Draeyk van der Horn is a Renew member and a smallholder on Dartmoor. He reflects on the effects that tourism and intensive farming methods are having on the local and national environment.
Living on Dartmoor is an honour, running our smallholding with sheep and apple orchards is a pleasure. Yet the yearly influx of visitors, the competing demands for access, these are costs often borne by the farmers who take pride in the land they farm and are happy to share it - but as the environmental costs are rising, who will pay?
Visitors come to the countryside to enjoy a break from a city, but are we killing what we love?
There is change in the air, and the environmental costs are becoming more and more tangible, impacting our food and growing culture. We often don’t notice the impact of unreliable seasons and less predictable weather on our countryside. The realities of climate change are not in some far-off land but in the here and now and affecting the uplands and lowlands of the nation.
What is now rightly termed a “climate crisis” is impacting access to quality feed, harvests and the wellbeing of our animals. Articles in many farming publications have highlighted impacts such as soil health and water management and rewilding. Yet how many visitors to the countryside consider this?
One huge and unimagined impact of the climate crisis and industrial farming practices, driven by the idea that food should be cheap at any cost, is the utter collapse of insect life. As is so often the case, so called “pest insects” seem to fare better, but overly focusing on pests (fuelling the idea we must spray even more chemicals to deal with them) diminishes the value of all insects in a balanced ecological and indeed agricultural system. We rely on bee and insect pollination for our harvest. Yet we are doing little to rectify the devastating impact of bee colony collapse and rapid loss of our many native bee species. Yet bees pollinate a third of our UK crops? Crudely put, that is a third of our food!
An April 2018 article in the journal ScienceDirect highlighted this impact. For example, butterfly species numbers fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009, while the overall abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to the journal PlosOne.
The loss of these species impacts not just farming but the wider ecosystem and the health of the land, and the greatest danger is that we do nothing.
We can improve our soils, create pollinator corridors, rewild, question pesticide practice and look at agri-environment ideas, such as the Dartmoor Farming Futures pilot which promoted a re-think and allowed farmers skills and expert knowledge to achieve beneficial environmental goals and encourage the development of new “traditions” in farming practices. Ultimately, to safeguard our food, we need to safeguard our countryside and our environment.
We have a choice, and as someone who is passionate about farming, my choice is to make a stand and speak up. Renew, a party that is growing ideas from the ground up - without a politician in sight - is doing just that. Farmers need a voice, and skills, knowledge and heritage need to be celebrated and reflected in environmental policies that will sustain our environment, our land and our future.
Renew intern Logie MacDonald-Winship takes a look at mental health in our schools and how a model used in secondary schools in Wales could seriously benefit children across the UK.
We often hear promises of more mental health funding on the campaign trail, with certain parties pledging billions in investment, claiming to have a solution to the ‘mental health crisis’. But what does this mean for education?
According to the Anna Freud Foundation, 1 in 8 school children suffer from a mental health problem and around half of adult mental health cases have their roots in childhood. Schools now have a huge responsibility to tackle the issue of mental health, meaning teachers are on the front line - but teachers lack the time (as well as training and resources) to attend to children’s mental health needs as their primary focus is education. This issue been neglected for too long, and the poor infrastructure for mental health help in schools means that, according to the Missed Opportunities Report, 2016, young people suffer from diagnosable conditions for an average of ten years before receiving any treatment.
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has targeted ‘healthy minds’ as a focus point for development in education in her latest manifesto. Over the last few decades, pressure on children has been increasing as a result of stricter targets set by Ofsted, the government and headteachers. The increased pressure is leading to more and more children developing mental health problems and the National Education Union reports that 8 out of 10 teachers say mental health among their students has deteriorated. Funding cuts mean that more vulnerable children are finding it harder to reach out to due to the high class sizes, with less than half of children having access to mental health services.
So what can be done to begin to reach children in need?
Longfield has suggested a simple step that could start to reshape the way we approach the education system. Having a counsellor present in every school is already mandatory in Welsh secondary schools, and this could hugely benefit the rest of the UK, as well as Welsh primary schools. This would give children a safe space in which to go and be properly listened to, as well as recognising the difficulties children can face. There are already a number of more fundamental aspects that affect children's mental health, ranging from socio-economic factors, to life at home, however, school is a centralised, compulsory environment and is therefore a good place to target efforts for counselling and early prevention methods seeking to tackle mental health problems. If children are not happy in their school environment it can become a huge obstacle to educational achievement. This must be a priority for the next government.
An increase to in-school services is only one step towards a healthier school environment, but could send the debate in a positive and constructive direction.
More funding for counselling in primary and secondary schools can lead to a better functioning society, as well as saving time and money later on.