Nature Friendly Farming

Nature friendly farming: farm business case studies

Hosted by the Nature Friendly Farming Network.


David Butler is a fourth generation farmer based in the Pewsey Vale farming in partnership with his wife and parents. As well as combinable cropping on around 900 ha there is a 260 cow dairy and a beef enterprise utilising the chalk downland habitat found on the farm.

Denise Walton and her family took over Peelham Farm in 1993. They farm to encourage birds and pollinating insects to live on the land. They converted to organic following the CAP reform of 2002, which facilitated funding. They restored hedges and fence lines, making sure they connected so birds and wildlife can use them as a food source or for protection from predators. Denise says there needs to be a balance between productivity for livelihood and productivity for wildlife, which is why grant aid is so important.

Michael Clarke and his wife, Shirley moved to Williamwood Farm, a 120ha lowland all-grass farm near Lockerbie in SW Scotland in 2008. They breed beef cattle and sheep and operate a busy on-farm holiday cottage business. Shirley breeds and shows Highland ponies. Past Scotland winners of the RSPB’s Nature of Farming Award, they enjoy community engagement and demonstrating how nature-friendly farming and food production can go hand-in-hand. Their particular emphasis is on habitat creation and enhancement, with an ambitious annual program.

Rewarding results for nature friendly farming

Hosted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park with colleagues. 

Results based payments are being used to inspire and incentivise nature friendly farming in 2 projects within the Dales – Payment By Results (managed by Natural England and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) and Payment for Outcomes (National Trust).

This session was an interactive webinar cum panel discussion to showcase an alternative approach to agri-environment schemes that’s being trialled by farmers in the Yorkshire Dales and which may play a role in England’s future Environmental Land Management scheme. There were opportunities to hear from farmers taking part, including a panel discussion on how they feel about the results based approach, the pit falls and the positives. In addition, there was a guest presentation from Irelands Hen Harrier project to show how a results based scheme is being delivered successfully, at scale in other upland areas.

Throughout the session the  audiences’ views were sought on results-based incentives to gain a greater understanding of their perceptions and views.


Helen Keep is the Senior Farm Conservation Officer at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. She manages the farm conservation team who work with farmers to help them improve the nature conservation value and reduce pollution risk on their farms via accessing agri-environment schemes. Her career has spanned 24 years within the upland farming and agri-environment sector, starting in ADAS in 1996 as a Countryside Stewardship adviser, then transferring to the Yorkshire Dales in 2005. She has worked on results based approaches since 2015 and has co-designed and helps deliver the grassland pilot of the Defra Payment by Results trial.

Annabelle LePage is a Senior Adviser in the Strategy & Government Advice Team at Natural England based in York. She has been the project manager of the grassland and arable pilots of the Defra Payment by Results trial and its EU funded precursor since 2016. Her long career at Natural England brings a wealth of expertise to this topic

Lauryn Mcloughlin has been with the National Trust since December 2019 as the Project Officer for the DEFRA ELMS Test working on engaging with National Trust Tenants and wider stakeholders to deliver a feasibility study of the Whole Farm Approach. She has a background in oil science and public engagement

Dr Elizabeth Sullivan has been the National Trust funded Payments for Outcomes project officer since 2019, working with 5 National Trust tenants in the Yorkshire Dales in relation to Soil Health, Pollinator Health and Natural Flood Management. She has a strong research background relating to hay meadows and is affiliated with Edgehill University

You can read a blog post about the session outcomes here.


Nature as a stakeholder in a farm business

Hosted by the Nature Friendly Farming Network

As agricultural support changes, business management for land owners and land managers will be critical. That business management will also have to take into account that uniquely in agriculture, Nature is a stakeholder in the business; it provides a free-issue bounty for farmers, but it also demands care and attention.

Every farm has a distinctive MSO (maximum sustainable output). This is the point at which productive variable costs (PVCs) end and corrective variable costs (CVCs) start. At the MSO, not only is profitability maximised but the benefits arising from Nature’s bounty are maximised, too. Operating beyond the MSO point starts to decapitalise the natural assets of the business, through overstocking in livestock farming, reduced fertility (natural yields) in arable farming, and over-cropping in woodlands. Continuous activity beyond the MSO point will lead ultimately to sterility in the land.

