Natural World (1983–…): Season 28, Episode 14 - Natural World - full transcript

Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family's farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key. With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family's wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year's high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is. Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

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I always think this Devon landscape
is the most beautiful place on Earth

and to me this is a very special
farm, because it's where I grew up

and it's the only place
I've ever really called home.

My name is Rebecca Hosking
and I'm from a long line of farmers.

But it was the wildlife here
more than the farming that really
fascinated me as a child.

And this led me into a career
as a wildlife filmmaker.

But now I'm back here
to be a farmer...

and in very interesting times.

An approaching energy crisis will
likely force a revolution in farming

and change the British countryside
for ever.

It will affect what we eat,

where it comes from,

and even the alarming question
of whether there will be enough food
to keep us fed.

If our farm is to survive,
it will have to change.

In this film I'm going to find out
how to make my family farm in Devon

a farm that's fit for the future.

I think when people sort of
find out I was brought up
on a small South Devon farm,

they always think I must have had
the most amazing childhood ever.

When I think back to when
I was brought up here,

I just think of a load of
bloody hard work really.

We were just small time farmers and
with that is involved not much money

and a lot of hard work, to the
point that it's almost drudgery.

Dad often describes farmers
as glorified lavatory attendants.

And my family,
like many farming families I think

up and down the country, wanted
something better for their children

and I was actively encouraged to get
out of farming, go and find a job,
go and make a decent living.

'So that's what I did.'

And while I was away pursuing my
career, my dad and my uncle Phil

carried on, as ever,
farming in a pretty traditional way.

But now it's time
for me to come back.

The thing is,
both Phil and I now, we...

I was going to say we're several
years beyond retiring age and should

have retired, and most farmers have
done that, but we've kept the farm

going and, um...kept it going
as long as we can,

trying to keep it as we found it,
as we sort of inherited it.

You know, I'm delighted to think
somebody will take it on now
and keep it going, hopefully.

But it's not going to be easy
because of pressures
of all sorts of things...

food shortages,
oil prices going up...

it's not going to be easy at all.

Many would say, "Just sell it.

"That would make more
money in a heartbeat than
a lifetime of working the land."

But how can I turn my back
on somewhere so beautiful,
and a place that made me who I am?

However, making a living
while continuing

to preserve all the wildlife
on the farm, as Dad has done,
is going to be a major challenge.

The inconvenient truth
is that this farm,

despite being a haven
for wildlife, is no more
sustainable than any other.

All the farms I know,
including organic ones,

are utterly dependent
on fossil fuel, particularly oil.

This dependence is dangerous
for two reasons...

climate change we all know about,

but there is also growing evidence
that the oil we need may soon be
in short supply.

Last year's fuel prices hit us badly

and for me it was a bit of
a wake-up call.

I recently learned that
those crippling fuel prices
may be just a tiny

taster of what's to come as world
oil production begins to decline.

If there's any truth to this matter,
then this will be my

biggest challenge in keeping our
farm going into the near future.

So I decided to track down
one of the world's most respected
authorities on the subject.

After a distinguished 40-year career
as a geologist in the oil industry,

he continues his research
from a small village
in the west of Ireland.

To Dr Colin Campbell, the facts
about our oil supply are simple.

Despite searching the world
with all the advances
in technology and knowledge

and incentive and everything,

we've been finding less and less
for 40 years.

And in 1981 was a kind of turning
point when we started using more
than we found in new fields,

as we started sucking down what
had been found in the past...

eating into our inheritance,
you could say.

So I don't think there's really
any serious doubt that we're close
to this turning point.

A sort of turning point for mankind,
you could say, when this critical

energy for agriculture in particular,
which means food, which means people,
is heading on down.

And there's a huge debate raging
of exactly the date and the height
of the peak of production.

And really I think
this misses the point.

It doesn't matter whether it's this
year, next year, five years out.

What matters is the vision that
after this peak you have a decline
of only 2% or 3% a year,

but there's a huge difference
between climbing for 150 years
and descending for 150 years.

What Colin is saying is this decline
will mean fuel shortages

and prolonged economic turmoil.

I tend to agree with him.

It doesn't matter whether
it's two years or ten years away,

the impact it will have on pretty
much every part of our lives
is huge.

But for me the biggest concern
is how it will affect farming...

which means our food.

I don't think most people have given
it much thought how much fossil fuel
goes into our everyday food.

I just bought this garage sandwich
just before we got on board...

and I'm going to pull it apart
and go through all the ingredients.

I'm gonna start with the bread.

So somewhere in the world some
farmer has had to plant the cereal.

First off,
he's in a diesel-run tractor.

So he has to plough the field...

then harrow the field. Then he has
to drill the seeds into the earth.

And then to get the cereal to grow,
he's probably had to add a load of
chemicals. To protect the crop...

fungicides, herbicides,
insecticides - all made from oil.

