Nature Friendly Farming

Exploring a level 2 curriculum for agroecology

The qualification options for equipping people for land-based careers in an agroecological context are limited. As we understand more about the challenges in the current globalised, industrialised food and farming systems, the need to train our young people for a different food producing future becomes critical.

At Haigh Hall, the plans are to do just that. Combining agroecology, heritage kitchen gardening and food system politics a new two-year, accredited level 2 apprenticeship in productive horticulture is under development. There are currently no horticultural apprenticeships in Wigan, so together with the local college (Wigan and Leigh) we have the opportunity to create something beneficial for the borough and the wider region.

The walled gardens are due for restoration and we have the opportunity to design and build a syllabus as well as a garden ideally suited for training a new generation of growers.

Follow the link below to join us and co-design a curriculum that will better fit the future, and provide feedback for the barriers for change with the existing qualifications frameworks:

10.30am – 4pm (lunch and refreshments provided)

Haigh Hall, WN2 1PE, near Wigan, Monday 11 March 2024.

Outline programme:

10.30 am Arrival/tea/coffee

10.45am Introductions and welcome

11.30am Context: the qualifications landscape and progress/challenges towards embedding agroecology in existing models

11.30pm Tour of Haigh Hall

1.00pm Lunch

1.45pm Co-designing a L2

3.15pm Collation of feedback on current system

3.30pm Wrap up and next steps/what more is needed in the North?

4pm Close

Designing a ‘planetary plate’ – Monday 26 February 2024

Join us at this event to work together to explore the concept of an eat well and planetary plate for the North of England. We aim to highlight some of the foods that are traditionally grown and eaten in the North of England and celebrate a local, seasonal menu.

The event is now sold out. Follow the link below to register your interest in being part of this work and helping us to explore and preserve some of the North’s diversity of seeds and breeds:

10.30am – 2.30pm (lunch included)

The Catton Kitchen, near Thirsk, 26 February 2024.

Places are limited so please book asap.

Outline programme:

10am – arrival and get acquainted with the pigs and veg!

10.30am – introductions

11.00am – exploring the context and what’s happened already

11.20am – coffee

11.30am – developing an eat well plate for Northern England

1.00pm – lunch

2.00pm – next steps

2.30pm – cake and goodbyes

3.00pm – close

How to farm using biology and natural capital rather than chemistry

Farming is at a crossroads and critical to a new path will be utilising natural capital and our soil biology to reduce inorganic inputs and create better margins.

This session will explore the transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture, what the impacts have been from fertilisers and chemicals not only for our soils but also the nutritional value of our food. We will cover:
  • How by introducing biology into our soils can reverse this damage,improve the nutritional density of our food and how this can be achieved at a practical farming level by activating
  • Nature’s own soil food web

Speakers/hosts include:

Harry Holden – Harry is a director at Springfield Agri, having spent many years in the chilled food industry can see the possibilities that a new way of farming presents to the next generation of Land managers

Daniel Tyrkiel – Daniel is a Director at soil ecology lab. His passion is to return the soil to a growing system which is enhanced by the biology that has always been there and provide the practical solutions to how it can be achieved

Farm walk: Growing Well and Low Sizergh Farm

Hosted by Growing Well and Low Sizergh Farm

Growing Well Kendal and Low Sizergh Farm are both based from the Sizergh Estate in Kendal.

Growing Well Kendal is a mental health charity, training centre and the biggest producer of organic vegetables in Cumbria. Between Monday and Thursday every week Growing Well open their doors to members of the community who have been referred via their GP due to their mental health to learn how to grow, sew, hoe and much more to provide veg boxes for the local community ‘crop share’ with a friendly team of volunteers at hand. The lead growers at the site will be able to walk you around the 8-year crop rotation on site and talk you through why organic practices are so important to them and the amazing progress they have made in the past few years.

Low Sizergh Farm is a working farm still run by three generations of the family. Alison can be found running the farm shop, gift gallery and café, whilst her brother Richard (who will be leading the tour) runs the farm with his son Matthew.  John jokes that he’s now the farm boy sent to run all the errands and Marjorie spends as much time as possible painting in her shed. More than 50 local people are employed with Paul Seward working on the farm for nearly 30 years. They do everything with the future in mind, looking after the soil, the landscape and wildlife whilst being part of a vibrant rural economy. Their main crop is the grass that the cows eat all year round which helps them produce milk that they sell in the shop vending machine, the organic milk suppliers cooperative OMSCO and a local cheese and ice cream maker.

A point of interest would be how the farm started out as organic, changed to non-organic practices then back to organic for an array of reasons you’ll be able to discover on the tour.

You will need to book places on this walk separately. More information will be sent to all ticket-holders. There is additional information about Low Sizergh Farm below.

Low Sizergh Farm is a working farm still run by three generations of the Park family. They do everything with the future in mind, looking after the soil, the landscape and wildlife whilst being part of a vibrant rural economy.

Milk is sold through a vending machine outside the farm shop, the organic milk suppliers cooperative OMSCO and to a local cheese and ice cream maker.

