Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Idiot Farmer

From The Daily Mail:

Farmers have criticised the BBC programme Countryfile after a report claimed that sheep were to blame for causing flooding. Journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot said on the show:

"Sheep in the hills cause floods in the flood plains. We are very prone to flooding... one of the major reasons is because all the vegetation has been removed and soil compacted by the hooves of the sheep and water just flashes off the pasture."


So it's a bit more nuanced than "blaming sheep", for a start.

He's on to something here, is George, he wrote a lengthy article in The G about it, all makes perfect sense if you gloss over the inevitable references to Climate Change.

Sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, of Llanfairfechan, North Wales, who lost 300 sheep on the hills in last winter’s snow, said he had complained about the programme.

He added: "Farmers are furious with the comments on the programme. The floods can’t be blamed on sheep on the uplands of Wales and elsewhere. I’d like Mr Monbiot to see what the life of an uplands farmer means."


What sort of fucking relevance does that have?

It's like Person A claiming that McDonalds generate too much packaging waste (which might or might not be true) and Idiot Company Director hitting back by saying: "I'd like Person A to see how hard our employees have to work."

Retard, presumed guilty.

20 comments:

Kj said...

Farmers pull this all the time. The point about uplands being grazed is indeed nuanced. From the outset, highlands where there is grazing where there could be higher level vegetation, trees etc., will have more runoff, or "filtration of water" as they call for making it sounds like a good thing. And compaction, that might come from wrong management, increases the surface runoff. OTOH, right management with uplands grazing could increase soil organic matter, and retain more water/stagger runoff.
But in the end, upland grazing sheep provide f-all food in terms of both volume and value, so that´s two good arguments against maintaining the practice if push came to shove, or at least stop subsidizing it...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Kj, that wasn't really my point.

The point is, why is it relevant that sheep farming is hard life? That just means is economically unproductive, i.e. even less reason for doing it.

Kj said...

That´s true. It´s a useless thing to say ofcourse.

DBC Reed said...

Monbiot has had a go at sheep before especially in " The Lake District is a wildlife desert .Blame Wordsworth" Guardian 6th Sept 2013 where he cites an official report which reckons that good practice is to graze one sheep per upland hectare.As my uncle was a (tenant) farmer, I reckon to know the size of a 20 acre field (< BIG >)and as a hectare is just less than 2.5 acres ,this means a whacking great area like this is being used to raise about eight sheep .
Monbiot is all for "rewilding" the uplands turning them into commons with loads of trees.Seems good to me.
He has been tapped up on the LVT front and is OK on the subject See Monbiot "I agree with Churchill" Guardian 8 Nov 2012

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, he's not "having a go at sheep" he is saying that deforestation of slopes and using it for sheep farming is bad for the environment (floods) and makes no economic sense.

He also says that land subsidies make no sense, which is the same as saying that LVT makes sense, isn't it?

I'm starting to like him.

The Stigler said...

Mark,

I have a lot of respect for George Monbiot, because he came out after Fukushima and declared that he now thought nuclear was the best route to decarbonising. He'd looked at how little harm had been done and changed his mind.

Kj said...

TS: he's remarkably open to "things that work", for a writer iin the Guardian.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, Kj, yes, his Fukushima article was what first appealed to me, having had the same thought myself. I even did a fun online poll about it and people in general thought the same way.

Bayard said...

