Last weekend on a blustery day in September we held the first workshop of the newly formed Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN). Check out the website and the blog post here Ontario Rural Skills Network Spoon Carving Workshop #1

ORSN is part of the SSHRC-funded Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape project at the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), University of Waterloo. The project is exploring new links between people and landscape through traditional skills.




Just back from sending off the Mount Wolfe Farm Environmental Farm Plan for review, which I have been helping Farm Manager Sarah and her aunt Debbe Crandall complete as part of my work for the University of Waterloo Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape Project 2018.

The EFP is a voluntary programme driven by the farming community with technical support provided by the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). It is run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

EFPs are assessments voluntarily prepared by farm families to increase their environmental awareness in up to 23 different areas on their farm. After attending two workshops with Sarah and Debbe we risk-assessed the 23 different areas which included Water Wells, Pesticide Handling & Storage, Fertilizer Handling & Storage, Treatment of Household Wastewater, Livestock Mortality , Field Crop Management and Woodlands and Wildlife.

The overall purpose is to assess the impacts of farm operations- particularity nutrient enrichment from manure, pesticides and tilling practices on ground and surface water resources. There are however useful sections on sustainability of water resources where we looked at how much water the farm uses; on energy use, and on wildlife. Scoring for each question 1-4, any answers with 1 or 2 require an action plan to be completed.

Completing the EFP opens the door to cost-share funding under the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program

From my UK experience this is more a Catchment Sensitive Farming Plan than a Farm Environment Plan. I would like to have seen more emphasis on wildlife, particularly in identifying endangered species  or species of conservation concern and creating actions to benefit them.

However the EFP was an undeniably useful process for Mount Wolfe and would be for any farm interested inreducing their environmenatl impact. I especially found the mapping component useful, where i got to flex my QGIS muscles (slightly more than the hand drawn plan required by the EFP but useful for long-term farm planning especially for woodland management). It did take us, a small Community Supported Agriculture Farm, a number of days to get all the information together and think through answers, even if many of the 23 worksheets were not applicable to our operation. I think a larger farm would need more support than two workshop days in completing the form.

Loving this iNaturalist App. Three of the many insects buzzing around the lovage outside the tent this morning, a bald faced hornet Dolichovespula maculata, a gloriously shiny sweat bee Augochloropsis metallica and a hummingbird clearwing Hemaris thysbe who wouldn’t stay still long enough for a good photo. All identified through the App. We now have 70 species recorded for @MountWolfeFarm!

I’ve been in Canada a month now spending much of my time exploring new pathways around hedgerows and traditional skills so thought it was about time I got back to some field ecology. Sarah has a problem in the upper field at Mount Wolfe Farm where the young tomato plants are being eaten, so I am investigating what maybe causing the problem. On our first nights trapping using 10 sherman traps baited with peanut butter, bird seed, sardines and apple we caught this young male deer mouse Peromyscus maniculatus weighing 14g. He was safely translocated to similar habitat away from the tomatoes!

Dr Chris Sandbrook posted a piece on the ‘The three most dangerous narratives in conservation’ on his blog Thinking Like a Human .  Here he sounds a warning about ‘ tremendous lengths that (most of) the conservation sector has gone to over the last few decades to repackage and represent the value of nature in monetary terms’. Chris’s post was interesting and stimulating and he also states that these narratives are ‘not entirely false, but their ‘truth’ has become accepted as orthodoxy to the extent that they slip by almost unnoticed.’

I have been thinking about a post around Natural Capital for some time, especially since George Monbiot’s article The UK government wants to put a price on nature – but that will destroy it. I’m personally uncomfortable with the approach, but i think we have to accept that until we shift our current economic paradigm, its the right tool in many situations going forward.

So, my reply:

Thanks Chris for this stimulating piece. However I think one of the dangerous narratives in conservation is the rise of voices AGAINST natural capital and monetising of nature as a tool to protect and preserve the environment under the current economic system. Scott H posted above that ‘Traditional conservation has failed to halt the decline of biodiversity over the past 50 years, so we have to do something else’ which is right but he doesn’t say why he disagrees with this.

The danger in dismissing natural capital approaches is that this plays in to a binary approach to problem solving. The environment is part of a complex system which like it or not is bound up intrinsically with human development and wellbeing. Solving the issue of reducing the scale of our impact on the biosphere will necessitate a range of solutions.

Natural capital one might argue is the only adaptive approach to our current economic system, which isn’t going to change radically very soon. Of course we need to be innovative and find new ways to live and do business with each other, and there are many organisation around the world doing great work exploring these transformative pathways.

More on this soon.

Thinking like a human

Emery Roe, an American policy scholar, first developed the idea that ‘narratives’ – stories about the world and how it works – are used in policy making processes to cut through complexity and justify a particular course of action. We are a storytelling species, and people find it easy to understand and get behind a compelling story with strong internal logic and a beginning, middle and end. Once a narrative has taken hold they can be very difficult to shake off, at least until an even more compelling ‘counter-narrative’ arrives on the scene. A classic example from resource governance is the ‘resources will be over-exploited unless they are in private ownership’ narrative, based on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Tragedy of the Common’s article. It took decades of careful scholarship, and ultimately a nobel prize for Elinor Ostrom, to demonstrate that this narrative was compelling, influential, and wrong.

There are numerous narratives…

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