To come on 10 November 2021 …. SEDA Land – Online Conversation on land carbon tax – details to follow.
Displacement – severed connection – October 2021
Different stories with similar causes and consequences came together this month. First, some background reading for the Climate and crops series on the Living Field web site led back to the great agricultural depression of the 1880s, initiated by a run of bad weather, but made worse – when the rural population needed constructive support – by the UK government’s decision to open the food system to unbridled imports, mainly from north America. Hardship and rural depopulation followed, loss of local culture and connection to place. The loss was probably worse in England, where if it was not for the efforts of a few song collectors, a long-held musical tradition would have disappeared. Arable land then declined with consequences in 1914 and 1939 when blockade restricted food imports to a country that could not feed itself.
Parallel in time was the story of dispossession in the prairie lands of Saskatchewan, Canada, given renewed attention by an online book launch in late September of Sheri Benning’s collection of poetry – Field Requiem by Carcanet Press. The story has two parts. First the colonial government encouraged Europeans to immigrate and settle in the late 1800s – a process that displaced indigenous people. The settlers each farmed small areas, usually of mixed arable and livestock, and over time developed their own community and connection to place. Then in the later 1900s corporate interests supervened, intensification followed and many small farmers left the land. The Field Requiem is for them, but also and less explicitly in the book, for the earlier displacements.
The trail of extractivism and loss of environment and culture continues throughout the world (see the Living Field’s DIARY21). Some are fighting against it – Indian farmers have been demonstrating for over a year against the government’s proposals to open production to global interests and intensification, while on 9 August 2021 indigenous people of Brazil took the government to the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and ecocide.
The SEDA Land Conversations held earlier in 2021 alluded to dispossession and the resulting severing of connection between land, farming, food and people in Scotland. The newly formed SEDA Land aims to examine and redress some of the imbalances caused by past extractivism and the global sourcing of food at the expense of local supply. There’s an increasing desire to regenerate the country’s ecosystems and many communities are looking to source their food locally, but there is much to do. I look forward to contributing further to SEDA Land through its Steering Group. More here ..
[2021 ‘Latest’ is being revised and updated]
Langur and mink – November 2020
Two animal stories were in the news, early November 2020. One was about a new species of langur monkey found in Myanmar; the other about the mass killing of mink farmed for their fur.
The Popa Langur was recently named as a new species. It has distinguishing physical characters, but its uniqueness was confirmed by DNA analysis of monkey faecal droppings in Myanmar forests and a century-old specimen in a London museum. Few individuals remain, 200-250 in four isolated populations, the largest in a forest reserve on Mount Popa, about an hour’s drive from Bagan in Myanmar (Burma). Will it survive? Possibly, according to local conservationists, if further habitat-loss and hunting are prevented.
Photograph/story: Fauna and Flora International – New primate species discovered … From the press release: ‘The Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) is described in a new scientific paper released today that documents the extensive genetic and morphological studies and field surveys undertaken by the German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and conservation NGO Fauna & Flora International’. Paper: Roos et al. 2020. Zoological Research 41(6), 656-669. Background to the area: Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Programme.
The farming of mink, as fur-farming generally, was highly contentious before the current pandemic. Some countries including the UK have banned it, but mink farming is active in several EU member states. Its recent prominence arose from the recorded transmission of the Covid-19 virus from humans to farmed mink, but then in Denmark, from mink to humans, in an altered form. As a result, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of the animals have been killed.
Many diseases are transmissible between humans and other animals – but the concern here lies in the possibility that the mutated form of the virus could reduce the effectiveness of antibodies in people who have already had the human form ….. and also reduce the effectiveness of future vaccines.
The study of the events in Denmark and elsewhere should tell us more of the various channels by which human-animal transmission occurs and how pandemics can develop new centres as a virus evolves in different host species, effectively evading methods to contain it. Information: the biology of transmission summarised by Matthew Bayliss, a veterinary epidemiologist, in the Guardian newspaper (2020 Nov 10); the political and economic fall-out, especially in Denmark, told in several of Richard Milne’s articles in the Financial Times (subscription is necessary for some); and the case against fur-farming made by the Humane Society International (2020 Nov 4).
New reports and links on soil erosion – November 2020
High rainfall in November saturated the already wet soil, slaked and weakened its structure. Heavy tillage encouraged water to run off some fields in torrents and take with it soil and organic matter. The images below were taken in a recently harvested potato field. Soil erosion and damage to soil, though extreme in this example, occurred throughout the lowland, arable east and on higher land where cattle had scoured the ground.
A recent paper on soil carbon content in Scotland’s arable east shows the cumulative effect of heavy tillage: %C declining with intensity of management but remaining much higher in field margins and nearby untilled land. A target soil %C or 3% was indicated for all those soils for which %C lies between 1% and 3%. Ref: Squire GR et al. Agronomy 2020, 10(7), 973.
Following the articles on Soil: Healing the skin and Data sources for the Scottish Parliament Citizen’s Jury, here are some further links to publicly available reports (3/7/2020). Authors are mainly James Hutton Institute staff and collaborators. curvedflatlands is preparing an further article to put the new results (2020) in context.