Cows Youngstock:  168 Holstein x Swedish Red x Montbeliarde 109 Young
stock, cross breeding for 20 years with a strong emphasis on healthy cows and milk from forage.

Autumn block calved over 12 weeks

Grassland management:

All grazing is rotational, dairy cow platform split into 33 paddocks 1.45 HA 12-hour breaks, YS moved daily fields splitusing electric fences, front and back, with mobile water troughs. Sheep moved weekly.

Dry cows are mob grazed over parkland and permanent pasture.

Re seeding cow grazing with simple herbal ley ryegrass white & red clover chicory & plantain. Silage ryegrass red clover chicory and plantain. still experimenting to find the best mix, 4 cuts of silage and round bales from surplus grass on grazing area.

Arable:  Spring barley and peas for whole crop on a 4-year rotation over the silage area

Conservation work:

  • Traditional hedge management
  • Re-planting of orchards with local varieties of apple, damson, plum
  • Creation of pond
  • Fencing off less useful grassland for wildlife habitat farm trail
  • HLS scheme ends Jan 22 considering the options

A point of interest would be how the farm started out as organic, changed to non-organic practices then back to organic after trainings in Holistic management and farm scale permaculture see how these practices have been incorporated in the farms management on the tour.



Farm walk: Working with farmers to balance environmental priorities and a profitable farm business

Hosted by the Ribble Rivers Trust

The Ribble Rivers Trust have worked with many Ribble Catchment farmers over the past decade. During the years we have been asked many questions, one of the most popular being how can I deliver environmental benefits whilst still having profitable business? This is what we are working on with all of our farmers. The Ribble Rivers Trust would like to invite you to site visit at one of the farms we have worked with for many years – Laund Farm, near Chipping, in the Forest of Bowland. Here we will discuss how we have worked with the farm, what environmental management we have recommended and how we have worked with the farmer to develop a sustainable farm business whilst also achieving environmental gains. We will discuss:
– Introduce the site, the aims of the farm and what the farmers aims were from the initial visit
– What was discovered from the pinpoint
– What funding was available
– What has been achieved
– What has been developed/ changed over time to both have environmental and farm business gains

You will need to book places on this walk separately. More information will be sent to all ticket-holders.

Farm walk: Claverhill Community Farm

Hosted by Claverhill and FoodFutures

Claverhill is a six acre community food project which hosts a range of projects including Spud Club (a community grown agriculture project), Lancaster Seed Library,  a natural dyes project,  tree nursery and a nature trail.

Come and join a tour of the site, including a discussion about natural flood management as you view the newly created holding ponds, water channels and lake on site!

You will need to book places on this walk separately. More information will be sent to all ticket-holders.

Speakers/hosts include:

Anna Clayton – Anna studied Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and, since graduating in 2010, has completed a Permaculture design course, RHS certificate in horticulture and a variety of facilitation and collaborative training. For the past ten years she has worked on a range of community projects with focuses ranging from environmental art, seed saving, heritage fruit tree grafting, wildlife gardening, up-cycling workshops, junk jamming and food growing- both in the UK and abroad. On behalf of LESS, Anna currently coordinates FoodFutures – North Lancashire’s Sustainable Food Partnership and network.

Anna also works part time as a Writer and Researcher and Worker Director at Ethical Consumer Magazine in Manchester, under which role she has co-organised the Lush Spring Prize for environmental and social regeneration.

She also sits on the management committee of Claver Hill food growing project in Lancaster, and sits on the advisory group of the Northern Real Farming Conference.

Rod Everett – Rod is an organic farmer in the Forest of Bowland producing unusual apple cider vinegar to stimulate health. An ecologist, researcher for FoodFutures, farm advisor, permaculture teacher and natural flood management consultant. He is also a founder of the Northern Real Farming Conference

Farm walk: conservation grazing in harmony with nature

You are invited to a farm walk by Bill and Cath Grayson who run a conservation grazing business in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Our animals graze a variety of wildlife-rich habitats on land that is recognised for its nature conservation value. They are managed in ways that help maintain and enhance the biodiversity-value of these special places, where we work in close cooperation with the conservation bodies who care for these sites. At the same time as delivering these important benefits for wildlife, our livestock are also able to provide an important source of healthy food in line with agroecological principles (organic, pasture-fed, high welfare, free-range). They need more time in which to do this but we feel it is reflected in the taste and nutritional quality of the final product. Sign up for our farm walk if you would like to learn more about how agroecological farming works in harmony with nature.

You will need to book places on this walk separately. More information will be sent to all ticket-holders.

No-till with living mulches – the holy grail for arable?

Hosted by the Soil Association

No-till arable farming has revolutionised the arable farming mindset and is of interest to organic farmers because of its potential to reduce cultivations whilst providing weed control, fertility and soil health. It is also of interest to regenerative farmers who want to reduce inputs of artificial fertilisers and chemicals. But is it possible? Cover crops or green manures have always been part of organic arable systems but are now commonly used conventionally as part of regenerative farming systems.. The 4 pillars of regenerative farming are no-till, continuous ground cover, crop diversity and livestock integration.

