Monday, 14 January 2019

Carbon Fields

The plants of wild flower meadows are adapted to,
and need, grazing Photo: Sue Everett
Belted Galloways grazing marshy pasture in the Kennet Valley
Photo: Sue Everett
This is the title of Graham Harvey’s excellent book, published in 2008, dedicated to the benefits of grazing and grasslands and their role in mitigating climate change and supporting biodiversity associated with grazed and open habitats, such as flower-rich meadows and pastures. However, in recent years livestock farming has been vilified for its role in climate change (e.g. see Livestock’s long shadow -, with the spotlight on cattle in particular owing to their ruminant physiology that results in them belching copious quantities of the greenhouse gas, methane. Last year a new metric for calculating methane’s global warming potential was published (acronym GWP*) which more accurately reflects its climate impact and short life (it is broken down by natural process in about 12 years). Methane does not accumulate in the atmosphere, unlike CO2, therefore reductions in livestock numbers and corresponding falling methane emissions will result in falling levels of the compound in the atmosphere, leading to cooling. Applying this metric and taking into account the role of extensive livestock in building soil in permanent grassland, will give more positive carbon accounts to extensively grazed pasture-lands. Climate metrics for ruminant livestock has been issued by researchers at Oxford University and can be downloaded from See also Christine Page’s blog from Smiling Tree Farm in Shropshire (Carbon Mooves -, the many contributions from Simon Fairlie in The Land magazine ( and Simon’s book Meat a benign extravagance.

At the end of the day the clear focus for emissions-reductions must be fossil fuels - which provide much of the energy used to support growing crops for intensive and environmentally-damaging livestock production. Reducing dietary consumption of intensively-farmed meat, and to a lesser
The Large Blue Butterfly requires
closely-grazed flower-rich limestone
pasture, where it's larval foodstuffs,
Wild Thyme and the grubs of red ants,
can thrive
Photo: PJC&Co, Wikimedia
extent dairy, can obviously be an important driver for reducing the most environmentally-damaging kinds of farming. In contrast, extensive pasture-fed livestock are powered primarily by the sun and provide the engines for maintaining some of Europe's most fabulous high value nature sites - from Devon's Culm Grasslands, to the Grand Causses in southern France and the high mountain pastures in the Pyrenees. So for those of us who choose not to be vegan, 'eating the view' and 'slow food' are the ways to go.

This article is a preview of a small part of the February edition of Conservation News which I compile, that will be published in British Wildlife magazine. This magazine is issued 6 times a year and is available by subscription only.

Organisations supporting sustainable grazing for climate and biodiversity include the Pasture Fed Livestock Association, European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, the Agricology initiative, Nature Friendly Farming Network and the Wales Grazing Animals Project.

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