The benefits arising from Nature’s bounty are typically quantified as a stream of income or a stream of avoided costs. The capitalisation of these streams will quantify Natural Capital. It is not a fixed value; it will change with time and with different farming practices. Quantified in a pragmatic business-oriented fashion, as above, Natural Capital could form a new basis for State Support Schemes for farming. Understanding the MSO phenomenon and its role in determining Natural Capital is now a pre-requisite for developing superior farm-business strategies.

Participants had the chance to both explore whether we should be putting a value on natural capital and an opportunity to discuss the principles of MSO, leverage strategies and the impact of natural capital considerations.


Chris Clark, with his wife Fiona, previously owned Nethergill Farm and developed Nethergill into an eco-hill farm business with a sustainable added-value meat activity, an educational and field study facility and eco-tourism holiday lets. He is a Partner in Nethergill Associates, a business management consultancy currently assisting with the conjecturing and management of future farming uncertainties nationally. A former farm tenant and farm manager, Chris now has thirty years of business management experience, of which over twenty years were managing his own farm-based businesses. He is currently a member of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission and a past member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Colin Tudge is a biologist by education and a writer by trade. He worked for Farmers Weekly, New Scientist, and BBC Radio 3 before going freelance in about 1990, and is author of about 15 books on natural history, evolution, genetics, ecology – and, in particular, on nutrition, cooking, and agriculture. Around 2008, together with his wife Ruth (West) and help from good friends, he began the Campaign for Real Farming — which has given rise to the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the still peripatetic but ever-growing College for Real Farming and Food Culture. The aim is to help bring about a global, cross-the-board Renaissance – beginning with food and farming.

Helen Chessire – Woodland Trust – Senior Advisor (Farming) – Helen Chesshire is lead farming advocate at the Woodland Trust, responsible for working with both the farming sector and policy makers to promote the benefits of trees on farms. Otherwise known as agroforestry, the deliberate integration of trees within agricultural crops and livestock is a win –win for sustainable food production and the natural environment. The Woodland Trust can provide advice and support to farmers interested in agroforestry. Helen grew up on a diary and sheep farm in the Midlands.

Using a permaculture approach to diversify farm outputs in the context of ELMS

Hosted by the Permaculture Association.

Since the 1980s, permaculture pioneers have been creating innovative farms and smallholdings around the world using a design approach and ecological principles. From the initial information, it looks like permaculture-designed farms will score very highly under The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), the payment scheme that will be used to distribute “public money for public goods” as the Basic Payment Scheme is phased out from 2024. Farmers and land managers will no longer be paid to produce food, and will instead be paid to deliver public goods like clean air and water, biodiversity and heritage.

This session brought together two experienced permaculture designers and practitioners, who, alongside the CEO of the Permaculture Association, demonstrated the design approach, gave practical examples and showed how permaculture design provides a clear pathway to farmers looking to diversify their land, improve soil, biodiversity and income.

The session combined short, focused presentations and video clips with Q&A and panel discussion.


Hannah Thorogood is a permaculture farmer, designer and teacher. She has set up and runs her own 18 acre permaculture demonstration farm, The Inkpot. Hannah has taken the farm from a depleted, compacted, toxic arable field into the diverse, abundant farm it is today demonstrating permaculture, regenerative agriculture and producing nationally award winning food. Hannah is a senior tutor with the permaculture diploma system and has been teaching permaculture design courses for 15 years and permaculture teaching courses for 10 years. She has a reputation for creating a very accepting and fun learning environment, putting people from all backgrounds at ease to enjoy their learning together. Hannah has a BSc in Environmental Studies from Manchester University & an MSc Organic Farming from Scottish Agricultural College. She also loves to knit and crochet using her own Inkpot wool.

Niels Corfield is an advisor, researcher, educator, designer, grower and nurseryman who has been working to deliver a truly sustainable food system for over 10 years. Over this time Niels has acquired an amazing breadth of knowledge and gained experience on many different farms. This enables him to draw on a wide range of practical tools and techniques to find what works in every new situation. He works to create sustainable/regenerative landscapes, farms and spaces in the UK and Europe with a focus on agro-ecological systems that are low maintenance and productive. Niels works in partnership with the PFLA on soils, coordinating the PFLA soils monitoring project – establishing an empiric case for healthy soils on pasture and mixed farms – and provides a number of services direct to farmers.

