In September we attended a Climate Change and Farming seminar hosted by Soil Association Scotland near Fort William. We came away with the thought that whilst we might have successfully reduced the size of our holiday cottages carbon footprint, with the recent installation of a wood-chip boiler and an ongoing installation of a wind turbine, it was time to look at the carbon footprint on the farm. We intend to address this over the course of the next few months. Watch this space to see how we get on.
This week on the farm we have altered direction a bit. We have - very sadly - given up our organic status. We spent a long time thinking this through (over the last couple of years) as organic status was a good way of reassuring people that we followed a recognisable standard. And now we don't have that, how can we impart the message that although we are not organic any more, we will still farm in an environmentally friendly way, with as much concern for the land and the welfare of our animals as before.
One of the main struggles of working within an organic system here at Treshnish was our inability to keep up with the spread of bracken. The Farmer has spent weeks, over the years, in spring and summer mechanically crushing and cutting bracken, wherever he could get his tractor, quad or Allen Scythe. Hours and hours of back breaking work rewarded in the areas he was able to reach, but beaten in areas where he was not. There are places that you cannot cut because you will destroy the wild flowers growing underneath, such as the small white orchids growing on the banks outside Toechtamhor cottage. For me these are a marker of how far the bracken has encroached. When we first discovered the small white orchid growing here 12 years ago, there was no bracken anywhere near it but now the bracken is threatening this species as well as the many fragrant and butterfly orchids growing in the same area.
In the long term, in order to help preserve the diversity of flora in these delicate areas of the farm we need to be free to adopt non organic methods, if necessary, as part of a bracken eradication strategy. There were other reasons too, such as finances (dripping tap springs to mind) but we wont go into those now and please take my word for it, it was not a decision we made lightly.
We have joined 'LEAF', which has a self auditing process, quite a lengthy one, which I aim to work through this winter, in order, hopefully, to be ready for an on farm inspection next spring. LEAF ('Linking Environment and Farming') is an organisation with an approach to the environment which is practical and rigorously monitored, encouraging farmers to improve their environmental impact and provides help in looking at the carbon footprint of your farming practice and this is something we feel strongly about.
So good and responsible farming practice will continue here - looking after our animals and the diverse habitats on the farm. We will continue with the 'Scottish Quality Beef and Lamb' membership which monitors livestock farming issues, such as animal welfare and traceability, whilst we work on becoming a LEAF farm.
I will report on how the audit is getting on over the winter!