we can grow food for 20 local families, who in return will contribute their time and labour.” 30 people have just attended an open day for those who might want to get involved. 

Clutterbuck said: “It would be great to see people follow David and Monica’s example. The land may be difficult to work but it is capable of producing food and habitation. There is a broad range of biological possibilities and that is the fun of gardening. Those farmers who currently get EU agricultural payments for just having land should be encouraged to grow fruit and vegetables, whilst public land could be utilised in a similar fashion to the Incredible Edible local food growing schemes on wasteland at Todmorden.” 

Clutterbuck has already mapped out 11 potentially useful local sites and more will follow. At Chorley, he has discovered there used to be 40 orchards; at Saltaire he has discovered allotments on many former brownfield sites; near Burnley land used for sheep is identified as once having grown oats or rye.

At Ilkley on Wheatley Lane he speculates whether part of the recreation ground next to Tesco could be used to grow vegetables for the store. “I’d hope to make the results widely available and if people would like to help they should go to my Look At The Land website,” said Clutterbuck.

A report written for the UK government’s Department for Business echoes the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations call for higher yields on existing land.

The UK currently imports 40 per cent of its food. Prices have risen and some products are in short supply because of the bad weather over the summer. Meanwhile, the emergence of vast middle classes in China and India has increased competition for food-producing land.

For more see Charlie’s site at:-

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