Andy Goldring is the Chief Executive of the Permaculture Association and has been supporting the organisation’s farm policy work since 2000 through projects such as the influential Low Carbon Farming initiative, member working groups and network learning events. Andy has provided direct project support to many member farmers and smallholders and initiated the LAND demonstration network which now has 100+ sites that can be visited in the UK. Andy is currently working to develop the association’s advice and support for farmers wishing to use the permaculture design approach to achieve maximum ecological, social and financial benefits once the new ELMS scheme has been implemented.

Wilderculture – a hybrid of regenerative grazing and rewilding for the uplands.

Hosted by Wilderculture CIC.

We are offering the chance to take a socially distanced walk around an exciting new project on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District.

In the UK uplands there has been a significant loss of biodiversity and a call from some to reduce or remove livestock – especially sheep – and instead adopt rewilding on these less productive areas. However, in the green and pleasant UK, environmentalists must be careful not to forget that the UK is part of the larger global ecosystem and what impacts the world will influence the long-term future of UK land.

Major factors that are influencing world agriculture are:
– Global agricultural land is rapidly diminishing, increasing the reliance on moister climates to sustain a hungry global population.
– Globally we are losing 10 tons of soil for every ton of food produced with the FAO stating we have less than 60 global harvests left.
– Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.
– Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected.

Any large scale moves to remove upland areas from food production could have serious repercussions in the future for humanity as a whole.

Although the uplands are marginal in agricultural terms producing a small volume of calories and protein when compared to arable crops, the nutrient density of the meat produced is higher than any other food – a hugely important factor in creating truly sustainable nutrition security.

As we see intensification of food production on our depleted arable land and a shift in diets towards nutrient poor grain-based food, ensuring we have a sustainable supply of nutrient rich healthy foods from land that is unsuitable for plant food production is essential.

How we graze and manage livestock however cannot continue as ‘business as usual’ with further soil and biodiversity loss.

Regenerative farming has an impressive record for turning degraded land into healthy ecosystems that can also produce food over millions of acres globally, but so far there has been no trials of how this could be applied in the UK uplands at scale. Through Wilderculture CIC and our partnership projects we are refining and developing models which combine rewinding and regenerative grazing and are designed to be ecologically restorative, economically viable and culturally appropriate.

The Wilder Gowbarrow project guided walk is an exciting opportunity to see one of the projects in action and find our more about our approach.

Walks will have limited numbers, require social distancing and need to be pre-booked. They will leave at 10am, 12noon and 2pm.

Walk host:

Caroline Grindrod is a regenerative agriculture consultant and an accredited professional in Holistic Management with a background in hill farming and environmental conservation.

Caroline co-founded Wilderculture and is the lead trainer, project manager and developer of the Wilderculture approach.

What could your dung beetles be doing for you?

Hosted by Ali Birkett, Lancaster Environment Centre with experts and farmers.

A healthy dung beetle population is a small army working for free on behalf of the livestock farmer. They are estimated to be saving the UK cattle industry alone ~£367 million each year* by breaking down muck pats, taking food and breeding habitat from parasites, and returning lost nutrients back into the soil. This is in addition to being food for farmland bats and birds themselves. A win for farmers and nature.

In this session we visited two livestock farms in both conventional and conservation sheep and cattle farming settings to hear directly from the farmers – Bruce Thompson and Sally-Ann Spence respectively – about what their dung beetles are doing for them and see what they in turn are doing to help to support their dung beetle workforce. With a general overview of dung beetles in the north from Ali Birkett, a demonstration of how to check on your own dung beetle population with Cumbrian farmer Tonia Armer and an open Q&A with our dung beetle experts, this engaging session equipped participants to employ a happy dung beetle workforce of their own!


