I just got back from a busy couple of weeks away, a good mix of catching up with old friends, work and music.
I enjoyed the Royal Norfolk Show and Groundswell on the 28 and 29 June. My first time at the Royal Norfolk Show, a sprawling mix of everything Norfolk with farming at the heart of it. Big machines, busy tents, over 10 kilometres walked. I can’t go to a county show without thinking of Father Ted and kept looking out for the spinning cat.
It was great to see my friend Tom Nixon showing Gharsun and other beautiful Clydesdale horses. Prize-winners (they scooped several) looking stunning in polished tack, they’re nonetheless working animals with a valuable role to play in conservation management.
Groundswell has grown in size and stature in the three years that I’ve attended, a festival of creative ideas for sustainable farming and a brilliant chance to catch up with so many good people. They have been busily adding videos of sessions from last month’s event to their YouTube channel. Very handy if like me you couldn’t be in four different places at once and missed most of it.
I missed this session on connecting community, ecology and culture in landscape-scale regeneration as I was in another on environmental markets. A fascinating primer on bioregional weaving, mobilising changemakers, the 4 Returns framework and holistic thinking about change. My epiphany of the last few years is just how central agriculture is to the recovery of nature and landscapes and the health of communities, so it’s brilliant to see this stuff discussed at a farming event.
Groundswell has, er, swelled. It seemed about half as big again as the last one. The big top got bigger. Andy Cato was DJing. They even had long drop toilets to complete the festival feel.
There were more stands this year offering slick propositions around natural capital finance, from soil testing for carbon to habitat banking. I asked a guy at one stand, would they be interested in doing habitat banking for biodiversity net gain with a farm that had already invested in biodiversity and established species-rich grassland? No, was the answer. They want places with a low baseline. He even admitted to me that he had disappointed several farmers that day with the same answer. If you’ve already invested in biodiversity on your farm, if you’ve already been building carbon in hedgerows and soils, if you’re already in Countryside Stewardship, additionality rules around carbon and biodiversity might limit your opportunities to engage with this financing. Even if you can, you need to be ready to change how you use your land for 30 years, 100 years, or in perpetuity, to enter into a market that is still very new, with scant regulation. Chris Smaje noticed those stands as well and has some interesting thoughts.
I enjoyed Groundswell, and I’d love to go back, but particularly after the Royal Norfolk Show I couldn’t help but feel like it needed a few more horses.
After Groundswell, a week in London and meeting up with friends, some work on a new project and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band being amazing at Hyde Park. He’s 73 and the band have been together for over 50 years. Brilliant.