In organic systems, cover crops have generally been ploughed in to provide fertility for the rotation but adopting organic no-till will require termination of the cover crop and this is difficult for organic farmers who cannot use chemicals.

One solution? A non-aggressive, low growing permanent cover crop such as small white clover, which shades out weeds and provides fertility.

In this session, we talk to an arable farming expert as well as the researcher who are looking at the potential of no-till with living mulches with a group of organic and conventional farmers running on-farm trials, plus a Scottish farmer trying out the technique.

Speakers/hosts include:

Jerry Alford- Soil Association arable and soils advisor.
Jerry is interested in a systems approach to farming, and looks at farms as a whole system rather than just a mix of enterprises or a series of crops in rotation. He is also looking at options to reduce cultivations within organic rotations and the adoption of more agroecological and organic type systems in non-organic farms.

Harry Henderson – Starting out as a tractor, combine and crop sprayer operator. Harry then worked for Rothamsted Research Station UK, before coming farm manager at Monsanto Cambridge. From there he took a role with John Deere UK ltd as a Crop Systems Specialist involved in technical dealer sales support in combine harvester, crop sprayer and precision technology products. In 2013 Harry joined AHDB as a regional manager for the North of England and is now a Knowledge Exchange Manager with a focus technical knowledge exchange, mechanisation, soil management and arable farming.

Stuart Mitchell – Stuart is an organic beef, deer and arable farmer from Denholm Scotland. He is trialling no-till in the Scottish Borders

Dominic Amos –  Dominic works at the Organic Research Centre, having joined five years ago to pursue research interests in sustainable cropping and soils management. Having previously worked testing agrochemicals, providing data for agrochemical companies he now works with farmers across projects including the Innovative Farmers programme, supporting farmers to conduct on-farm research supporting them to test innovation. He works as researcher on the living mulch field lab exploring with the farmers the use of a clover understory as an approach for improving cropping system sustainability and improving soil health.

What makes a farm advisor?

Hosted by the Ribble Rivers Trust

This session will focus on what is a farm advisor, and aim to discuss the following:
– What is a farm advisor?
– How farm advisors work with farmers to implement environmental methods which will have a positive impact on both the environment and farm business?
– What evidence is used to target certain features or areas?
– The challenges involved
– What do farm advisors need to be aware of in the future?

The aim is to have an open discussion about farm advice and the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Speakers/hosts include:

Kathryn Oddie- Senior Farm Advisor, Ribble Rivers Trust
Kathryn joined the team in 2019. Kathryn works as a farm advisor for the trust on the Ribble Life Together project and runs the River Loud Facilitation Fund group. As well as being a local farmers daughter, she has a background in agri- environment and environmental monitoring.

Jack Spees – CEO Ribble Rivers Trust
Jack started at the Ribble Rivers Trust in 2008 as the Fisheries Scientist before being made Trust Director in 2010. Jack now oversees the work undertaken by the Trust and the team as well as providing a wealth of information on all aspects of the river environment.

Kristina Graves – Woodland Creation Officer
Kristina began working for the Trust in 2019, joining us to fill the new role of Woodland Creation Officer. Having worked on a range of habitat projects Kristina has an excellent knowledge of woodlands and ecology which is already proving to be a huge asset to the team.

Ellie Brown- GIS Data And Evidence Officer
Ellie joined the team in 2015 as part of the Ribble Life Together project. She combines her love of wildlife and the environment with her knowledge of GIS (mapping software) to support many aspects of the Trust’s work. Catchment-scale analyses to aid the Trust’s strategic planning of projects, to target locations where they will have the greatest benefit; collating and mapping evidence to support funding bids; creating interactive maps for the Trust’s website to educate and inform the public; managing the Trust’s GIS datasets; and helping other members of the team with various mapping tasks are all in a week’s work for a GIS Officer. Ellie also manages or assists with other non-GIS-based data and evidence aspects of the Trust’s work.

Heather Whalley – Farm advisor
Heather is a farmer from the Hodder Valley, with a passion for the environment and combining sustainable farming and conservation. With a great knowledge of the local area, her work as a farm advisor she will be to engage, visit and support farmers to make positive changes for the catchment

Beekeeping for permaculturists

Hosted by the Lune Valley Beekeepers

Around 60% of all edible crops are insect pollinated (Defra). The only pollinating insect that can be successfully managed outdoors, at scale, is the honey bee. The presentation will explain an environmentally friendly, low interventionist approach to beekeeping for those who want bees but do not have the time to involve themselves in conventional beekeeping techniques.

Speakers/hosts include:

Fred Ayres – Fred Ayres has been keeping bees for over 20 years and was initially trained as a conventional beekeeper. As his colony numbers increased, along with the time involved in managing them, he began to wonder if there was a better way. He was very clear that his interest lay in finding out what was best for the bees, the environment in which they thrived and pollination rather than the production of honey or to manipulate their breeding. The outcomes were to identify a number of alternative approaches which are being increasingly adopted across the country and the design of an innovative beehive which better suited to a northern environment, avoids the need for heavy lifting and can be managed by someone in a wheelchair. He is the current Chair of Trustees on Lune Valley Beekeepers.