For a general introduction to soil erosion in Scotland: Soil erosion and compaction in Scottish Soils: adapting to a changing climate. 2018. Lilly A, Baggaley NJ, Loades, KW, McKenzie, BM and Troldborg, M. Published by climateXchange. https://www.climatexchange.org.uk/research/projects/soil-erosion-and-compaction-in-scottish-soils-adapting-to-a-changing-climate/
Then follow up with a look at how risk can be estimated and mapped: Lilly, A. and Baggaley N.J. 2018. Soil erosion risk map of Scotland (partial cover). James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen. Available at the Scotland’s Soils web page https://soils.environment.gov.scot/maps/risk-maps/map-of-soil-erosion-risk-partial-cover/
The following report from University of Aberdeen, James Hutton Institute, University of Dundee and SRUC, gives a more detailed account, including methods of field sampling and lab testing: Hallett, P., Hall, R., Lilly, A., Baggaley, B., Crooks, B., Ball, B., Raffan, A., Braun, H., Russell, T., Aitkenhead, M., Riach, D., Rowan, J., Long, A. (2016). Effect of soil structure and field drainage on water quality and flood risk. Published by CREW Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters. https://www.crew.ac.uk/sites/www.crew.ac.uk/files/sites/default/files/publication/CRW2014_03%20Final%20report_0.pdf
And finally, a comprehensive study by Cranfield University and James Hutton Institute on estimating the economic and ecological costs of erosion, concentrating on several catchments then extending the results to the whole country (online June 2020): Rickson, R.J., Baggaley, N., Deeks, L.K., Graves, A., Hannam, J., Keay, C and Lilly, A. (2019). Developing a method to estimate the costs of soil erosion in high-risk Scottish catchments. Report to the Scottish Government. Available online from https://www.gov.scot/ISBN/978-1-83960-754-7.
Further information on soils and Scotland: Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Soil (including information on protection, pollution) https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/land/soil/. Scotland’s Soils: for a range of information, maps and downloads https://soils.environment.gov.scot/. The Scottish Soil Framework https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-soil-framework/
And from Europe, a useful beginning: Agri-environmental indicator – soil erosion. Eurostat https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Agri-environmental_indicator_-_soil_erosion
Reconciling agricultural production with biodiversity conservation
The title of a book to be published later in summer this year, edited by Paulo Barberi and Anna-Camilla Moonen, both from Pisa, Italy. Chapters fall into two sections – methods to study biodiversity, and management practices to support it. Grateful for the offer to write a chapter on Modelling Biodiversity, and the opportunity to revisit a line of research extending in scale from individual-based modelling by means of biophysical traits (rather than species), through landscape-scale processes and finally to a synthesis of whole systems using multi-attribute decision aids based in Marko Bohanec’s DEXi software. None of this possible without the close collaborations over the years of colleagues adept in mathematics and computer programming. Modelling in biodiversity studies has suffered from not being relevant to solving real-life problems. My view, based on experience, is to start at the large scale (the system), define the questions, parameters, limits and interactions, then settle on a workable scale and scope. Information on the Burleigh Dodds Publishing web site at Reconciling Agricultural Production with Biodiversity Conservation.
Good Food Nation
Of all society’s needs, food is the most important. There much more to it than farming, and more to it than balancing imports and exports. The waste, the inequalities, the hunger, malnutrition, the environmental cost – all need to be tackled and the only way to do it is by concerted action from all those involved in growing, processing, distributing, buying, cooking and eating food. Hence those campaigning over the years for a better food system achieved much by getting the proposed Good Food Nation Bill to where it is … but there’s still a way to go.
The background and current status of the Good Food Nation Bill are explained at the following web resources: The Scottish Food Coalition’s Framework Legislation for a Good Food Nation, Nourish’s Campaigning for a Good Food Nation Bill, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s (SHRC) Right to Food. Short videos explaining what it’s all about are viewable through the Right to Food web link and Coalition’s Let’s Make Scotland a Good Food Nation.
Nourish Scotland’s conference, November 2019 (see below) certainly generated further grass roots action to support the proposed Bill. Edible Campus from St Andrews University came to visit the Living Field and the Hutton’s Balruddery Farm in mid-January: see the Living Field web site and Edible’s blog Farming for a zero carbon future. The Scottish Food Coalition held a series of Let’s Change the Food System Workshops. The one at St Andrews hosted by Edible Campus on 20 Feb 2020 was attended by a wide range of interests and will lead to more and more concerted activity in the Fife areas. Committed people working to a common cause.
Extractivism – Centre for Human Ecology events January 2020
The Centre for Human Ecology, based in Glasgow, is organising a couple of events on the theme of Extractivism, one on mining and the other on cultivation of soil for agriculture. The event on soil titled Invading the skin of the earth: SOIL is being held in Glasgow, early evening on Thursday 23 January. Two short films will be followed by presentations and discussion on the consequences of excavating the earth’s skin. Thanks for the invitation to give one of the talks. Details at eventbright. More on the talk and its background at Healing the skin? Bandage and ointment.
Sustainability away-day – where next at the Hutton – December 2019
Thanks to Ecological Sciences for inviting me back to present at the James Hutton Institute’s Sustainability Away-Day held at Westpark Dundee on 16 December 2019. The aim was to consider current work on sustainable (ecological) systems, as a base from which to consolidate and expand. The development of agroecology at the Institute was charted from the first grant won in the 1993 to the current group’s capacity to coordinate large EU projects. There is no question that after 2007, EU funding saved this work area and allowed it to prosper.
Some specific demonstrable conditions were needed for this science to thrive in the early 2000s: fields and farms on which to do experiments and create long term platforms, a farm site network for real-life appraisal, in-house excellence in several complementary disciplines and targeted support from policy and government. Thanks to Cathy Hawes and Helaina Black for organising the event.
Nourish Scotland’s conference this year is on the topic – Game Plan for a Good Food Nation – 21-22 November 2019 in Edinburgh. “The conference is about achieving change – how we get from where we are to where we need and want to be? What will it take to be a Good Food Nation? Now is the time to seize the opportunity for a healthier, fairer and more sustainable future for Scotland’s food system”. More at Nourish Conference and their Food Atlas 2018.
