As The National Trust Proves, Medieval Strip Fields Are Inefficient

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As anyone who went through the tedium of the old fashioned O Level syllabus knows, the Industrial Revolution was presaged, perhaps accompanied by, an agricultural revolution. Jethro Tull, Turnip Townsend and all that. Essentially, the move away from the open field medieval farming techniques and towards enclosure, so that selective breeding of plants and animals was possible and worthwhile. For, pretty obviously, only a private stock can be so bred. Those of sufficient maturity to have gone through such rote learning will also know why those new agricultural techniques worked – they were more efficient.

Which is something that the National Trust has just proven for us once again:

A pioneering farming project using field management techniques dating back to the 13th century has transformed a stretch of coast into a haven for endangered animals, birds, insects and wildflowers.

The experimental return to “strip-field farming” close to the spectacular Rhossili Bay on the Gower peninsula in south Wales is being credited with a threefold increase in the number of species of wildflowers and the appearance of rare birds such as the hen harrier and grasshopper warbler.

As many as 63 butterflies were spotted in 60 seconds in one of the strip fields at the Vile, compared with a maximum of six in neighbouring pastures that are farmed conventionally.

The Vile, which is old English for strip fields, was farmed in the old-fashioned way until the late 1940s. Shortages then led to the intensification of agriculture across the UK including, to a more limited extent, the Vile.

The proof of the inefficiency is in the presence of that lots more wildlife. We’re trying to grow food for humans to eat recall. So, more wildlife eating off the same earth is less food for humans. We have more butterflies around? That’s nice, but that does mean more caterpillars munching on those now not for humans crops. Hen harriers? Great, but they’re eating the mice and the voles living off those crops. Land that’s growing wildflowers isn’t growing grain or veggies for us, is it?

Sure, it’s nice to have hen harriers, great to have wildflowers. But their very existence on this land shows that this method of farming is less efficient at doing the job of farming – growing food for us. Which is why we abandoned this method of farming of course. Under the simple and basic pressures of trying to gain more output from our inputs. And yes, land is, obviously enough, an input into farming.

And if we’d like to have flowers and harriers? Then we should be using the most efficient farming methods on those areas we do farm so as to leave more space, more land, for the pretty things we’d also like to have. That is, prairies of glycophosphate drenched wheat for us, the other 30 or 50 or 70% of the land left alone for them. And the more chemicals we use on our bit the smaller that bit devoted to us is going to be.

The very fact that we’ve more wildlife as a result of this inefficient farming method shows us that we must be using the more efficient industrial methods. You know, to save the wildlife?

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Spike
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So the National Trust undertakes a return to medieval farming methods and writes a “report” (read, “sales pitch”) gushing about the new flora and fauna seen — necessarily, to paper over the fact that it sucked at being a farm. Reminds me of caseworkers frittering stolen money on unconditional payments to anyone in a condition of “need,” to university administrators admitting students some of whom, they concede, are unlikely to benefit from the experience. Then observing the occasional miracle and avoiding the questions, Was it worth the cost? and What could have been done with those resources otherwise?

Spike
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PS — As the owner of a lawn, my decades of observation are that species come and go no matter what you do. The tiny but edible strawberries in the grass are gone but there are suddenly snails on every fallen branch. Even the milfoil has receded in favor of lily pads. In other words, look at any field or pond, in any year, and you will see something new and remarkable. (“Extinction,” which the US defines to include loss of a given coloration in a given habitat, calls for boundless Remediation.)

David
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David

Comparing two fields is not proof of anything, they need a larger sample size.

David
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David

Comparing two fields is not proof of anything, they need a larger sample size.