Sally-Ann Spence is a Fellow of both the Royal Entomological Society and the Linnaean Society and an Honorary Associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. She specialises in dung beetles and pastureland biodiversity and founded the UK Dung Beetle Mapping Project accumulating species data. Her work with the project has seen her surveying field sites all over the UK including many outlying islands enabling her to study a multitude of grazing systems. This practical experience has been translated into collaborative projects working on sustainable land management plans within the farming community to promote dung beetles as important bio-indicators for soil, pasture and livestock health. She also owns and runs an educational research centre ‘Berrycroft Hub’ based on her family farm where she keeps PFLA accredited livestock and manages all the grassland. As a passionate advocate of British farming and biodiversity, Sally-Ann does a great deal of scientific public outreach both at her centre on the farm, at various events and on all media platforms including television.

Bruce Thompson is a Spring calving dairy farmer operating an intensive, low cost grass based system with 250 cows. He has adapted novel grazing techniques to significantly reduce anthelmintics in tandem with increasing his beetle populations to reduce parasite loadings on his pastures. With this as his topic, Bruce has received a Nuffield scholarship and has so far travelled around Southern Australia and Tasmania to research beetles.

Ali Birkett has a background in ecological research, particularly studying how northern upland dung beetles are affected by land use and climate change. She now works at Lancaster Environment Centre helping scientists share the findings of their research and is especially interested in two-way knowledge exchange between farming and research.

Tonia Armer has been involved in the family beef and sheep farm for nearly 40 years. She is keen on trying to ensure the farm is nature-friendly as well as profitable.

You can read a blog post of the session outcomes here.

Links to the dung beetle videos shared in the session:

Sally-Ann Spence video.

Bruce Thompson video.


How / Can nature-friendly urban farming and growing contribute to tackling food security & the climate emergency?

Hosted by Jeremy Iles, Urban Agriculture Consortium with urban agriculture perspectives from the North.

In the wake of Brexit, growing awareness of the climate emergency, and now Covid-19, we need to look at how we can create a better, more resilient, nature-friendly food system.

All over the UK, food partnerships in towns and cities are beginning to look at how urban farming & food growing can contribute to a meaningful re-localisation of food supply. Academic studies have shown that 15% of fruit and vegetable could be produced in towns.

There is an emerging cluster of pioneering towns and cities in the north of England who are actively taking this agenda forward: amongst them Lancaster, Leeds, Middlesbrough & Sheffield, who are involved in the new Urban Agriculture Consortium. There are of course other places engaged in complementary work form which we will seek to learn: Carlisle, Preston, Tameside, Oldham amongst others.

There are many opportunities – and barriers – to developing urban growing at scale: land, policies, finances amongst others. These opportunities and barriers were explored in an earlier phase of the project and are summarised in our reports.

The Urban Agriculture Consortium is looking to work with a range of pilot towns and cities to explore how this might best be supported in the coming years.

This work is at an early stage – this networking and discussion session helped shape the programme across the north and in other parts of the UK.


Jeremy Iles has had a long career as an environmental campaigner from 1983 – 2020, championing cycling, urban wildlife, city farms, community gardens & allotments, helping move marginalised movements into the mainstream. Since 2017, he has forged the new Urban Agriculture Consortium of national partners and stakeholders: UAC is now funded to support communities to upscale nature-friendly urban farming and growing as part of an integrated, resilient & just food system.

Anna Clayton sits on the management committee of Claver Hill Community Food Project and is a member of Spud Club (a community grown agriculture scheme) and Lancaster Seed Library. For the past ten years, Anna has worked on a variety of community food and environmental initiatives and currently coordinates FoodFutures: North Lancashire’s Sustainable Food Network. Anna also works part time as a Worker Director, Writer and Researcher at Ethical Consumer Magazine.

Gareth Roberts is a founder member of Regather in Sheffield, where he led the enterprise start up in 2005 and incorporation as a co-op in 2010. Gareth is passionate about cooperation, and has worked collaboratively with people from all walks of life for over 20 years. His various experiences as an arts administrator, event manager, lecturer and serial social entrepreneur bring useful skills and resilience to Regather and the wider Sheffield social economy. More recently, over the past 5 years, Gareth has led various strategic developments for Regather, including promoting the role of urban agriculture and productive landscapes in community economic development; establishing ShefFood, the Sustainable Food Places partnership for Sheffield; and creating Regather Farm, a 15 acre peri-urban, organic market garden and agroforestery development, all of which ensure Regather continues to occupy a position and reputation in Sheffield and the UK as an organisation leading on innovative economic and social change, and local food system transformation.