Home Page > HNV farming in England > HNV Workshop – South West England (June 2013)

South West High Nature Value (HNV) farming workshop

Bristol -19th June 2013

The High Nature Value (HNV) farming workshop was part of a suite of “State of Nature” events taking place in Bristol on the same day (including the launch of the Bristol Local Nature Partnership (LNP) and the State of Nature Question Time). The aim of the workshop was to bring together conservation practitioners from across the South West of England, to discuss HNV farming as a concept, identify what can be done to promote it as an idea, and agree a set of actions that could be taken forward collectively.

Three short presentations were given to set the HNV farming scene, followed by group discussions. Before the presentations, attendees were invited to note down what they loved about HNV farming and what they thought was the single most important thing that needed to be done for HNV farming. These views have been incorporated into this write-up.

Deborah Deveney (RSPB) – HNV farming overview

The workshop started with a presentation from Deborah Deveney (RSPB HNV farming Campaign Leader). Deborah explained that she has been seconded into this role for a year, to work with farmers, conservation groups and other stakeholders to raise awareness of HNV farming across the UK. Deborah gave an overview of where the concept of HNV farming originates from, including the 2009 Natural England paper setting out their initial work on HNV indicators for England. Deborah explained that although it is often easier to characterise HNV farming in the uplands because of the presence of semi-natural habitats, things are less clear in the lowlands with a mixed mosaic of habitats i.e what percentage of a farm should have semi-natural features to qualify as HNV farmland?

HNV is: “Working with nature not against it. And promoting diversity.”

The value of these systems are vital for supporting threatened species and habitats. Deborah went on to look at the ecosystem services that HNV farmland provides for society, and that HNV farmers are rarely rewarded by the market for providing these services. HNV landscapes are often iconic and support important recreation and tourism industries. They also support strong rural communities, with a strong sense of identity and tradition, for example in Romania (Fundatia Adept) illustrates how people are proud of their HNV landscapes.

“I love HNV farming because of the diversity of wildlife it supports”.

Deborah explored the issues and threats facing HNV farming systems in the UK. She also noted the “shifting baseline” problem affecting HNV farmers, a generational loss of skills and knowledge. With supermarkets driving the demand for cheap meat, this encourages a shift from traditional breeds towards continental ones, leading to a loss of breed heritage and other rural values. Deborah finished off with mentioning the new HNV farming Coalition which involves a cross section of farming & conservation organisations who have developed a ‘Call to Action’ of Government to support HNV farming across the UK. The campaign is aiming to provide farmers with an alternative voice to the NFU et al who are pushing the sustainable intensification and food security agenda.

Download the presentation by Deborah as a PDF – (2.1MB)

Gavin Saunders (Forestry Commission) – Beef and Butterflies Project

Gavin Saunders has been working for the past 10 years in the Blackdown Hills AONB working with the local community to develop community ownership of conservation projects. Gavin explained that most of the HNV farming interest in the Blackdowns is restricted to small-scale fields associated with the steep-sided valleys with springlines – the plateaux which were once heathland have almost all been improved, while valley bottoms varied but supported mosaics of wetland habitats. Purple moor-grass/rush pasture is the key habitat within HNV farmland in the Blackdowns.

Gavin has been working with farmers to reintroduce cattle into wooded & marginal areas. He found that one of the main barriers to engaging with farmers was that they barely communicated outside their own community, with much local knowledge based on rumour and hearsay. An aging farmer population and break up of farms contributed to the challenges of collaborative working, but the Blackdowns has a long history of collaboration in woodland and hedging, so Gavin was able to build on these precedents to develop links and dialogue with farmers. Local landowners took on the initiative to set up their own association, known as the ‘Blackdown Hills Rough Grazing Association’ to facilitate positive knowledge exchange between farmers – young, old and new.

