Outdoor Focus Summer 2018 - Page 12

Environme in a small-scale way – to produce food for which there is a growing market. The other thing about ORFC is the sense of enthusiasm for the possibility of change and so the two complement one another, like a father and son (or Brian and Adam from The Archers). Rob Yorke, OWPG member and independent rural commentator, secured a wide-ranging interview on behalf of BBC Countryfile Magazine with Michael Gove on places he likes to walk, farming, rewilding, hen harriers, uplands, neonicotinoids, food imports, glyphosate, animal welfare, woodland, Defra and what the countryside might look like in 25 years’ time. ‘In between the lines, it’s as interesting to note what this astute politician couldn’t answer; as to the stuff he did answer in my interview’ says Rob. (Rob Yorke) Firstly, what are your personal connections to rural Britain and where do you love to walk? (Michael Gove) Both sides of my family have connections to fishing and the sea and when I was growing up I would spend weekends in the countryside around Aberdeen. I’m particularly fond of a place called Cruden Bay, where you have Slains Castle, which helped inspire Bram Stoker’s Dracula and that rugged coastline is dear to me. I’m very fond of Chobham Common in my Surrey constituency, which has wonderful heathland. Also, I quite like the big skies of East Norfolk. And I love east Somerset, an area of dairy farming, rolling hills – a classic West Country landscape. You are the first secretary of state to address both Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) and its alternative the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). Why? It’s a bit like the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe; the OFC is an established institution, bringing together some of the most thoughtful and progressive people, asking themselves questions about the future of food, farming and the countryside. The ORFC represents those who are interested in a more organic approach, and what I found encouraging were those who don’t have a farming background but who want to work on the land – often 12 Outdoor focus | summer 2018 ...we know that trees in farmland contribute to soil health, to providing a habitat for biodiversity Brexit is likely the end of land-based subsidies for farming, to be replaced by funding support for public goods. What results do you believe could be delivered? There needs to be public investment in the countryside. We’re consulting on a system whereby farmers/landowners/ land managers are paid for public goods, and helped to provide food. The existing Common Agricultural Policy led to some perverse outcomes with a desire to just drive up yield, not thinking of the countryside holistically. A few trees in farmland is currently regarded as an impediment, detracting from the amount of subsidy received. But we know that trees in farmland contribute to soil health, to providing a habitat for biodiversity. It will also, and I don’t apologise for it, make the countryside more beautiful. Provided the support is shaped in the right way, what we want to do is go with the grain of what the majority of farmers want to do, but also what the British public want and value in our countryside. You recently said you’d like to ‘return cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states’ – that hints at roughing up or rewilding some of the land, while intensifying productivity elsewhere with possible increase in food imports and even food prices. I think we can have a virtuous cycle. Graham Harvey in his book Grass Fed Nation makes the case of meadows being part of mixed farms producing high- quality food. And as a country we’re increasingly moving in the direction of valuing quality and asking about