The NFU Environment Forum meets quarterly and when specific issues need attention, to discuss environmental issues which affect farming.
For the 2021-2023 term, the forum will be looking at landscapes and trees; and a more integrated approach to water and the need to have flexible management options to help improve the productivity of our soil.
Net zero and climate change will also be on the agenda, with farming very much as part of the solution. Public responsibility is an area of discussion too.
Meet the forum
NFU Environment Forum chair
He invests in his own professional development and is a member of Institute of Agricultural Management and a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv).
Richard is also actively involved with university research and education.
Alongside his arable operations, Richard is involved in a diverse range of environmental work on his farm, virtually all of which he has provided on a voluntary basis.
All watercourses are protected with 7m diverse margins, which include approximately 3ha with flowering plants. In addition, he has 1ha of land dedicated to providing overwintering bird food and 1ha of pollen and nectar mix to provide food for bees, butterflies and other insects.
He has approximately 8ha of grassland, which is mainly riverbanks and field corners, with no nutrient inputs, providing encouraging a diversity of plant species.
Roughly 12,000 of mixed hedgerow species types have been planted on Richard’s farm and 2,000 mixed trees.
A number of bird and bat boxes have been put in place around the farm, and in the past he has installed vole pontoons, kingfisher fishing stakes and a grass snake nest.
Since 2007, Richard has used 'cover cropping' on the farm, which is temporary crop and is used to preserve nutrients and protect soils at key times in the farming calendar, now covering over 50ha on one 200ha farm.
In addition, Richard grows between 7 and 8 different crop types which adds to the diversity on his farm.
Solar power generated on the farm provides 100% of electricity for Richard’s farmhouse, office and three holiday barns. All heating is provided by biomass generated on the farm.
Public engagement and engagement is important to Richard and he hosts visits for fellow farmers and other organisations with an interest in the countryside.
Richard said: "As land managers, farmers are central to making it possible to deliver good safe quality food and a practical level of biodiversity in a sustainable fashion.
"Yet the practicalities of being able to deliver this demand, in a very populated country and a hunger for cheap food, are far too often ignored.
"For British agriculture to face the challenges of the future, we need to do more to strengthen relationships and build confidence in the supply chain."
NFU Environment Forum member
Sugar beet, oil seed rape, maize and potatoes form a major part of the arable rotation. Albanwise Environment manages hundreds of hectares of wetland, woodland, hedgerows, peatland and agri-environment habitats.
The aim is to farm in a commercial but sustainable way, pushing crop yields to the economic optimum but having the greatest respect for the environment in which they work. Soil health and fertility and the protection of environmental features are at the heart of their management philosophy, making sure their major asset, their soils, are in the best possible condition for successful crop production and environmental sustainability.
Nutrient use efficiency, applications of organic matter and effective cultivations are combined with agri-environment schemes to deliver food production and enhanced landscape management.
Phil completed an MSc in Sustainable Agricultural Management at Harper Adams University and between 2016 and 2019 was a member of the BBSRC Agriculture and Food Security Strategy Advisory Panel.
Phil is former Head of Farming, Training and Partnerships at the GWCT Allerton Project.
Phil said: "Landscape management is about a 'balance' and 'a partnership'. If we stray too far from this middle ground we end up with polarised viewpoints and numerous conflicts and disagreements. All sides have to recognise the importance of the need to deliver economic and environmental benefits."
NFU Environment Forum member, North West
In this traditional upland landscape, over the past 20 years, Robert’s family have repaired some traditional farm buildings and rebuilt over 1000m of dry stone walling. More recently help from a boundary grant scheme has enabled this restoration work.
Hedgerow management over the past few years has seen around 400m of hedge laying and restoration to provide habitats and food sources for wildlife.
Over 90% of the farm is classified as permanent pasture, with considerable areas of low nutrient input and zero input grassland, to encourage a diversity of plant species types, and corners of fields are left un-mowed to help encourage wildlife.