What a great event. Working with and listening to people who where without doubt committed to a fairer, healthier future. Most of those attending were from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), many of whom were able to operate fairly seamlessly across sectors and along the human food chain. Science organisations were not well represented – perhaps we are too siloed. And this leads on to the conclusion that NGOs, not research institutes, in Scotland have taken the lead in finding ways to achieve sustainable food systems. They are also more effective in engaging politicians.
Some impressions of the day and its relevance to the Living Field’s future are given at Nourish Conference 2019 – lessons for the Living Field. More on the food system diagram (right) designed by the Centre for Food Policy at City University London is given at Five spheres around the food chain.
In November also …. putting the final touches to a review of Modelling Biodiversity in agriculture – an opportunity to summarise some of our work over the past 20 years from individual based modelling of biological communities to recent multi-attribute decision making of production systems. More when published …
Disorganised field trip – managed and disturbed ecosystems Australia – October 2019
Passed through several areas and systems on various journeys in late September and October. The arable farmland and rangeland in Victoria and southern NSW were generally very dry, and in some respects drier than in 2018 when parts of the arable were irrigated to high grain yield. Most grain fields, apart from some oilseed rape, had been whole-cropped or were heading that way. Early rain must have been enough to support emergence into a dense stand and then grain-set, but subsequent lack of rain stopped growth before grain filling. The River Red Gums by the Murray at Barmah displayed their typical mastery of this environment, in leaf while the adjacent crops were parched, but despite their massive, thick-barked lower trunks, many of the trees had died in recent fires.
The Great Alpine Road led through the flanking snow gum forest, now part immersed in snow, but which in recent years had been scarred by widespread fires leaving strange linear patterns of scorched woodland, continuous up and over ridges and down the other side. The dead tops of the trees, grey-white, emerged above the regenerating green below. A rare site. Most stock keeping has been excluded from the region but grassy fields were still visible on the lower slopes.
Lake Tyers at the south coast of Gippsland is a phenomenon – inland waters cut off from the sea by a broad sandy bar but every now and then the bar is broken by the pressure of river and surf to allow mixing of fresh and sea waters. Despite the proximity of habitation, the habitual dog-walking, and some sludgy run-off from the land, both the sand banks and beaches were visibly clean and litter-free for miles. Finally, on the border between Vic and NSW, a boat trip took us through the drowned forest and rich bird life of Lake Muwala (photo right). Despite the difference in soils and climate, there are many parallels in this region with ecological developments in Europe. More notes to follow. Thanks to Tim and Jenny for the hospitality, the driving and the hardware (ute, boat).
Ps. By the end of 2019, much of the forests in the areas visited had burned catastrophically. In some places the people had to be evacuated. An absolute tragedy for the wildlife.
NASSTEC publishes Native Seed Restoration Manual – September 2019
The editors write: “Increasingly, the true value of native plants is being recognised, and their seeds are deployed to restore and conserve degraded habitats globally. While the native seed industry is relatively young, its ambitions are high and driven by science-insight gained from industry-academia partnerships.”
“This month, the EU-Marie-Curie funded project “NASSTEC” (NAtive Seed Science, TEchnology and Conservation Initial Training Network, 2014 – 2017), releases the handbook ‘Native Seed Ecology, Production & Policy – Advancing knowledge and technology in Europe”. Delivered by a team of 42 experts from the NASSTEC project and associated partners, the book is the first of its kind and is extensive in its coverage – summarising practical approaches on a wide range of topics from seed handling and germination methods to government policy recommendations for ecological restoration and the native seed industry.”
The James Hutton Institute’s contribution to the NASSTEC project was led by Pete Iannetta who writes “industry-academic partnerships are … challenging in many ways. However, the rewards are considerable and especially to repair the damage of ‘old-ways’, and to work with nature to help safe-guard more-sustainable futures”. Other contributors from the Hutton were Tracy Valentine, Cathy Hawes and Geoff Squire.
The Handbook will be formally launched at the 8th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of September and it is freely available on ResearchGate (click this link to go to a downloadable version of the manual).
A personal note from me (GS): I valued working with NASSTEC students (early-stage researchers!) and other project colleagues, each sharing their local experience and working together to create this major practical manual for restoration. See also on the curvedflatlands web site: Agroecology Brazil – Scotland and NASSTEC Native Seed Science.
The Library of Innerpeffray
The land of Strathearn of has been cultivated for millenia. The Romans, when patrolling their northern frontier, made a river crossing near to what is now Innerpeffray. The Picts occupied this rich agricultural soil for several hundred years, leaving magnificent carved stones and cross slabs, as at Fowlis Wester and Dupplin. From 1200, the monasteries began to improve the land for production, forming the 14 km long drainage ditch known as Pow of Inchaffray. And then around 1680, a landed and titled member of the nobility left this – the first free lending library in Scotland, for the people. The tradition continues: the Library Manager stressed that Innerpeffray is ‘access first, conservation second’ – visitors are encouraged to open and touch the old manuscripts and books.
And what a place this is. Quiet, ordered, scholarly, not stuffy. The librarian gave me a copy of Maison Rustique, published 1613, where I soon founds notes on esoteric subjects like mundified barley, giving a method to convert barley grain to a nutritious drink, flavoured with grapes, melon or poppy seed. Andrew Wight’s travels around Scotland in the late 1770s and 1780s – such a rich source on the late 1700s Improvements – had been viewed only via the web, but here were copies to open and read.
On the shelves on the wall to the right of Wights’s travels is a book by the scientist and philosopher John Dee (1527-1609) describing his communication with spirits and what they said to him. More on the Living Field web pages at The Library of Innerpeffray and Mundified barley.
