The Story of How We Came to Celebrate Our Pastoral Diversity by John Meadley

Soil Healthy soil

On 22 February 2017, around 50 PFLA farmers and 25 plant/soil scientists met at Fir Farm in the Cotswolds to think about how we could monitor the health of the soil under pasture.

Thinking of the soil as a living entity, how could we routinely “monitor its blood pressure” – in the same way that we might monitor our own general health? We spent the day observing and considering a range of proxy measures that could be easily observed at little cost – such as earthworm counts, infiltration rate and compaction. You can read the report here. Out of this event, led by Abby Rose at Vidacycle and working with a small group of PFLA farmers, emerged the increasingly popular Soilmentor app.

By pure serendipity, three years later to the day (22 February 2020), a different group of 50 PFLA farmers (this time from the southwest) and a smaller group of plant/soil scientists met on Andy Bragg’s West Town Farm at Ide near Exeter to consider how we could monitor the ecological biodiversity on our farms.

Our good intentions of progressing the initiative were knocked off course by Covid-19 and lockdown – but a few of us have continued to stay in touch and nudge things forward. Over the last couple of months, Denise Walton, Kate Bradshaw and I have had several Zoom calls and talked to people knowledgeable about such monitoring.

It soon became clear that there are many forms of life that can be monitored on a farm and many different ways of doing it. So we decided to start by simply celebrating the biodiversity on our members’ farms, to provide a range of resources and then to respond to members’ interest in monitoring. This is, and will continue to be, work in progress as we will all be continually learning. Our report from that early meeting is here.

Pasture does not exist in isolation, but rather as a community that includes the soil, its myriad of organisms and the animals that graze on it. In a recent Farmerama Radiointerview (no 65), PFLA co-founder John Turner explained why he couldn’t farm his land without livestock.

Explore our Biodiversity Hub