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4 Dec 2018

The Carbon Farmer

Written by Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation and Policy


There was a time when the world seemed so close to falling apart. They say it very nearly did. But they changed. Just in time. That’s when my grandfather became one of the first carbon farmers …
Grandad: It’s all about climate change really. At least it always was for my grandparents. I mean they remembered when things were really bleak, you know, before the changes happened.
My grandfather, and his grandfather, and way back for generations, we worked this moor. But there came a point where it just wasn’t doing us good any more.
Here they are … the first ones to call themselves carbon farmers, ’cos that’s where their priorities went. They themselves never changed. I can’t believe just how hard they worked.
Now look, this is my moor. These are my helpers, working away. I like to get out there and do it myself though, if I can. It’s my job after all.
So, this ... is the infamous sphagnum moss. Hard to believe that in my grandfather’s time so much of this was completely lost, for various reasons. The actual moor was contributing to climate change. But now, it’s a carbon sink again. So, instead of being up there, it’s trapped in there, and that’s where it will stay – if it’s up to me. People are happy for their taxes to go towards this, like any other public service. Cos that’s what it is. And sometimes the private sector gets involved, and they can make really big changes. And that’s important. It’s important that we’re all part of this. This moor, this living, breathing moor, it’s part of who we are I suppose. And as for me, well, I just think I’ve got the best job in the world, haven’t I?
My granddaughter, Sophie, she’s working down at the Fens. Still working peat. I keep telling her though, she’s got to remember she’s still a carbon farmer at heart.
Sophie: Hello Grandad, how are you?
Grandad: Hiya Sophie, I’m having a great day thanks. Would you mind just telling these fellas what you’re doing now?
Sophie: Oh yeah, of course. Well it’s really what Jamie’s family have been doing for generations. And, like, what our lot were doing up on the moor. People at the time chose to rewrite the Fens on their own terms, before they lost the peat entirely. Um, and they tried many different things before they settled on glyceria. Or as we know it, British rice. Hang on, I can actually show you what we’re doing here today. So, this is the nursery plot, and we have a couple of hundred hectares that we’re managing of food-producing, carbon-storing healthy wetland between here and the coast.
Grandad: Have you got that video of the flyover that you showed me the other day?
Sophie: Oh yeah, hang on. So this is a clip from one of our monitors, and as you can see, everything looks pretty good.
Grandad: Aah, brilliant. Could you send them, pet?
Sophie: Yeah, yeah, of course.
Grandad: Oh, you’re a star. Soph … why d’you think it’s important that we do what we do?
Sophie: Well, people need to eat and we need to make a living. But we need a healthy world to work, eat and live in. And that’s what we’re a part of really.
Grandad: See all this, this is mine. But it’s also theirs. It’s my children’s, and it’s their children’s, and their children’s children’s. I’m just doing my bit. To me, that makes sense.

The National Trust for Scotland was delighted to sponsor production of The Carbon Farmer. We felt it was important to share a positive vision for the future of our peatlands.

This is a vision where our farmers are rewarded for the excellent work they do as guardians of some of our most important places for nature. A vision that looks beyond current land use where private enterprise is based on delivery of public benefit, including food production that supports all the other benefits peatlands provide.

Peatlands are our largest natural carbon store. They provide homes for rare and threatened wildlife, store evidence of the past in their depths, help to clean and control our water supply and provide places of delight, solitude and recreation to thousands of people. They are also places where people live and work. If this is to continue we need to transition to more sustainable land management practices that rely on keeping the carbon, water and peat in the ground.

We hope The Carbon Farmer provides food for thought for our policy makers and heralds a new era of sustainable peatland use. The national governments of the UK have all committed to peatland conservation and support the IUCN UK Peatland Strategy. This is very encouraging and makes the prospect of The Carbon Farmer more fact than fiction.

We’re playing our part in the story of peatland conservation. Our beautiful gardens rely on peat-free compost. We have an active programme of peatland restoration at our places – major ditch blocking work was undertaken at Ben Lomond and on Arran last year, with more planned for next year. Let’s hope that one day soon we’ll be sharing these special places with our own carbon farmers.

Enjoy the film.