Soil Valuation – Ecosystem Services Vs Terroir.

I’ve recently been having to plough through a plethora of research and other bumf relating to ‘Sustainable Intensive Agriculture’. I started sceptically and ended up completely bewildered, it seems to be little more than the redrafting of good practice guidance honing in on marginal land to justify continued bad practice everywhere else. And as with ‘Ecosystem Services’, ‘Landscape Approach’ and even ‘Sustainable Development’, the actual meaning from the researchers has been twisted beyond recognition once it is fed back to land management practitioners and landowners.

One cannot fault the push towards agricultural enlightenment from academics, but this appears to backfire consistently and I agree wholeheartedly with those that say that this is due to continually ignoring the economics, something the large pesticide companies do not do and it is also true that these companies, which have infiltrated land management at all levels, can easily conquer the division created by an Ecology Vs Farming fight, which the media are keen to perpetuate.

Dave Goulson states;

 “Surprisingly few studies have simultaneously compared profitability and biodiversity benefits across farming systems, yet this is the fundamental trade-off in food production.”

Take the valuations estimated for ecosystem services to most policy makers and they will ask how to tap into these financial values, take them to a farmer and they’ll ask if it is leading to supplementary payments. In the government drive to build Singapore on England’s green and pleasant land, this situation will of course be addressed by ill thought out initiatives such as ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’. When thinking through such initiatives, it doesn’t take long to figure this is a one off, very low payment, which in the long term, if significant interest is taken, will leave a legacy of land dependent on charity, which will upset land values for future generations. There will be pressure from the Nature Conservation lobby to realise something from the work on ‘Natural Capital’ – but there is ultimately only one benefactor; themselves, which would leave only more fragmented islands of higher biodiversity surrounded by intensive agriculture or development and fits in well with the current, rapid, English move towards dividing landscapes; the protected and the ordinary, contrary to the European Landscape Convention.

In France there has been a huge focus on ‘green corridors’, the idea that pockets of isolated rich biodiversity will ensure the survival of home species is rightly dismissed – even in the urban landscape. It works, wildlife is thriving – indeed most ‘conflict’ is now due to wildlife populations that are thriving all too well. It is important to also note that nature conservation has a vastly reduced budget than in the UK. I once heard an LPO man (French equivalent to RSPB) say that with the money the UK Nature conservationists gain from crowd funding, they could buy ‘half the country’.

Also important to note is that having a rich migratory biodiversity is very much in tune with the traditional established concept of terroir. And to avoid anyone ‘googling’ terroir and coming up with endless US based wine snobbery blogs or the somewhat lacking wikipedia definition ‘A Sense of Place’, I offer my own definition: Terroir is the value of soil and all that helps create and maintain the soil in particular location towards a taste, it is a marriage of all the sciences, social and earth, it is all natural and man made elements in a landscape and you and what you taste, smell, hear and see.

It is interesting to see academics extolling ‘ecosystem services products’, thus clearly illustrating that they have ‘ecosystem services’ established in their heads as the French have in regards ‘terroir’. However as much of their work still remains secret and badly disseminated it is not gaining any ground as an English definition for terroir. Nor does it help towards illustrating the economics of a terroir system and how this could be of huge financial benefit for all in the rural cultural landscapes of the UK and elsewhere. Knowledge transfer is key – but this cannot work unless money is discussed.

How much of the annual produce for the whole of a large English county, (Yorkshire, Devon or Norfolk), could sustain in hours the city of London? Not long – certainly much less than a day. And in most of these counties, indeed for all of rural England, the agricultural sector is too small to register in regional GDP statistics. Lets be honest about it – intensive agriculture to compete with abroad just isn’t working, it is as though British farming is still obsessed with the effects of WWII and rationing. Forestry, long ago, moved on from the need to grow timber for wartime resilience – it is high time agriculture did also.

Britain needs to follow the money and this is not with the supermarkets but the super rich. The range of soils in Britain is the richest anywhere in the world, it is capable of producing the highest quality foods – terroir produce. Instead of trying to compete with a French Brie by producing an English Brie – just go with what the soil gives you and celebrate your place in naming that product.

I live in a region in the Poitou-Charentes famous for it’s wide range of aperitif’s, different from commune to commune. The high quality local products are often made by hedgerow fruits and are sometimes not just a supplementary income but double, even triple. I have brought back aperitifs from Devon to French friends, who are happy to state these drinks are as good as their own. One only has to look at the Whisky industry to see the benefits in this. Good quality alcohol sells well.

And terroir doesn’t end with food and drink. The ‘local crafts’ industry is strong in France and non timber forest products fetch realistic prices, not the ‘knock down’ price many English craftsmen and women have to suffer because the public compare prices with Poundland imports. Indeed in France, forests are being awarded their own AOC status!

Within terroir areas the French landscape and biodiversity contained within it is protected automatically. Whilst in the UK there is still round table discussion on diversification where ‘tourism’ seems the only solution – are tourists really going to help fund new hedgerows or even pay towards maintaining existing ones? You need to sell the tourists something from that landscape, which in turn pays for work in preserving that landscape and most importantly preserving the soil for future generations.

berryhead-sg 015



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

3 responses to “Soil Valuation – Ecosystem Services Vs Terroir.

  1. Ash

    Good post! I love that last sentence!

  2. Dan Flowers

    On the ball here – small really is beautiful and profitable. A neighbouring smallholder makes more than us (not including sub’s) on less than 1:10 land. They can be entrepreneurs, for us we are stuck to contracts yett still financed to the hilt which makes no sense.

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