In the last week of February our single snowdrop plant, bearing about 8 stems of flowers, appeared outside our room window. The nearest other snowdrops to be found are 5 miles from our cottage. They grow in abundance where the land is less high above sea level. I greatly treasure my small plant. It has appeared since the sheep stopped grazing in this locality.
The suet bird feeders hanging from our generator shed and trees have only attracted 2 blue tits and 1 dunnock during the grim winter. But now, after a dry and warmer few days, fieldfare have arrived with small flocks of chaffinches. A blackbird now sings a morning chorus from the top of the trees of a small forest nearby, and then the chaffinch sing, fieldfare chatters and the dipper sings its jolly song along the burn. When the sun has shone brightly, the numbers of birds increase, and the robin, which has chosen a cottage half a mile away to stake its territory, flies up to see us and sings in the morning too. We always had a robin using our cottage surrounds as its territory, this is the first time we have not had that honour. A single buzzard occasionally hunts nearby as does a kestrel. The pheasants who survived the annual shoot often call on the nearby fells. Crows argue with ravens most mornings, both want to dominate the local terrain. Little wrens nip in and out of the drystane walls. There are increasingly more insects drifting up from the burn. The food supply is building. Soon the batchelor chaffinches will hear their female mates arriving from the warmer climates, daring to finally take their chances here. When they arrive, you can be sure all the varieties of birds which fly in will soon be brightening our world utilising the moorlands, grassy slopes, woodlands, mountain crevices and pure water rushing down from the high fells.
But the warmer spell of weather I have so far described ended with bitter winds blowing in from the east and snow fell heavily for days. However it came and went as the temperatures fluctuated during March. Plant life struggles to come through despite the weather; there are few days left of winter, The March equinox occurs the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north. This happens on March 20 this year. On any other day of the year, the Earth’s axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the two equinoxes, the Earth’s axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun. The Equinox derives its name from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).
The pulmonaria in the garden are at last emerging with vigour. The buds on the daffodils are increasing in size. The euphorbia and helibore are through; the primroses and primula are in full bloom. Cornflowers are revealing their new growth which has been extending underground until now. Lupins are showing their new leaves, as are autumn glory.
Surrounding land here has been grazed by sheep and cattle for at least 500 years, but that is not long considering there were only 1 billion people on the earth by 1820. During the 1500s it was not understood that cold and damp could blight the rye grain which the population used as a main dietary resource. Eating the poisoned grain led to delirium, seizures, fever, loss of consciousness and often death. The illness was known as ‘ergotism’. The brilliance of humans to turn grass into grain became their nemesis.
We have to go back to 6000 years to find “a cooking area where nomad hunter-gatherers boiled or roasted shellfish”. Archaeologists have found this area in Burren, County Clare, Ireland. This is a great example of pre-farming survival. Farming techniques evolved to replace the Stone Age hunter-gatherers, but so much was lost to us by evolving in that direction. The ecology of the planet depends on the health of the food chain of all living things. Farming technology has tampered with the process and upset the fine balance.
Hunter gatherers ate a more varied and nutritious diet than we do today. They had the continental land to roam and search for food. We have to feed 7.073 billion people on the planet now and there is no room to allow people to roam where they choose and select good ground for feeding themselves. Climate change is forcing people from lands which once were hospitable as happened when the climate changed in the past. But now we have too many people and too little land.
Yet China has 1,354,040,000 people (which is 19.14 percent of the world population) and only 7 percent of their land mass is arable, so they have to provide for themselves in the most careful way. An article in the Independent in July 2008 made the suggestion that the Chinese diet could solve the West’s obesity crisis. One quote said of the Chinese diet “If the majority of your meal is vegetables, and you add some protein, you’ll always have a perfect meal.” When they do add protein it might be shark fins, seaweed, frogs, snakes, and even dog and cat meat. They also depend on Soybean curd, called tofu, is an important source of protein for the Chinese. Chinese cuisine is based around rice and vegetables.
A Western nutrition expert named Patrick Holford said: “Vegetables should make up half of what’s on your plate in any given meal, so this fits perfectly with the Chinese diet.”
Global Food Security has become a major issue with disasters to crops occurring through drought, hurricanes, floods and other events which we now have grown to expect.The website on the subject states: The world is facing a potential crisis in terms of food security. The challenge is to produce and supply enough safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way for a growing global population, which is projected to reach 9Bn by 2050.
People are moving away from the land into cities. Cities are where the work is, but also where the demands for high quantities of foods, services and goods intensify the stress on the global food supply infrastructure. When people lived off the land they could provide for themselves without a dependency on trade and commerce.