"he wrote a lengthy article in The G about it, all makes perfect sense if you gloss over the inevitable references to Climate Change"

Yes, his article makes sense, and isn't about blaming sheep, but pointing out that government subsidies have given farmers the incentive to thing harmful to the environment for years, which anyone who has had anything to do with farming already knows. It was only recently that the gov't stopped paying farmers to rip out hedgerows. However to say "Sheep in the hills cause floods in the flood plains." is complete bollocks. Sheep have been kept on the hills for centuries and we are only getting flooding now. "one of the major reasons is because all the vegetation has been removed and soil compacted by the hooves of the sheep and water just flashes off the pasture." It is only certain types of soil that compact when animals are run on it and many upland soils are not of these types. If it rains hard, the water "flashes off" the field next to me, which hasn't seen a sheep or been pasture for years. When soil becomes waterlogged, the rain runs off, whether it is pasture or plough. As he rightly points out in his article, it's nothing to do with the sheep or anything growing on the fields, it due to having hedgerows to catch and hold the water and trees to help it drain into the soil. So sorry George, as ever, you don't really know what you are talking about.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B: "As he rightly points out in his article, it's nothing to do with the sheep or anything growing on the fields, it's due to having hedgerows to catch and hold the water and trees to help it drain into the soil.

So sorry George, as ever, you don't really know what you are talking about."


Yes he does.

The key bit in his article is the bit about trees being good for soaking up rain water. On which you and he appear to agree.

DBC Reed said...

Brilliant .An argument breaks out when we are in agreement.So(throwing aside mask of peacemaker),he is anti sheep and this is more apparent in the ur-article "The Lake District is a wild life desert" which nobody has bothered to read .
BTW I would claim some involvement in saving Monbiot for LVT by publishing a long fairly incomprehensible letter in Guardian which I finished with compulsory plug for LVT some months before his conversion.

Bayard said...

"The key bit in his article is the bit about trees being good for soaking up rain water. On which you and he appear to agree."

If he really knew what he was talking about, he wouldn't follow up the good point about trees with a lot of bollocks about sheep. I suspect he is a vegetarian taking an opportunity to have a pop at meat production.

Bayard said...

"But in the end, upland grazing sheep provide f-all food in terms of both volume and value, so that´s two good arguments against maintaining the practice if push came to shove, or at least stop subsidizing it..."

There's no good reason to subsidise anything, but food that is produced in volume cheaply seldom tastes of anything. The best lamb comes from sheep kept on marginal land, because such land is not an eco-desert, like intensively managed farmland.

Kj said...

B: Sure, you can get very good lamb from areas like that. Just not very much. You can get very good lamb from more productive lowland grazing as well, including from multi-species grass leys in mixed-farming situation, and much more so.

But as you´ve hinted to, and I agree, there are marginal lands appropriate for sheep, where grazing improves the ecosystem, including downstream effects, and there are marginal lands where they don´t.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, your first assumption would appear to be correct.

B, Kj, your debate about which lamb tastes best is about as far off topic as you've got from the original post.

The question is: do you like mint sauce with your lamb? Do they even have it in Norway?

Discuss.

Kj said...

MW: no and no. Don´t eat that much lamb, neither me/mine or the population as a whole. The most popular dish is just cooked lamb in water with cabbage and black pepper, or cured and salted ribs for the holidays, steamed. Mint-sauce, wtf! ;)

Mark Wadsworth said...

Kj, "Mint sauce, WTF?"

Yes, a lot of foreigners say that.

The Stigler said...

Bayard,

The best lamb comes from sheep kept on marginal land, because such land is not an eco-desert, like intensively managed farmland.

Yes, but that's not hill farms. The sheep on hill farms have to be hardy. It's also such a tough environment that they need sileage and have to be moved to lowland farms.

The stuff that foodies seek out is salt marsh lamb and rare breed lamb.

Bayard said...

Mark, no, I don't think it does anything for the taste (mint sauce that is).

TS, most hill farms are marginal land - sheep are the only thing you can grow on them, but yes, a lot of sheep are moved to lowland farms in the winter, but some breeds stay in the hills all the year round.

But to return to the original topic, I am amazed that hill farmers go on doing what they do: it's a hard life for little money, but that doesn't mean that they deserve a medal for doing it. Actually Moonboot and Gareth Wyn Jones make a good pair, both made a good point and then spoilt it by coming out with some irrelevant crap.

DBC Reed said...

Sheep at low levels get foot-rot.