Address: Innerpeffray by Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland. Web: The Library of Innerpeffray. Email email@example.com. Donations to upkeep are welcome. Visited 11 September 2019.
Multi-attribute modelling (DEXi) of sustainable systems
August 2019. Work continues with various decision models based in Marko Bohanec’s open-source software DEXi: a programme for multi-attribute decision making. Refinements to DEXi-ES, which was developed in the EU AMIGA project on environment risk assessment, have expanded to include comparison of typical crop sequences of the north-east Atlantic seaboard. DEXi-ES explicitly uses the pathways linking human interventions in land use to the biota, ecological processes and higher-level outputs such as ecosystem services or the four spheres of sustainability. More on this to follow …
Recently available through open-access publishing is a first multi-attribute decision model to compare systems at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC) at the Hutton’s Balruddery Farm. The paper, by Hawes et al. 2019, Whole-systems analysis of environmental and economic sustainability in arable cropping systems: a case study can be viewed and downloaded at https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4395/9/8/438.
The methods used expose major trade offs between environmental and economic states, but the principal message is that continued degradation of attributes such as soil organic carbon in high input systems simply can’t continue. The CSC’s results show that reversal is possible but at a short-term cost.
LEAF Open Farm Sunday 9 June 2019 …
This year’s Open Farm Sunday was held at the James Hutton Institute’s farm at Invergowrie near Dundee. Fabulous weather – better than the forecast – and a great turn out of visitors made this one of the best Open Farm days since the event began at the James Hutton Institute over a decade ago. In addition to the many science exhibits, our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society attended again and this year for the first time, experimental photographer Kit Martin led workshops on the cyanotype technique.
The Living Field team and The Farm had been working all winter to turn the virtual Vegetable Map of Scotland into reality on the ground and the exhibit was ready in time for the event. The map brought much interest and started many a discussion on how much of its food the country could grow if it wanted to. A personal note – the coordination of the science exhibits this year was passed to Susan Verrall, who together with Gladys Wright at the Living Field, put on a really great display. A big “Thank You” from me.
Scottish Parliament Citizen’s Jury March 2019
A Citizen’s Jury ‘event’ was held 29-31 March 2019 at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The Jury were deliberating on an aspect of environment, or rather on financial support for an environmental issue, that affects all of us. I was invited to attend as a specialist with knowledge of the topic, who would advise the members of the jury as needed through the weekend. I was impressed not only by the seriousness with which the jury approached their task but also the civility they showed to each other. More to follow, including a synopsis of my presentation to the jury and also a list of accessible data-sources that are tapped to form and justify my contentions. Update: see Citizen’s Jury.
Abandoned cropland February 2019
Enough has been said about abandonment of land, forced and voluntary. Yet it still makes you wonder what life was like, how they grew their crops and grass and in particular how they managed if at all to raise the nutrients of the soils above the very base level.
First visit was to Lower Inverbrough near Tomatin where the shells of the houses and barns remain on a stretch of level land above the Findhorn. Relatives of our family and friends in Australia once lived there before moving to opportunity. Second visit was to Strathfarrar, walking along the path by the river through the woodlands to see the patches of arable land referred to in Isolation Shepherd. What effort it must have taken to clear the stones, make drains, level the fields even before cultivation could begin.
Celtic Connections January 2019
There’s an earthiness, of soil and land, about the acts seen this year in Glasgow and connections well beyond what might be called celtic lands. Tigran Hamasyan, an Armenia pianist and composer joined Arve Henriksen, tumpeter, singer and mouth musician for a classic night of improvisation. Their recent CD Atmospheres is on the ECM web site. Members of Tosta Banda are from 7 countries or regions including Galicia and Friesland – some phenomenal singing and playing. And the two percussionists on stage with Tosta performed in their own group Oreka TX. Never heard or seen percussion like this.
Malinki played their Scots traditional song and music and also introduced a range of established and new singers. The tradition here is still thriving: I’d first heard the north-east ballad Baron of Brackley sung several decades ago by the singer Ian Campbell, but here it was again, performed along with other ancient ballads by some young and talented singers.
Cutty Sark Greenwich November 2018
Two points of long term interest here – first the name, after the young, half-clad witch in Burns’ Tam o’Shanter, and then the ship as a tea clipper (named after the witch), built to bring dried leaf tea, grown in Asia, back to the UK in as short a time as was possible. The staple food of the north-east Atlantic, eaten at Burns’ suppers, is described at So Scotch Bonnet on the living Field web site. Tea is a staple to some, but with a darker history. More on tea to follow.
The prime reason for visiting was a concert given by John Tams and Barry Coupe in a small auditorium deep in the ship’s hold. Tams continues in his songs, crafted for Lark Rise and War Horse and more generally, to lay bare the gross inequalities among farming and farm working in the early 20th C, but at the same time to witness the seasons and the renewed hope of the turning at the winter solstice.
Cruel winter cuts though like the reaper, the old year lies withered and slain. Like barleycorn who rose from the grave, the new world will rise up again.
Lines from Snow Falls by Tams. Great night and very appreciative audience.
Singapore October 2018
Took the opportunity to revisit Singapore to experience the high standard of urban plant-culture, the ArtScience Museum and the general developments on the reclaimed areas of the Bay. Impressions of the architecture and the teamLab displays in the ArtScience Museum are given on the Living Field web site at Where Art meets Science: Singapore. First visited Singapore in the early 1980s – it keeps moving.
