I went to a conference in Cirencester last week on Satoyama - an approach to managing 'Social-Ecological Production Landscapes (SEPL)'. It was mostly academics and policymakers so felt a little out of my depth but I understood that Satoyama is about improving the relationship between people and their landscape.
A SEPL is a 'dynamic mosaic of socio-ecological systems that maintain biodiversity and produce a bundle of ecosystem services for human wellbeing' - so a landscape that can meet the needs of people with food, fibre, energy, recreation etc whilst protecting nature. People need the land and the land needs people.
It's not about continuing with industrial agri and rewilding swathes of land to offset that. There is balance to be found in 'benign, productive management'. The approach involves collaboration and looking to traditional techniques but combining that with modern science.
There is recognition in the approach that there is a lot to be learned from early agriculture, looking at how indigenous people farmed before industrialisation.
That got me wondering about when the key turning points were in agriculture, what can we learn from the systems that were used here before we started to lose soil health and biodiversity?
'The four-field rotation system was a method of soil management used by farmers in the 1800's to restore fertility and nutrients that had been lost with the previous crops. The best planting order is for wheat, barley, turnips, and clover to be planted successively on each field. Turnips can be used as fodder for animals as well as weed control — ruminants can eat their leaves and roots throughout the summer and winter.'
That doesn't look terribly different from how our farm would have been in the 1960's - a mix of crops - oats, flax, barley, some animals. The period just before the very rapid decline in biodiversity started.
It's also not that different from the vision set out by the Nature Friendly Farming Network report on 'Farming for Climate Action' - read the full report here, again the focus is on productive farms that work WITH nature.
It strikes me we could learn an awful lot from folk who remember farming in the 70's and 80's - not to go backwards but to capture that wisdom and use it alongside all the fantastic new tools that we have at our disposal.
A conference is always a good opportunity to network, learn stuff and be challenged. I found it really reassuring that there is such an international effort looking at these approaches.