Good and efficient use of resources is also an important part of day-to-day consideration on Robert’s family farm. Significant investments have been made over the years, including in covering the slurry stores and a large open yard, which have helped reduce emissions such as methane and ammonia but also removed the need to build another slurry store.
Through making better use of the manure and slurry generated on the farm, Robert has halved the amount of artificial fertiliser used on the land to produce silage. It has also allowed Robert to increase the area of grazed land which receives no artificial fertiliser at all.
In addition, water in a plate cooler is used to pre-cool milk from parlour, so saving electricity. This same water is then reused for washing down the parlour or for drinking water for the cattle.
The heat recovered from a fridge is used to heat water used for washing and calf feeding, again saving Robert electricity.
The farm also produces 10% of its own electricity generated from solar power.
Robert said: "Farming has shaped our iconic upland landscapes and created one of the most important managed environments in the country. This landscape brings millions of people to the countryside every year, supporting local jobs in tourism and other local businesses.
"I believe I have an important role in helping manage and look after our beautiful landscape and countryside.
"Over the years, we have invested to improve productivity on the farm but also invested to increase efficiency in our use of nutrients, such as nitrogen. In a bid to do this, we have recently purchased equipment such as a trailing shoe spreader with the help of a grant scheme. This has reduced our environmental impact and footprint."
NFU Environment Forum member, West Midlands
Robert’s farm has been managed under an agri-environment scheme agreement for some 14 years, with a number of environmental features including the field margins and an area of recreated wetland.
Most of the farm is either managed under an Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme, or a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, with the exception of one field which is on the designated route for the HS2 line.
The line has not been constructed yet, but 3ha of land have been taken into temporary possession for environmental mitigation. HS2 have completed various environmental work on the area and Robert is to be compensated for crop loss.
Environmental actions under the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) are also practised on Robert's farm, such as leaving areas of land uncultivated next to the ponds and field corners, to provide habitat for wildlife.
With a watercourse next to every field on the farm, Robert has 6-8m field margins acting as buffers, and the farm has six natural ponds and two partially dry marl pits, providing habitat for wildlife.
Robert has invested in restoring hedging around the farm and undertaken some tree planting.
An area of the farm that was once a temporary radar station and accommodation huts during the Second World War is now an open space of 70 acres, attracting lapwings and skylarks.
Nectar and pollen mixes and wild flower mixes on the farm provide food for birds, bees, butterflies and other insects.
Some 15 years ago, Robert installed a 38,000 cubic meter reservoir. This has just under 2ha of open water, attracting birds and other wildlife and is winter filled, when water is most available.
"My ambition to increase growth in agricultural production, alongside protecting and enhancing the environment does not mean that should be at a cost to the environment," said Robert.
"I recognise that protecting the natural environment is important to my productive potential."
NFU Environment Forum member, East Anglia
Jake has since taken on the role of Director of Conservation at the Holkham Estate, 25,000 acres in North Norfolk, which boasts visitor numbers in excess of one million annually and an extensive farming operation.
Jake oversees the 10,000 acre National Nature Reserve which includes 2000 acres of fresh water grazing marsh which over the years has become a haven for wildlife and in particular ground-nesting and over-wintering wild fowl and waders. The estate was designated as a National Nature Reserve in 1967 and was managed by Natural England until 2012. The Holkham Estate was awarded Approved Body Status under Section 35 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which enables the estate to actively manage the Holkham National Nature Reserve. These areas are included in several designations including SSSI, RAMSAR and North Norfolk Coast ANOB.
The Holkham in-house farming operation has a continued policy of maintaining a diverse range of habitats with 8 agri-environment schemes running simultaneously and delivering a range of environmental benefits across the farming operation. Food production is at the heart of the commercial activity on the estate with 3500ha being utilised for a variety of combinable crops including winter barley, wheat and rye along with oil seed rape and maize with a small percentage of root crops such as potatoes and sugar beet.