The abiding interest for me is the very high standard of plant culture throughout the central part of the city. The severe angularity of the high rise blocks is everywhere softened by trees and palms. The reclaimed area of the Bay opposite the Merlion and financial centre holds two massive, covered botanical gardens each with its peculiar microclimate, yet it’s not so much these that impress as the nicely grouped arrangements of palms and tropical trees, of which many are leguminous and so fix their own nitrogen. It will be instructive to see how the pant culture copes in the years ahead with the inevitable pollution generated by tourism and financial enterprise.
Australia October 2018
Presently (October 2018) visiting Victoria Australia to see more of the forests and cropland in one of the worst droughts in recent decades. The River Red Gum trees by the Murray are magnificent (right). The crops, unless irrigated are at most a few inches tall and will give hardly any yield. On the other hand, irrigated wheat can yield 10 t per hectare.
Visited Anne Timm’s permaculture garden, to see her plants, paintings and scupture and also to hear from her about Howie Marshall’s work with the Nathalia Wildflower Group documenting the flora of the area.
Employment ceased September 2018
After almost a quarter of a century at the James Hutton Institute, previously SCRI ….. Opportunity I had to build, to win grants from UK and latterly EU funders, to head Department and Division, to sit for a time on senior management, but overall grateful that the Institute allowed me to return to being a biologist and project coordinator for the last decade. Still have honorary status giving email, web, access, library. But transitioning to a new form of working – analysis and writing that wasn’t finished, more on the history of land and culture, european connections maintained, new research areas to explore, talks still to give and the occasional student to teach.
European Society of Agronomy Meeting Geneva
Pete Iannetta gave two presentations on legume based ecosystems and socioecosystems at this years ESA congress in Switzerland, 27-31 August 2018. The ESA web pages give some background to the congress http://www.esa-congress-2018.ch/ One of the talks explored the disjunction between time sequences of legume decline in the late 1800s and the rise in fertiliser nitrogen usage in the mid 1900s. Article on these pages to follow.
EcoAgriTech event at Knock Farm Huntly 18 July 2018
The Royal Northern Agricultural Society is holding this EcoAgriTech event at Knock Farm near Huntly, courtesy of farmer Roger Polson. Gill Banks from Agoecology at the James Hutton Institute will be there demonstrating the Centre for Sustainable Cropping and in particular the action of worms in soil!
Our surveys in the Atlantic zone croplands show Knock Farm has high soil quality as measured by soil % carbon, water holding capacity, bulk density and related attributes. See A Baseline for Lowland Scotland’s Arable-Grass for detail and more from Roger Polson at Regenerative agriculture : short supply chains.
10 June 2018 – Open Farm Sunday at the James Hutton Institute Farm at Glensaugh
Living Field garden on the move after one of the coldest winters, May 2018
What a winter 2017-18. Below zero temperature and rock hard soil well into April. The blackthorn here hardly bothered to flower its white haze before the leaf came. Most annuals including the crops are a month late. The only things that grew well were the weeds in the medicinals bed – what an effort to get them out while not destroying the marsh mallow and viper’s bugloss. (Many thanks to the unpaid helper!) Gladys Wright and Jackie Thomson, with great help from the glasshouse team have grown on thousands of cereal plants and vegetables for this year’s displays, and they are now being hardened off. The small potato plot is being prepared this week for the annual display of the common and the rare.
So to promote the Garden and the wider Living Field project, its media-unsavvy team have now become Tweeters. For updates on the garden and its activities, see @TheLivingfield. This curvedflatlands web site now tweets @curvedflatlands to help connect the Living Field to global issues in sustainability.
Farmers and Nature: Promoting success and looking forward, Perthshire 18 May 2018
Inspiring it was, this meeting. Five people, who manage five very different pieces of land and do it with commitment and vision, told us their stories, in 15 minutes each, at this day meeting organised by Scottish Natural Heritage at Battleby Conference Centre, just north of Perth. They were David Aglen of Balbirnie Estate, Bryce Cunningham of Mossgiel Farm, Lynn Cassels of Lynbreck Croft, Roger Polson of Knock Farm and Teyl de Bordes of Whitmuir Estate. Running through these disparate experiences was a total acceptance that continually farming against nature won’t succeed and that land management is at the mercy of long commodity supply chains.
Today we heard from innovators and disrupters. None of the speakers was content to be controlled. Some rebelled with success against closure and abandonment. Further comment on the day and links to YouTube videos of the presentations can be found on this site at Regenerative agriculture : short supply chains. Many thanks to SNH for the invitation. [Geoff Squire].
Highlands and Islands Agriculture post-Brexit, Edinburgh 14 May 2018
Farming in the regions of the Highlands and Islands is under pressure from a range of factors including low and uncertain productivity due to soil and climate, distance from markets, and declining technical infrastructure (e.g. veterinary services). Brexit may bring further pressures, one consequence of which could be abandonment of farmland and farming.The current status of the region and potential scenarios after Brexit were presented at a meeting in Edinburgh on 14 May 2018, organised by the Highlands and Islands Agricultural Support Group. The meeting delivered the strong message that any post-Brexit support mechanism should recognise that farming in the Highlands and Islands does far more than provide food and related products. It is essential to the provision of a wide range of Ecosystem Services including regulation of water and nutrients flows, conservation of biodiversity/habitat and continuation of the diverse and unique cultural landscapes created over thousands of years.
A report prepared for the meeting provides much of the basic information needed for action on these issues. A crucial major factor that needs far greater profile is the disconnection between the successes of Scotland’s Food and Drink industry and the far more limited income and opportunities for the people and land that produce food in this region. Major change is needed, specially to reconnect food quality chains, to pay fairly for ecosystem services from the public purse and to integrate of all forms of land use, i.e. not treat agriculture in isolation. Geoff Squire attended. Downloadable report: Post-Brexit implications for agriculture & associated land use in the Highlands and Islands. Highlands and Islands Agricultural Support Group. Authors: A. Moxey & S. Thomson, available at: scruc.ac.uk/HIASGreport.