HNV farming is “where culture complements nature”

Gavin looked at the pros and cons of HNV farming:

  • on the plus side it recognises continuity and gradation in landscape, and values the network of components that beget ecological value.
  • On the down side, there is a danger that HNV farming could seal a landscape in aspic, perpetuating a modern version of peasantry.

For HNV farming to work, it must enable the landscape to succeed to something new, while retaining what we value.

Gavin suggested some key principles for HNV farming:

  • acknowledge local ownership
  • collaboration
  • sense of common interest
  • share experience
  • not conservation being imposed from the outside.
  • Parochialism, while a two edged sword, was necessary to gain respect of the local farming community.

Gavin concluded that a “conservation-dependency” culture does not help the human transfer of wisdom through communities/across generations.

In the ensuing discussion, it was suggested that for HNV farming to work it needs a ‘ground up’ approach – encouraging leaders from within the farming sector, particularly those who command leadership within their communities, to act as ‘champions’. The issue of “Incomers” was discussed and how they come with bags of enthusiasm and a different set of life skills and ideas. ‘Hobby’ farming is now an important issue within HNV and perhaps a new farming culture is developing. It was suggested that the term ‘hobby’ should not be used but instead these are ‘new’ farmers who can work together with more experienced farmers to learn and share experiences and knowledge. There was also a debate about eligibility of holdings under 10ha and whether they can receive Single Farm Payment.

Download the presentation by Gavin as a PDF – (3.8MB)

Claire Mucklow (RSPB) – Choughs and corn Buntings

Claire shared her experience of working with farmers in the South West on corn bunting and chough conservation over the last 13 years, in particular on issues around coastal grazing. Partnership is key – including partnerships between different elements of the same organisation (e.g RSPB).

Claire explained that the chough project is unusual because it is a naturally recolonising species, not a reintroduction. The project is high profile and has generated a lot of media interest. There is great potential for range recovery with the chough and it could act as a flagship for habitats and species work (arable plants, inverts included). Claire identified Leigh Lock (RSPB) and Andy Brown (NE) who had done much to take forward species recovery for birds in the South West and highlighted how inspirational characters are so important. Claire also praised local EN and NE staff who were prepared to think outside the box on the species projects.

The key partner in these projects is the farming community, yet the time it takes to build up commitment with the farmers and develop a trusting relationship is not recognised in funding streams. Claire noted that farmers can get very frustrated with conservation people and do not appreciate the language conservationists use. They need a lot of handholding and do not like to stand out from the crowd, preferring safety in numbers. However once everyone is doing the same thing, then they are happy to change their way of farming to a more HNV style approach, though they will still claim they are commercial farmers.

HNV is about “wandering around a farm and finding fabulous wildlife”

There is a risk that farmers will say yes to doing something without understanding what it is and this can lead to unforeseen consequences, especially with the non-farming community (ie scrub clearance).

Finding HNV champions within the farming community makes all the difference, but a great deal of time is needed to work with local communities where large changes are happening such as managing stock that is being returned to land previously not grazed for decades. Grassland is the biggest challenge – farmers will not allow any meddling with their grassland. Other land-uses also provide challenges – a core corn bunting site in Cornwall has 15000 people camping on it for a festival and the organisers have no understanding or interest.

Claire finished with a plea to make the new Agri-environment scheme easier for farmers to understand with provision for follow up advice to ensure environmental delivery, and that it’s equally important for the general public to have a greater understanding of where their food comes from, as the choices they make as consumers will influence the future of their landscapes.

Download the presentation by Claire as a PDF – (2.8MB)

Questions followed, and a discussion on the difference between advice and facilitation. It is key for those talking to and within the farming community understand the difference, and that there is no benefit of one-off advice which is not understood and not heeded. It is not clear whether facilitation would be funded through the new Rural Development Programme.

Break-Out Groups

Miles King led the workshop discussions posing two questions to the break-out groups to consider:

1. What’s the most important thing we can do now for HNV farming?
2. How can we raise awareness of HNV farming with farmers/ public/ policymakers/ media?

