Communicating the rewilding message

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how we get the rewilding message across to the people who can act, the farmers, landowners and land managers who have the power to bring about change.

Firstly lets look at where these people are likely to see Rewilding and other environmental messages currently; they may read or hear articles in the media, whether the Times, the Guardian, Farming today or Countryfile. These messages will be headlined to grab attention and often present a sensationalised or confrontational account. Landowners will also see appeals from campaigning groups either trying to raise money presenting extreme cases, or trying to control or proscribe activities on the land, making demands and portraying the farmer or landowner as a pariah. Then there are the experts, people at Defra or elsewhere who may hold the purse strings, may have a lot of theoretical knowledge but whom the landowner has long learnt to treat with suspicion. So the last thing the farmer wants now is some amateur coming him along telling him what he should do!

“Telling” is key here. Without power to inflict retribution no parent successfully told a 4 year old what to do, so why do we think it will work on grown men and women already under pressure to earn a living in difficult circumstances, on (say) a Dartmoor hill farm?

No, to get our message across we need to be more subtle. Instead of talking we need to learn to listen, to probe, to understand, and above all to ask questions. Let me give you an example:

I know a farmer passingly as I buy my milk direct from his farm, so clearly he is already someone open to doing things differently. He is also not likely to be rude to a customer. Suppose one day I were to say to him “I’m quite interested in the Rewilding debate, and I was just wondering, what are the barriers to growing your internal hedges thicker and flailing them less?” No confrontation, and the opportunity to learn something first hand. If I’m lucky he will give me a considered reply (if he’s not rushed off his feet) and I may have the chance to put a second question that goes something like “ So what would need to change for you to consider doing that?” Again I might learn something, and at this point it might be time to leave with my milk.

The point is that I have made him think about something he might not have considered or had written off, and I have made him think about how change might occur. I have not preached and on another day when I’m buying my milk the conversation might resume. I have sowed a seed, planted a worm in his head that might just nag him.

Obviously we don’t all buy milk from the farm gate ( though I would encourage the idea as the farmer gets a lot more for his milk that way and is forced to connect more with his end customers). But many of us do meet farmers and landowners, at parish council meetings, church groups, when they drop their kids at school or nursery, or passing them on your dog walk when they are maintaining their walls or checking their sheep from the roadside. Don’t just launch in, talk about the weather and what a good job he’s making of that dry stone wall, compliment him on his “fine looking beasts”. Become familiar. Then one day seed that idea!

2 Comments

  1. I’m a beef farmers son on the Somerset levels. I am not going to be a farmer of animals. When my father retires, what should I do with the land?

    There is a great vid on changing behaviours here…….
    https://youtu.be/xp0O2vi8DX4
    It basically says to encourage change, don’t use threats of disaster, but instead examples of success and motivational factors.

    Would love a discussion on this subject as I’d love to influence change in my farming community!

  2. Rob, firstly thank you for your comments and in response I suggest I should put you in touch with two of the contributors on Rewilding Dartmoor. Lisa Schneidau has been trying to change farmers working practices for over 25 years in her day job. Conversely Kate Morley my fellow admin owns land she is rewilding and has persuaded a neighbour to join in. Supply me your email address and I will forward it on to them with an explanation. Best regards
    Adrian P.

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