EU TRUE Project on legumes – Annual Meeting at Athens 16-20 April 2018
TRUE partners assembled in Athens to consider progress in the first 12 months of the TRUE project. And what progress there has been: active collaborations within each of the regional groups, legume-based case studies well under way, an active knowledge exchange programme in many member states and of all deliverables delivered and targets achieved. TRUE is turning out to be one of the best of the EU projects to date. Check for updates at the TRUE website. Attending from the James Hutton Institute were Pete Iannetta (overall project coordinator), Fanny Tran, Mark Young, Euan James, Marta Maluk and me of course (Geoff Squire). Issues discussed around Hutton presentations will soon be posted on this site.
Legume transitions at the Association of Applied Biologists, Glasgow 21-22 March ’18
Geoff Squire and Pete Iannetta will be presenting an invited paper at the meeting Advances in Legume Science and Practice to be held on 21 and 22 March 2018. The talk will explore the transition matrix used in EU TRUE defining movement (a) along the quality chain and (b) towards greater sustainability. The argument goes that all crops and field practices open or close channels in the flow of energy and nutrients to different parts of the ecosystem and that sustainability can only be understood and managed by regulating these channels at a range of scales. Grain and forage legumes are valuable in that they open ecological channels to soil and food webs and nutritional channels to plant protein. Options are then explored for increasing legume production from its current very low base using a unique and innovative analysis based on the precise occurrence of peas and beans in crop sequences in over 100,000 fields. A synopsis of the talk with some diagrams and images is given on this site at Transitions to a legume based food and agriculture.
Plant prints and earth paintings
Tina Scopa’s work on plants and soil as both subjects and media for art is gaining wide recognition. The online journal and magazine Art Plantae published an extended article Plants that draw themselves on her use of natural materials, including her collaborations with the Living Field project.
Tina has an exhibition running from 3 to 30 March 2018 at An Tobar, a gallery and creative space on the island of Mull. The exhibition was also brought to wider attention by Art Plantae, in a post which asked the question: Can contemporary art reconnect society to the natural world?
Tina hosted a workshop on plant printing at the last LEAF Open Farm Sunday at the Hutton Institute in June 2017. She used local plants, pressed by hand to transfer their form and colour to paper that visitors (mostly children) could take away with them.
We are hoping to arrange a second workshop at this year’s Open Farm Sunday, which is to be held at Glensaugh experimental farm, near Laurencekirk between Dundee and Aberdeen on 10 June 2018.
The Science Behind Sustainable Resources, 27 February 2018
The exhibition currently running at the University of Dundee in the Beauty and Science of Plants will support a complementary event in the form of several short talks on the topic of Rethinking
Plants: the Science Behind Sustainable Resources. The date is Tuesday 27 February 2018 and the venue The Baxter Room, Tower Building, University of Dundee. Details at Eventbrite. Geoff Squire, Pete Iannetta and Ali Karley from Agroecology will be speaking about various methods devised to combine plant functions in fields and landscapes to create sustainable managed ecosystems.
Geoff will argue that several major periods of ‘crop diversification’, in which new crops are introduced or existing crops combined in different spatial and temporal arrangements, have occurred since the first farmers arrived here 5000+ years ago in the neolithic age. A major new ‘diversification’ event is needed in the next few decades to safeguard against future environmental and societal risks.
TRUE celebrates Global Pulse Day 10 February 2018
The growing of pulses, which are legumes such as peas and beans, was central to the agricultural improvement era after 1700, but for various reasons, their sown area declined in the UK and across much of Europe as mineral nitrogen fertiliser and legume imports replaced home production. In Scotland today, pulses occupy less than 1% of the area sown with arable crops. Pulses are making a come back, however, as their positive benefits to the environment and to human and animal health are increasingly realised.
The EU TRUE project is part of that legume resurgence. Here is some very welcome news from a survey carried out by TRUE partners in Portugal: PortugalFoods and Universidade Católica Portuguesa (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Within the last four years, products containing grain legumes such as beans, lentils or soybeans have registered an increase of 39% in Europe. Meat substitutes proved particularly successful with a growth rate of 451% on the European market. These are the results presented ahead of the Global Pulse Day February 10th 2018 with participation of the Europe-wide TRUE research project to boost the cultivation and utilization of grain legumes.
A press release has been issued ahead of Global Pulse Day on 10 February 2018: Meat substitutes and lentil pasta: Legume products on the rise in Europe (pr_true_iyp_feb18). TRUE Knowledge Exchange and Communication, E-Mail: email@example.com.
MEMISE: Modelling agroecosystems for Environmental Risk Assessment 8-9 January ’18
A colleague from INRA, France – Antoine Messean – found the funding to invite specialists to a workshop in this topic, stemming from ideas we developed together in EU projects PURE (integrated pest management) and AMIGA (environmental risk assessment). One of the main concepts
explored the need to reverse the usual chain of impact from “innovation – life forms – ecological processes – ecosystem services” to a more rounded, holistic approach that first sets out the desired state of the ecosystem, then works out what innovations are needed to reach that state.
After various discussions in 2017, the workshop was held in 8-9 January 2018 in Cambronne, Paris under the title: Modelling Agroecosystems and their relation to ecosystem services: contribution to Environmental Risk Assessment”. It brought together expertise from GMO, pesticide and plant health (phytosanitary) interests. Its aims were to share common interests, discuss methodologies in system modelling, identify gaps and opportunities and set up a network of competences for future collaborative action. Organisation and background document by Antoine Messean and Geoff Squire [More to follow.]
