NATURE FRIENDLY farming must be the future in the face of the climate change emergency – but farmers must be paid for their efforts.

That was the message delivered at an event in the Scottish Parliament to mark the one-year anniversary of the Nature Friendly Farmer’s Network in Scotland.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, NFFN chair Michael Clarke said: “We believe you can and should produce food in ways that work with nature. However, farmers will have to be rewarded financially if they are to set aside land for conservation purposes, as the market currently rewards conventional food production,” he continued.

“Upland farmers, who may feel restricted by their position, could benefit from moving toward this approach, looking at things like rush management and controlled grazing, but they deserve to be paid to do this, as they will be delivering public goods,” he said.

Mr Clarke stressed that climate change was now happening in real time: “We are late in the game and now face a biodiversity emergency – a climate change crisis. We think farmers are uniquely placed, with the right support, to spearhead a transformational change in the countryside. It’s too late for small changes – we need big changes if we are going to make this a better countryside for the next generation to live in."

Some of the practices advocated by the NFFN include 'regenerative' agriculture, working to improve soil health, treating animals as sentient beings, and prioritising animal welfare throughout the meat production process. Farmers are encouraged to create connected habitats on their land so that wildlife can live alongside commercial food production.

One crofter who has been championing the work of NFFN is Lynn Cassells, who along with her partner Sandra Baer looks after a 150-acre croft in the Cairngorms National Park.

“We farm with nature, to be wild. We work with what we’ve got; we use our livestock to improve our croft productivity – their welfare is our obsession. We produce as much food as we can and sell directly to the local community,” explained Ms Cassells.

On their Lynbreck croft they aim to be carbon neutral, looking after native animals including Highland cattle, Jacob sheep, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, a variety of hens and multiple colonies of Scottish Black bees – all chosen because they are suitable for their land and climate, and help build soil and organic matter. However, Lynn explained the financial challenges they faced: “We don’t qualify for basic payment, therefore we claim no annual subsidies to support our growing business in the face of cheap food. Even if we did qualify, our land has been given such low financial value that it probably wouldn’t be worth our while, so for us, day to day survival is very real, like many farmers,” she stressed.

“But like a phoenix, we rise from the flames and we are trying to build a stronger resilient diversified business that can stand on its own two feet financially. We want to support and protect us and our livestock as our climate changes. We want to use our experience to help build a new system that encourages more of our way of farming – nature’s way for which we know there is a massive need,” she said.