Amendment 29

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 8:30 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, during the last two, three or four months, like everyone else I have had quite a lot of spare time on my hands and have been able to get out into the countryside around where I live, which is on the edge of an urban area where you can walk straight into Pennine pastures, fields with gritstone walls and, beyond there, rising up to the moorland massif of Boulsworth Hill. Two valleys run down from the hills to where we live; they are really contrasted at the moment, as I will briefly explain.

Before I do so, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is not in his place. He talked about going out of Sheffield on to the Peak District hills and delighting in what I think he called the song of the curlews, which are one of the evocative birds of the Pennine moorlands. The others are the skylarks and the lapwings, which locally are traditionally known as “tewits” after the sound they make.

During the past three or four months, I have been woken up every morning by the sound of curlews, which is wonderful, but when we first lived there 40 or 50 years ago, we were woken up by flocks of lapwings. I have not heard a lapwing from our house for a long time. Lapwings have declined most in that kind of area up on the moors, particularly in what the amendment refers to as “semi-natural grasslands”.

For us, the grasslands are pastures and fields; they have got tall, quite coarse, natural native grasses, and some better ones. We have some of what the amendment calls “dicotyledonous herbs”, although that really refers to lowland meadows rather than the sort of meadows we have, and lots of clumps of rushes, which are important for giving cover, along with the tall grasses, to ground-nesting birds such as curlews and lapwings—the tewits.

Over the years, the fields have been improved. Those nearest to us used to be buttercup meadows. They have long gone, and now a lot of the coarser semi-natural meadows have gone as well. The farmers scrape off all the vegetation which has been growing there and seed it with one or two species of much richer and, from their point of view, more productive grass, mainly for the sheep but also for mowing, haylage and so on.

The landscape has been transformed. The fields in spring, instead of being a greyish green—natural, as they were, or semi-natural—are now sparkling bright green, and no doubt some people find them attractive. The two valleys, however, are contrasted. One is the Wycoller valley, which largely belongs to Lancashire County CouncilWycoller Hall is thought to be Ferndean Manor from Jane Eyre—and the other is the Trawden valley, which has the old mill village of Trawden it and lots of farms around. The Trawden valley is bright green and the Wycoller valley is still very much as it was. How do you know where you are? If you close your eyes, in the Wycoller valley you can hear the tewits and in the Trawden valley there are none. It is as simple as that.

So it is not just lowland meadows that the amendment is talking about. I hope the new regime will stop farmers turning even more of the pastures into modern bright green pastures and driving away the tewits, which is still taking place at the margins and the moorland margins. The tier 1 or tier 2 deals that come about, whichever they are, encourage a reversion of at least some of the fields to what they used to be. If you have a farm of six or 10 fields, you do not need a lot of it to revert to the traditional pasture that it used to be to provide a flock of lapwings with a habitat; you might need one or two, and that is all. As you walk through that area, you can plot the flock of lapwings to the fields that are still traditional.

I hope that kind of thing will be part and parcel of the new regime, not to destroy farmers’ livelihoods in any way but to provide them with some finance to provide a natural, or semi-natural, environment that superb birds such as lapwings and tewits require.