CAP Greening Group Scotland, report December 2017
It was good opportunity to be invited to join a group of people with interests in farming, food and the environment, collectively commissioned to review the current state and of CAP Greening measures and to explore options for the future. The consensus of the group, also widely held in Europe, is that the current Greening measures do not work, such that some radical change is needed. After several meetings in 2017, the findings were published by Scottish Government in December 2017. The summary report can be viewed and downloaded at CAP Greening Group – Discussion Paper. Further analysis of the report will be presented elsewhere on this site.
Before the CAP Greening Group began its activities in 2017, the James Hutton Institute was commissioned to carry out a comprehensive study of the state of agriculture and potential role of current Greening measures. A large part of the work involved a major exercise in mapping current and potential benefits of Greening based on data from the EU’s Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS). This major report was published in 2017: for links to the multi-part documentation, see CAP Greening Review on the SG web site; the section on mapping is Part 3 – Maps by Dave Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson and Keith Matthews. Geoff Squire and Cathy Hawes contributed a chapter on benefits and limitations of proposed Greening measures to the agro-ecosystem. [GS: 26 February 2018]
TRUE project Atlantic cluster meeting Peterborough 13-14 December 2018
The EU TRUE Project operates three regional integrated networks (now named ELINs) that aim to bring together a wide range of players from the commercial and scientific fields to take forward legume science and practice. The three ELINs cover Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean agro-climatic zones. This meeting – hosted at Pulse Growers Research Organisation PGRO near Peterborough covered Ireland, Denmark, the UK and nearby countries. Well attended, with vigorous, no holds barred, debate – in good faith – it was instructive to hear about the stringencies of commercial pulse seed production and distribution.
Pete Iannetta, coordinator of TRUE and member of the Agroecology group at Hutton gave summary presentations on the opportunities for legumes to slow and possible reverse some of the more damaging global effects on current high-input cropping systems. Geoff Squire went into the data analysis and modelling that forms the background to the design of new legume-based systems.
NASSTEC final conference at Kew 25-29 September 2017
For much of next week, the NASSTEC researchers will be joining a range of other scientists and technologists working in seeds and regeneration at a meeting arranged to coincide with the end of the project. The Conference: ‘Seed quality of native species – ecology, production and policy’ will be held from 25-29 September at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. The programme can be viewed at the Conference web site: https://nasstec.eu/conference/programme.
Best wishes to all the NASSTEC researchers for their presentations. Pete Iannetta and Tracy Valentine will be attending from the Hutton Institute. More on the EU NASSTEC project.
p.s. The images to the right are of several prepared in the late 1990s by David Crabbe from seed material presented by Gladys Wright and Geoff Squire.
Reconnecting with the Josef Stefan Institute, Slovenia 4-5 September 2017
With funding from the EU H2020 projects TRUE and Tomres, we can continue working with long term collaborators at the Institut Jozef Stefan in Ljubljana, Slovenia, specially Marko Debeljak and his co-workers Aneta Trajanov and Vladimir Kuzmanovski. The flight arrived at Ljubljana from Edinburgh via Amsterdam on Sunday 3 September 2017. Returning for the first time in 7 years, I saw again the distant Julian Alps and Slovenia’s small, green fields with their hayracks.
We had two full days, 4-5 September, working on one of the main problems in TRUE – the matrix between the transition steps and the pillars of sustainability – and on separate but related work on the interrogation of patterns in large datasets, in which the JSI excel. The transition steps express the way an innovation in food or agriculture, moves (or not) to commercial adoption and thence to markets and the consumer. TRUE will take a set of innovations in >20 case studies based on legume crops and foods and examine, first, how to ease the progression along the transition chain, and second, to assess the degree to which which each step is considered sustainable by criteria to be developed within the project. It’s a challenge!
It was not all work of course – there are few nicer things to do than taste local wine and food by the willowed banks of the river Ljubljanica on a warm evening. Many thanks to my hosts.
And another one – Tomres inaugural meeting Turin 8-9 June 2017
The latest of our EU H2020 projects to hold its kick-off meeting is Tomres, one of a set of projects targeting an important plant family that gives us a range of foods and medicinals – in this case tomato, while related projects (in which I am not involved) direct their energies at potato and similar species.
The Tomres meeting was held 8 and 9 June 2017 in Torino in the Italian Piedmont, a city of vitality and assured substance: old buildings side by side with youth and fashion; livelier than most UK cities. The meeting was held in a pillared and colonnaded edifice. I can’t think of anything so grand in the UK university scene. A selection of phone snaps is shown right.
The Hutton was well represented – Pietro Iannetta (Pete) as workpackage lead, and sundry others, namely Mark Young, Philip White, Graham Begg, Chantel Davies and Geoff Squire.
There are some quite innovative opportunities in this project. For my own interest, there’s scope to combine with H2020 TRUE to advance the methodologies in data mining and decision modelling. Others will develop concepts and methods in N-balances and nitrogen fixation, multiple environmental stresses and databasing.
Perhaps more than anything, it was great to meet friends and colleagues from Greece and Slovenia whom we’d got to know in previous EU grants. EU money had given hitherto unrivalled opportunities to share field sites and ideas across the varied regions of Europe. This project lets us continue to build on these achievements.
[more to follow]
EU 2020 successes
The realisation is gradually filtering through of the major success by Agroecology colleagues in gaining new EU funded H2020 projects in 2017. The first to kick off is TRUE, the short name for Transition Paths to Sustainable Legume-Based systems in Europe. The first meeting was held in Edinburgh on 19-21 April 2017. TRUE is one of two major projects coordinated by Agroecology people – this one by Pete Iannetta.