There was a strong degree of consensus between the two groups, which suggests a number of key themes can be drawn out and applied more generally.
Key Themes

  • Farmers, including HNV farmers themselves, are generally not aware that the HNV farming concept exists. HNV farming needs to be recognised alongside organic and more conventional farming systems as a well understood type of farming. To succeed, HNV farming needs to be recognised and valued by farming communities.
  • Across the UK, everyone needs to agree why HNV farming is important and what defines HNV farming systems. Gaining consensus will enable us to move forward to take action.
  • Examples and case studies about HNV Farming systems are urgently needed as the best way of explaining their value and the threats they face. Social media should be used to far greater extent to “showcase” HNV farming and its value.
  • HNV farmers need recognition and reward. Funding for HNV farming systems needs to move beyond the traditional Agri-Environment approach of income-foregone, as HNV farming makes little profit. Sustainable long term funding streams urgently need exploring, suggested links with Water Framework Directive, Biodiversity 2020, Biodiversity Offsets/Payment for Ecosystem Services.
  • Local Partnerships between HNV farmers, conservationists and consumers are key to a sustainable future for HNV farming. We need to find new ways of collaborative working, bringing HNV farmers together and empowering them, emphasising the value of localness/sense of place in HNV farming systems.
  • A research programme is needed to help explore the barriers to adopting HNV farming and the impact of socio-economic change on HNV farming.

1. What can we do now?

Both groups felt that HNV farming is a useful concept although it is not well understood in conservation circles or at all by farming communities. This could be a particular problem for the UK, as elsewhere in Europe (especially Southern and Eastern) so much farmland is being managed as HNV farmland that it was not regarded as exceptional, perhaps because people are more connected to the land.

There was quite a lot of discussion about the language, the use of High Nature Value phrase and whether it needs a better title. Although a comment was made that this is a positive phrase for farmers rather than be termed as less favoured area/severely disadvantaged areas.

All agreed that HNV farming should be about the systems of farming, not lines on maps, to avoid reductionism. A spatial approach risked creating an exclusion zone of low nature value farmland, which would be ignored. Some thought that HNV farming risked being caught up in the land-sharing/sparing debate while others felt that HNV farming encouraged a protectionist mindset.

Both groups felt HNV farming is especially vulnerable to socio-economic changes. Whilst meaningful cross compliance could help reduce incidental loss, ultimately a more cohesive approach for agriculture and land-use policies is needed to enable HNV farming to thrive. Both groups thought HNV farming was a useful tool to influence policymakers and that examples and case studies would help illustrate this.

Funding came across as a critical issue for both groups – HNV farming has not benefitted from a specific element of CAP funding allocated to it in the UK, although it occurs widely across other land-use categories, including Less Favoured Areas, AONB/National Parks and HLS targeting areas. Although the groups agreed that the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS), expected to be created within the new CAP agreement, will help support HNV farming, HNV farming needs sustainable levels of support beyond NELMS and needs to get beyond the “income foregone” approach to recognise the wider benefits to society these systems support.

Both groups agreed that partnerships are key to making the HNV concept useful, and any HNV work should be ground up – with advisers/facilitators working with farmers to help share knowledge and expertise. HNV farming has thrived where successful local partnerships have evolved and these depend on mutual trust. HNV farming provides an opportunity to develop dialogues between farmers, conservationists, the media and other stakeholders.

HNV is “traditional, complements the landscape, good for wildlife and people”

2. How can we raise awareness?

There was a strong consensus between the groups on how to raise awareness. As the discussions around the first question showed, we need to be clear what we mean by HNV farming before we can start raising awareness more generally, and perhaps we need to tailor our messages to different audiences with slightly different emphasis.

Case studies “bring it alive” for new and existing audiences. Social media can be used to great effect to spread a broad simple message about what HNV farming is and why it is important. Emphasis on the localness of HNV farming and how it contributes to local economies is particularly important when advocating HNV farming to local producer groups, whilst emphasising the ecosystem services that HNV farming provide society is more suitable when advocating to policy makers.

Understanding HNV farming systems and the farmers’ mindset is key to engaging and raising awareness of HNV farming. However, this awareness needs to go beyond just farmers to the wider sector – agronomists, vets, land agents, etc. We also need face to face training and awareness raising for policy makers, along the lines of the Hill Farm training. However, it is also important that there is broad understanding and support from within conservation organisations with a need for a common definition. A research programme would help identify and resolve some of the unknowns that may be currently preventing HNV farming from becoming universally adopted.

I love HNV because of “the passion and enthusiasm of farmers who want to do the right thing for the environment”


Miles King summed up the afternoon’s discussions. He suggested that everyone knows what HNV farming is when they see it but nevertheless it’s difficult to come up with a clear definition. Gavin suggested that HNV farming is ultimately ‘indefinable’ because what we all recognise is an intangible value – perhaps it is the “wild” aspect of HNV farming that is recognised. Miles suggested that promoting the value of HNV farming could be a very valuable counterargument to the re-wilding proposals that are gaining attention partly as a result of George Monbiot’s new book “Feral”.

Deborah finished off the day by informing people of the HNV farming website that is being developed and a plea for case studies, also mentioning the All Party Parliamentary Group HNV farming event planned in November at Westminster. She also asked everyone to think about what they could take away from the Workshop and back to their organisations.

Proposed Actions

  • Establish dialogue with key farming communities to introduce the HNV farming idea to them and promote its value.
  • Build consensus within key groups as to what HNV farming means and why it is important.
  • Develop wide range of case studies and illustrative examples of HNV farming systems across UK. Use Social media (blog, facebook, twitter) to promote these examples to key audiences including farming community, real food community, funders, policy makers and media.
  • Identify research needs and promote research agenda to funding bodies, especially socio-economic value of HNV farming and ecosystem services.
  • Identify several key HNV areas where farming communities could be enabled to collaborate together, following the Blackdowns example.
  • Explore innovative funding models for HNV farming, above and beyond Agri-environment.

Additional information from the event –

Post-It Notes
“what’s the most important thing that can be done for HNV farming”

  • make sure that HNV can find its place within mainstream agriculture – very important
  • ensure HNV farmers are included in proper targeting of funding
  • recognition
  • recognise and adequately reward HNV farmers
  • empower its owners, managers, graziers, and other residents to collaborate and act together in their own right
  • it needs to gain broad support from the farming community
  • recognition and monetary support
  • • lets move on from the technocratic debate about what it is.

“what do love about HNV farming?”

  • Working with nature not against it. And promoting diversity.
  • The diversity of wildlife it supports.
  • It’s where culture complements nature
  • Wandering around a farm and finding fabulous wildlife
  • It’s about integrating our environment with our industry
  • Traditional, complements the landscape, good for wildlife and people
  • The passion and enthusiasm of farmers who want to do the right thing for the environment

List of Participants
Deborah Deveney (RSPB – Campaign Leader HNV Farming)
Gavin Saunders (Beef and Butterflies)
Claire Mucklow (RSPB Farmland bird Project Officer, Cornwall)
Pete Burgess (Devon Wildlife Trust)
Lucy Rogers & Janice Gardiner (Avon Wildlife Trust)
Andrew Whitehouse (Buglife)
Debbie Watkins (Dorset Wildlife Trust)
Cath Shellswell & Andy Byfield (Plantlife)
Naomi Brookes, Naomi Oakley and James Phillips (Natural England)
Linda Bennett (Blackdown Hills AONB)
Sarah Bryan (Exmoor National Park & SW Uplands Federation)
Lisa Schneidau (North Devon NIA)
Tom Beasley-Suffolk (Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust)
Lauren Clarke (FWAG SW)
Roger English (S Devon AONB)
Julie Turner (Dorset AONB partnership)
Kevin Rylands & Tony Whitehead (RSPB)
Miles King – independent consultant