Phil Knott, a Skye-based crofter and vice-chair of Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) Scotland, has been facilitating on-farm events on Islay and Jura. Here he tells us what the aim of the meetings has been:

The Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), Nourish Scotland, the Landworkers’ Alliance, Pasture for Life, Soil Association Scotland and Propagate are supporting practical knowledge sharing on agroecology through a series of events across Scotland.

As part of this, the NFFN is running a programme focusing on biodiversity in island-based farming and crofting on Islay, Jura and Colonsay, with a group of 24 participants ranging from crofters with a few acres to larger estates. Each event explores how farms and crofts of all sizes and sectors can boost biodiversity while improving the financial bottom line and reaping multiple resilience benefits from working in partnership with the environment.

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A recent gathering was at the Ardlussa Estate, on Jura, where discussions of input costs, pasture management, invasive non-native species and deer management were on the agenda. There was no shortage of expertise and enthusiasm among the group, who shared their experiences adapting new systems, including the opportunities and challenges of integrating low-carbon, climate-resilient practices on their farms and crofts.

The real joy in these events is the safe space created to share ideas, failures and successes without judgement.

When exploring nature-friendly farming, getting out and about on the farm is key to experiencing the sheer range and scale of on-farm habitats, and in many cases, witnessing wildlife first-hand.

On our visit to Cornabus Farm, on Islay, we were repeatedly distracted by hen harrier, golden and white-tailed eagles and the fantastic range of other birds, including the rare and declining Greenland white-fronted geese. A huge element of these farmer and crofter gatherings is seeing how our farm and croft ecosystems work hand in hand with food production to support a rural landscape that is healthy, resilient and cost-effective for individual businesses to thrive.

The High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems on the West Coast have a range of habitats that include high densities of nationally significant species, such as corncrake, hen harrier, chough and the marsh fritillary butterfly, as well as nesting waders and wintering wildfowl.

For nature-friendly farming and crofting to be the norm, Scotland’s farmers and crofters need a steer in the right direction sooner rather than later. Scottish Government must support those working with nature to produce high-quality food and fund those working to reduce their input dependency and whole-farm carbon footprint. This means sufficiently investing in HNV farming across all of Scotland.

The will is there to continue working together as we navigate the challenges we face across climate, nature and the economy. Having hosted and facilitated many events like this, I see the need for these projects to continue across Scotland.

It is especially true for hill farming and crofting areas, where the only larger gatherings or socialisation is at annual shows, or sales.

While our skills and knowledge can benefit from formal training and structured workshops, we mustn’t forget the power of networking peer-to-peer at open events over a cup of tea and a sandwich.

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With no hidden agenda or strict timetable, we gain a lot by remembering we’re all in this together and that one farmer, or crofter’s failed experience and fruitful success can be another’s lesson learned. At a time when the changes afoot can feel overwhelming, more than anything, we need to support each other in being a collective voice for a better food and farming future.

Between August, 2022, and March, 2023, NFFN is working with its partners to facilitate a series of events for farmer, crofter and grower groups, including a webinar series. The groups are currently meeting on farms, crofts and market gardens across Scotland. This project is funded by the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund.