Holistic approach to sustainability is necessary to meet society’s needs, says NSA.

13th September 2021

A landscape lacking lambs, a countryside without cows, and the loss of Britain’s pastoral heritage would be the stark consequence of an inadequately analysed approach to managing climate change, warns the National Sheep Association (NSA).

NSA believes the potential consequences of supermarket shelves being stocked with imported meat produced to standards neither permitted nor desired in the UK, along with an associated erosion of rural communities, would surely not be welcomed by anyone.

In order to inform the debates relating to the global COP26 conference (1st to 12th November) in Glasgow, NSA is highlighting how, without a more complete analysis of UK sheep farming and the positive role it plays in the fight against climate change, the threat of negative results through alternative land use strategies could become a reality.

While COP26 will understandably primarily focus on carbon emissions and climate change, NSA is stressing how a more holistic approach to sustainability is required if we are to meet environmental, economic and social goals.

The Association is encouraging policy makers not to think of climate change, or nature recovery in isolation but to consider in tandem the protection of natural resources, heritage, rural economies, the health and wellbeing of people, and sustainable and local food production and consumption.  

NSA Chief Executive, Phil Stocker says: “There is a reason why Britain has a reputation for being a green and pastoral nation. Our climate and weather conditions are perfectly suited to growing grass, and even with climate change grass and related grassland plants will continue to be one of the most resilient and stable crops/habitats available to us. Grassland is holistic in its own right, producing food while also storing carbon, contributing to soil life and water management, and providing habitats for nature.

Close to two thirds of the land used for farming in the UK is only suitable for growing grass and is ideally suited to raising grass -fed livestock. In fact, the maintenance of grasslands is dependent on grazing livestock in order to keep the diversity of species in balance. Our grasslands themselves are hugely diverse, many with multiple plant species that provide resilience to drought, flood, and fire. Where we have seen devastating diseases in tree populations – in Elm, Larch, and now Ash trees, grass again demonstrates resilience. Grass-fed livestock farming in Britain should be seen as a key contributor to the efforts to reach not just net-zero but to meet many more of societies interests.”

Eating holistically is equally important with more consumers recognising the sense behind a balanced diet, with nutrients that are naturally provided by responsibly and locally produced meat and dairy, complemented by plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains.

Mr Stocker adds: “Productivity improvements through genetics, nutrition or animal health programmes, have been key to reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and by following the science from more recent studies which shows the short life characteristics of enteric methane compared to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, demonstrates how the metric GWP* (Global Warming Potential) provides a more accurate indication of warming, where the currently used GWP100 metric falls short. For climate science to adopt GWP* would give a much more meaningful and accurate assessment of UK livestock farming’s impact on the carbon cycle.”

The ongoing Covid19 pandemic has also demonstrated how much the British public has valued its local farming communities, not only for providing locally produced quality food, but also for the role farmers play in managing our spectacular countryside, shaped by farming practices where, in many cases, sheep play a central and holistic role. By affording access opportunities the country’s sheep farmers have enabled visitors to the countryside to engage with nature without having to travel long distances, which has been recognised as helping with peoples’ physical and mental wellbeing and being something they wish to continue to enjoy.