The Holkham Estate runs an 800 head strong continental suckler herd which includes 60 Belted Galloways well suited to a range of environments and conditions. In conjunction with the cattle a flock of 1800 sheep are managed by the estate which graze on catch and cover crops over winter along with calcareous grassland which is floristically enhanced, providing a year-round food source for birds and mammals whilst also encouraging a wide range of pollinators, along with breeding cover for a range of Biodiversity Action Plan Species.
In addition, the estate has some 120 acres in wet grasslands for breeding waders and over-wintering wild fowl.
NFU Environment Forum member, Wales
Hedd runs a flock of 1600 ewes which are predominantly Welsh Mountain together with a herd of 40 suckler cows. He has participated in agri-environment schemes for 25 years and during that time has planted over 2000 trees of native species; completed over 7000m of hedgerow restoration; established 1900m of streamside corridors; 250m restoration of dry-stone walls; 15ha stock excluded woodland; with 560ha enclosed mountain under active management for habitat improvement.
He is a keen participant in agri-environment schemes and said: "We farm in a stunning location. The Welsh landscape that we see and enjoy today – and which supports a diverse range of habitats and species – has been created, shaped and is maintained by farming activity over hundreds of years.
"It is very much a managed landscape and we recognise as farmers the wide range of public goods we provide. This not only includes high quality food but also wider benefits for biodiversity, carbon storage, clean water and energy generation."
NFU Environment Forum member
Arriving from Scotland as dairy farmers in 1983 they have had many changes in farming practice through fat lambs, large scale potato production with carrots, beetroot and cauliflower, returning to combinable crops in 2008; now growing maize and rye for a very local 6 MW biogas plant.
Land is also rented out for potatoes, cauliflowers and turf production.
Joining the ELS scheme in 2006 led to many field corners being taken out of production, extensive buffer strips created and a new perspective on soil management.
Caroline said: "Most significantly we truly assessed run off and soil loss. The land has many dry valleys which channelled water and soil, we introduced soil bunds and slow release mechanisms which quickly eliminated the problem."
In 2009, the farm invested in a minimum-tillage drill. Intending to reduce costs and preserve soil biodiversity, the equipment has led to very positive changes to their farms soil health. Building on this, Caroline is now trialling cover crops, companion cropping and under sowing cover crops to preserve soil and create a healthy habitat for future generations to farm.
"Although we were in the ELS scheme and are strong supporters of CFE we are currently not in a stewardship scheme. We are, however, planting winter bird feed areas in a rotational pattern. Approximately 10% of the farmed area out of production and we are supplementing these areas with adjacent planting, as well as our irrigation reservoirs which have developed into fabulous species rich wet lands within the farm. The island has little standing water due to the chalk aquifers, so all farm reservoirs provide unique landscapes here."
The island only hosts red squirrels so some 10ha of woodland have been planted in a jigsaw scheme to provide natural corridors. Now mainly mature, these are soon to host a species count by the forestry commission.
Caroline is a member of the Eastern Yar Cluster Group. The group has encouraged farmers in the valley to apply for grant funding to address the issue of riverside trees which are adding to soil erosion and river degradation. As part of this, the group coordinate catchment specific training days which this year led to a very satisfying amount of cover crops being grown throughout the valley.
NFU Environment Forum member
He milks 200 Holstein Friesian crossbred cows on an autumn calving forage based system, rearing his own young stock and beef.
The farm is organic, with a number of diverse leys and historic permanent pasture. Some cereals and diverse cropping, such as bi-cropped wheat and beans and arable forage of barley, oats, peas and vetch are grown for the cattle.
The farm has invested in solar panels and energy saving devices within the dairy to work towards net zero.
The land is in Countryside Stewardship, hundreds of metres of hedges have been planted over the years and orchards improved and it grows some wild bird seed cover. More recently, hundreds of trees for an agroforestry project have been planted and an aim is to manage the grazing and cattle to improve soils to make the farm more resilient.
The farm hosts school visits and is part of Arla’s regenerative pilot project.
Rob said: "We are continuing to learn how we can produce top quality highly nutritious food while also do more to improve and enhance our environment."