Jericho was the first city built by the Natufians (an Epipaleolithic culture that existed from 13,000 to 9,800 years ago in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean) .They did not provide for themselves through farming. They were hunter-gatherers, foraging for food such as emmer wheat, barley and almonds, and hunting gazelle, deer, cattle, horse, and wild boar.
The diet of a hunter-gatherer was higher in protein and calories than the emerging farming communities. Their intake of vitamin C was five times higher than the settled person living off farming. Nomadic peoples endured tho most bitter temperatures without damage to their health.
The smaller range of food which farming communities survived on ensured deficiencies in their diet. Those eating rice would suffer from inhibition of vitamin A. Consuming wheat products prevents the action of zinc, often leading to stunted growth. Eating maize leads to a lack of amino acids and stops iron being absorbed by the body. Yet farming involved an ingenious development of turning grass into an edible source of food which could be stored by a settled community. The taller nomad became a six inch shorter farmer. In Orkney, prehistoric skeletons show life expectancy of these early farmers was no more than twenty years. Their close living with animals due to their farming practices led to their poorer immunity through diet to make them susceptible to diseases such as bird flu from pigs and fowl, smallpox and measles from cows and sheep, and anthrax from horses and goats. People living together in this way determined their vulnerability to fatal diseases.
The Global Security website tell us,
“The UK is …exposed to volatile global markets for products such as animal feed that have strong impacts on supermarket prices. In the interconnected world, it’s consumers that have to pay more downstream, as they did in 2008. The site goes on to say ” Britain is not self-sufficient in food production; it imports 40% of the total food consumed and the proportion is rising. Therefore, as a food-trading nation, Britain relies on both imports and thriving export markets to feed itself and drive economic growth………Too much or too little rain can reduce harvests. Emerging exotic diseases such as bluetongue and African swine fever threaten to devastate livestock industries.” We have heard this year that many tenant farmers expect to go out of business if the cost of foodstuffs remains high after this year.
At one time there was an excess of grain and the EU paid farmers to ‘set-aside’ land and to grow wild flowers to encourage wildlife, which would benefit the ecosystem. This was a great success for the supporter groups of wildlife, such as the RSPB and Butterfly Conservation. They noticed improvements in birds breeding and butterflies and moths increasing in numbers. Now there is insufficient grain the set aside payments are unnecessary – and there is no money to pay the farmers to do this either.
The RSPB asked me to write to my MEP to consider retaining the ‘set aside’ policy. The RSPB give an example: The recovery of stone-curlews, corncrakes and cirl buntings have all arisen from positive land management by farmers using set-aside and agri-environment schemes.
The response from my MEP’s office a few days ago was as follows:
Thank you for your email to Struan Stevenson MEP regarding the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The European Parliament’s position on the reform of this policy is due to be voted on tomorrow during the plenary session in Strasbourg. After this vote, the Parliament will enter into negotiations with the Council and Commission in order to reach a final agreement on the reform package.
We have noted with interest your concerns regarding Greening, Double Funding, cross compliance and specific recognition and support for Organic and High Value Nature farming methods. Please allow me to address these concerns individually below:
Greening – We support measures which aim to deliver environmental benefits through the CAP. However, we believe that these goals are best achieved through Pillar two funding. In this way, measures can be targeted in order to better suit local environmental needs. The UK Conservative Delegation do not believe that all farmers should be forced to put land in set aside, especially at a time of fast rising food prices and growing global demand. Europe needs to be able to respond effectively to the global challenge of food security and unfortunately some of the Commission’s proposals on greening will hinder this objective.
Double Funding – The UK Conservative delegation does not support paying farmers twice for carrying out the same activity and has tabled amendments to reject this concept.
Cross compliance – Farmers will have to comply with cross compliance rules and I support the reintroduction of realistic obligations on farmers. The ECR group does not support small farmers participating in the ‘Small Farmers’ Scheme’ being exempt from cross compliance commitments.
Organic and High Value Nature farming – The UK Conservative delegation believes that all different types of farming methods and systems should be recognised for the contribution they make to Europe’s diverse agriculture sector.
I do hope that my answers have sufficiently addressed your concerns. Please feel free to contact our office should you have any further questions.
This 2013 Equinox takes place with a wake-up call to ask whether farming and agricultural policies to date have been well thought through for the benefit of all. The self healing planet on which we live cannot cope with the interferences we have made to its vital mechanisms. We are understanding now that processed food is bad, fresh vegetables and fruit are good. We do not need vast quantities of meat which demand huge amounts of animal grain to be grown on great swathes of land which could be used to grow quality vegetables and fruit. The bees are suffering because of pesticide harm, and farmers reject that fact, fearful their produce will not grow well without present pesticide use. We have so many serious questions we must deal with NOW which can’t wait another day. Let us look at how we got here and think hard if we can go on like this.