BRITISH FARMERS must not be be unfairly blamed as the villains in the climate change debate.

This warning from the National Sheep Association was aimed at members of the press covering climate change discussions, as over 25,000 delegates gathered in Glasgow for COP26.

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The organisation has reiterated its message that British sheep farmers are not only on the frontline experiencing the impacts of climate change first hand, but are the ones delivering on climate mitigation through adapting their systems to protect the land for future generations.

Members of the organisation continue to raise concerns that despite British agriculture being amongst the most sustainable and environmentally friendly in the world, the positive role it can have on climate change is often ignored or lumped into the same category as global agriculture emissions.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker explained: “UK agriculture, and particularly sheep farming, is different because it is highly reliant on grass. The UK sheep industry operates extensively on open pasture, much of which is unsuitable for other land use. Grass-fed lamb has a far lower environmental impact compared to processed foods based on soya, almonds or palm oil, and crucially grassland (pasture) also acts as a vital carbon sink.

“Sheep used in mixed farming systems help naturally rejuvenate soil for arable crops, and farmers of all different types work hard to find a balance between biodiversity and productivity on farm, providing thriving habitats to support and protect nature.”

UK sheep farming is also far less reliant on fossil fuels than many other industries, which NSA pointed out were the recognised major contributor to climate change.

“Fossil fuels are absolutely where the focus of change needs to be placed," continued Mr Stocker. "Within farming, considerable effort has already been made to reduce reliance on fossil fuels including reduced fertiliser use and this in part has contributed to the fact that carbon emissions on UK farms are actually reducing not growing. This surely cannot be said for many industries yet the focus of reducing climate change is still frequently directed at agriculture with sweeping generalisations made.”

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NSA believes that the UK sheep sector’s extensive nature, producing a nutritious source of protein with low carbon footprint including low food miles is an essential part of a balanced diet and one that could be key to the UK’s efforts in reducing climate change.

Mr Stocker concluded: “For years our hard working farmers have been supported by the British public, but there has never been a more important time to continue that support to ensure the sector has a positive future and that we don’t simply push our food production out of sight and out of mind. NSA welcomes debate and discussion so we can sustain our environment for future generations. The UK sheep farmer works as part of it every day and is ready and waiting to be part of the solution. We are not the villain here – we care too, far more than the finger of blame might suggest.”