And when the meetings were over the remaining team relaxed in pleasant surroundings, as the photograph by Marta Vasconcelos shows. More on TRUE will be posted on this site at New EU TRUE projects holds first meeting.
Agroecology Brazil – Scotland
Strathclyde University lecturer and researcher Brian Garvey contacted Agroecology@Hutton to arrange for visitors from Brazil to see something of the experiments and farm. He has been “working with community organisations in Scotland and social movements in Brazil on agrarian reform and agroecology. We have with us Enedina Andrade who was a leader of the Landless Peoples Movement of Brazil for 20 years and involved in a women’s association in Sao Paulo establishing agroecology and agroforestry projects in an agrarian reform settlement.” Enedina is also interested in preserving and using native ‘creole’ seed, and by coincidence several NASSTEC researchers and students were in the area (see next but one item below). So quite a crowd met on Saturday 11 March 2017 at the Cairn O’Mhor winery cafe for lunch and then to Balruddery Farm to look at landscape management and the Centre for Sustainable Cropping.
It was quite a cold day for the visitors from Brazil, and Spain, Croatia, USA and Italy. The party included, as well as Brian and Enedina, Stephanie Frischie, Maria Marin, Erica Dello Jacovo, Antonio Teixeira, and Marcello de Vitis (all NASSTEC), and from the Hutton, Pete Iannetta (with family) and Geoff Squire. Good to exchange experiences and ideas. Also, very pleasing to see such interest in our work from people on the very front line of issues in food security and the fair and proper use of land.
Feeding the Cities
Talks and discussion under this topic occupied one of the Saturday sessions organised as part of the 2000m2 Fields of Enquiry project organised from Whitmuir Community Farm, south of Penicuik. The session was held on 25 February 2017 at the Lamancha Hub in the village of Lamancha, south of Penicuik. More on Whitmuir Farm, the project and past and future events can be reviewed through the links below.
The 2000 square metres comes from the unit of land that results by dividing the world’s arable (cropped) land by the number of people alive today. The value in the UK as a whole, and in Scotland, is about 1000 square metres; and while Scotland has much more land area per person than, say, England or the Netherlands, much of that area is not arable – you can’t grow crops on it. It was a great day: great to meet and discuss with people committed to better food and farming. Thanks to Heather Anderson for the invite. Geoff Squire and Ali Karley from the James Hutton Institute presented talks on the day.
Native seed for restoration and regeneration
The 3rd annual meeting of the NASSTEC project was held between 31 January and 3 February 2017, hosted in Cordoba, Spain. NASSTEC funding supports and trains 11 doctoral students in the science and practice of seed sampling from the wild, seed biology and the production and marketing of native seed in regeneration and conservation. Pete Iannetta (project lead here) and Geoff Squire attended from the Hutton. Thanks to colleagues from Semillas Silvestres, a native seed company for hosting the meeting and its associated cultural events. More to follow..
Several students in the project have visited the Institute in recent months. Cristina Blandino, from Italy based at Kew, was here in late January to measure biophysical indicators of the soil from her collection sites. Visits by at least two other students are scheduled before summer. Further information at Native Seed Science Technology and Conservation Initial Training Network and €3 million project underway to enhance wild plant seed industries.
British Ecological Society December 2016 links …. and links ….. and links
An outing at the British Ecological Society – in fact a paper on the various benefits of intercropping, barley peas and and bean beer was taken on by a couple of press articles (thanks to Pete Iannetta):
Deutschlandfunk Klimafreundliches Brauen – Bohnen im Bier by Volker Mrasek; and ScienceDaily.com Peas and goodwill: an ecologist’s wish this Christmas about pea barley intercrops at the Institute.
And it did not stop there – it was on Swiss Radio on 6 January, see “Bohnenbier” at SRF Wissenschafts-magazin, also by Volker Mrasek (and you might even hear an interview with Pete himself!!)
There’s bound to be more …..
[4 January 2017 … continuing]
Dundee meeting on Landscape and biodiversity 29-31 March 2017
A meeting of the International Organisation for Biological Control (IOBC) is to be held in Dundee 29-31 March 2017. Details at this link Landscape management for functional biodiversity. More later …. [19 December 2016]
New legume products
Pete Iannetta and colleagues have for some years been aiming to trial and release new commercial products from grain legumes such as peas and beans. The beans4feeds project gave rise to a fish feed products made from locally grown faba beans. Later, trials successfully made bread from bean flour. Then, bean beer was brewed and bottled by Barney’s Beer of Edinburgh – the ale known as Tundra IPA, named after the bean variety used to make it. The latest is that Pete joined Euan Caldwell from the farm in picking up an award at the 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards on 25 November 2016. For an example of our outreach activities on legumes, see Feel the Pulse on the Living Field web site. [1 December 2016]
Awards for magic margins
The Hutton arable farm near Dundee recently won a second award for its ‘magic margins’ – furrowed field margins, tied at intervals to reduce water runoff, erosion and pollution. The latest recognition came as Euan Caldwell collected the Contribution to Sustainability Award at the 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards on 25 November 2016. Earlier in the year, the farm was presented with the Innovation Award at the RSPB Nature of Scotland 2016 Award ceremony in Edinburgh. The margins have many other benefits – the broadleaf plant patches are a fine habitat for beneficial insects while the furrows prevent unauthorised driving of vehicles round fields. Read more at the Hutton/LEAF web site and at Hutton Innovation and Excellence recognised at 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards. [1 December 2016]
Page began 1 December 2016
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