“Regenerative farming is the way to go.”

We really shouldn’t need reminding – but we are still in a climate emergency. Covid and public health measures may be taking up most of our thoughts but churning away in the background are all the issues related to our changing climate.

The Sustainable Orkney Conference, which for 2020, is online and free to take part in provides the platform for taking some of the issues related to environmental concerns forward. Hosted by Orkney Renewable Energy Forum (OREF) the talks are both varied and stimulating.

On Wednesday, 28th of October the theme was Land Use. Two speakers – Dr Sarah Crowe an ecologist and Erlend Spence an Orcadian farmer both spoke about the actions they have taken and how we can move forward in Orkney to improve our natural environment.

Sarah Crowe talked about the incredible nature we have surrounding us in the islands. She said that we ‘are part of nature’ not separate from it and that Covid was an opportunity to reset our interaction with the natural world around us.

Some of the things Sarah would like to see would be expanding Orkney’s natural habitats, increasing and improving on the core paths, and to stop being so tidy when cutting grass verges.

A cycle route in Kirkwall ends half way to the ferry terminal, in an industrial estate

Erlend Spence has been an organic farmer for 10 years and has moved to using rotational grazing – mob grazing as it is sometimes known.

Rotational Grazing was the subject of a debate hosted by the SRUC last year. – The Graze Debate

Erlend Spence’s talk was a fascinating one and how rotational grazing improves the structure and composition of the soil. The animals are healthier because the improved multi species of grass/legumes/herbs is better for their guts. The increased number of plants also helps support a wider diversity of wildlife.

For farmers trying to reduce their carbon footprint – not easy with so many diesel pieces of machinery – rotational grazing is a way to get this balance right.

There are about 30 organic farms in Orkney and adopting rotational grazing is a transitional stage for those who do not want to go the whole way with adopting organics.

Erlend Spence commented: “Regenerative farming is the way to go.”

None of the topics covered by the speakers is a quick fix but they can be done. They don’t all take massive amounts of funding but they will take time to establish.

Creating a network of paths and cycle ways across Orkney does take funding – quite substantial funding if it is to be done properly – but the payback in improving the public’s health and well being would be a long term saving for our NHS.

And let us remember where we began. We are in a climate emergency. The options are to do nothing, carrying on as ‘normal’, resulting in more health pandemics, extinction of many species and increased frequency of severe weather events.

Or we can use this time wisely to reset the journey we are on and create a better and more sustainable environment.

The next talk from the Sustainable Orkney Conference will be on Tuesday 3rd of November, 7pm. The subject – Transport.

self heal credit Bell

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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