Linklog entries in March 2024

Thursday, 28 March 2024

Letter to Private Eye 

I love Private Eye. It’s a publication that I generally trust. When I know a subject well, I’ve found reports in the Eye to be accurate and often impressively so, honing in on the details that really matter. It’s home to some brilliant journalists.

However I’ve grown increasingly wary of the Agri Brigade column, which sometimes jars with my understanding of farming matters. I was so frustrated by ‘Bio Waste Spreader’s coverage of the Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme that I wrote my very first letter to the editor. I’m grateful to Private Eye for printing it.


I was disappointed and dismayed to read the Agri-Brigade column mischaracterise the Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme as proposing “to set aside 20 percent of farmland for trees and wildlife” (Eye 1619). Environmental benefits shouldn’t be set against productive farming; the two ought to go hand-in-hand. Whilst much has been written about ‘no farmers, no food’, there can be neither without nature.

Paying farmers to tackle climate change and restore nature will help to recover ecosystems, making food production more resilient. Farmers need healthy soils which can hold more water to guard against floods and drought.

The proposed target for 10 percent of tree cover on farms is for 10 percent of suitable land rather than the entire holding, and includes existing trees. The Woodland Trust has assessed that average farm tree cover in Wales is already 6-7%. Trees and hedges provide shade and shelter for livestock, complementing good animal husbandry. Fruit and nut trees can also contribute towards food security.

The target to manage another 10 percent of land as ‘habitat’ is even more flexible. This includes species-rich grassland which can be grazed (many farmers already espouse the benefits of herbal leys), ponds, or woodland (whereby the woodland floor can count as habitat whilst the canopy counts as trees - so if your farm is ten percent woodland, you’ve got your twenty percent right there).

Does this amount to taking 20 percent of land out of production? Clearly not. It’s a false binary which fuels a toxic culture war. Misreporting has been rife throughout the media but I expect better from Private Eye.

When I shared my original letter on Twitter, I was quickly informed of a mistake of my own. I had implied that hedgerows counted towards the ten percent of tree cover, when in fact only trees within hedgerows that exceed 3 metres in height count. I thought I’d take the opportunity to clarify that here.