And for the nutrients,
chemical fertilizers...

and at the moment
most of the farmers' fertilizer
is derived from natural gas.

Once the cereal has ripened,
it needs to be harvested.

Then the grain is dried using big
heaters and then it's driven using
even more diesel to be processed.

And it isn't some little granny
in a corner shop doing this.

This is huge industrial buckets
making this kind of bread.

So then we move on to the inside
and ham obviously comes from a pig

and that's even more energy hungry
because pigs are fed on grain.

And one pig can eat nearly
half a tonne of the stuff.

And then, just to add to it,
we've got a little token
very sad piece of salad in there

which was either shipped in, flown
in or grown in a heated greenhouse.

Once again a huge amount of energy.

All of these ingredients were either
cooked or cooled or both and driven
mile after mile in a refrigerated

lorry before they were assembled
into a sandwich.

Basically, this sandwich, like most
of the food that we're eating today,
is absolutely dripping in oil.

And the way that our food production
is today, if we didn't

have places like this, then in this
country we'd pretty much starve.

My visit to Ireland has given me
a lot to think about.

Even on our little farm,
without fossil fuel energy,
farming and food production

would grind to a halt pretty quickly
and we would be left with, well,

a nature reserve. And nature
reserves don't feed people.

This is such a serious issue,
I'm guessing the rest

of the farming world
must be as concerned as I am.

Perhaps some of them have some ideas
on how to move forward.

A major Soil Association conference
on the future of British farming
seems like a good place to start.

We may all think we're immune here
because we can nip along

to Tesco Metro whenever we like in
the middle of the night
and buy something...

that whole system is in jeopardy.

How are you going to feed Britain?
How are you going to feed London?

40% of the world's production
comes from the 500 or so giant oil

fields, half billion barrel
oilfields. Most of those...

They're certainly worried.

And from what I'm hearing, the
energy problem seems, well,

It will hit us by 2013 at the latest,
not just as an oil crisis

but actually as an oil
and indeed energy famine.

Farmers are going to have to move
from using ancient sunlight...

using oil and gas...

to using current sunlight.

And that seems to me the most
enormous challenge that agriculture

has ever faced, certainly since
the Industrial Revolution because
we have so little time to do it.

If we can get government to be part
of that, so much the better,

but if government won't be part of
that, we'll have to do it
without them.

These are the new fundamentals
on which the food system

is going to have to be based
or else we are buggered.

The farmers' conference
made it clear to me
there are no easy answers.

If our farms and machinery
are so energy-hungry,
what are the options without oil?

Alternative energies are coming on
leaps and bounds nowadays.

Which one is likely to fit the bill?

Over in California
at the Post Carbon Institute,

there is a man who has advised
business, industry and governments
on how to cope with oil depletion.

Richard Heinberg kindly agreed
to talk to me via the internet.

I mean, surely with wind and solar
and nuclear we could use all of this

and the depletion of oil
really isn't a problem?

We've waited too long to develop
alternative energy sources

and there's also the likelihood that

even all of these alternative energy
sources put together won't be able to

power industrial societies
in the way that we've become
accustomed to with fossil fuels.

People have to understand
that we've created a way of life
that's fundamentally unsustainable.

And that doesn't mean that it's just,
you know, ecologically irresponsible,
it means that it can't continue.

The scale of the challenge ahead
Richard is talking about becomes
clear when you look at bio-fuels.

Oil seed rape is the most productive
bio-fuel crop in our climate.

At Britain's current rate of oil
use, a whole year's harvest from
a four-acre field like this

would be used up
in less than one third of a second.

That would be little help
to agriculture as it stands today.

Aside from transport, cars, trucks
and airplanes,

agriculture is the
most fossil fuel intensive industry.

We use in the industrial world about
ten calories of fossil fuel energy

for every calorie of food we produce.

So this is an enormous problem
we've created for ourselves.

We have solved enormous problems
in agriculture before.

In the past 50 years,
agricultural technology

has tripled crop yields and overcome
everything nature has thrown at us.

But all of these advances
rely on abundant fossil fuel.

In a sense, they have taken us
exactly in the wrong direction
to deal with this new problem.

Even the latest technologies, like
GM crops, regardless of the other

arguments, are as utterly dependent
on fossil fuel as any other.

So where does this leave us?

It's possible in fact
that food systems could collapse
not just in the poor countries,

but also in the wealthy current
food exporting countries like the
United States, Canada and Australia.

And we are going to have to transform
our entire agricultural system
very quickly

if we're going to avert
a global food calamity.

So, does this mean a return to
horses, carts and hand tools
on our farm?

I personally wouldn't know how to do
this, nor would most farmers today.

The knowledge of how to farm
in this manner is all but gone.

However, on the next door farm
is a woman who knows a thing or two
about it.

My dear old friend, Pearl.

'Ello darlins, you waitin' for tea?

You little beggars.

They're handsome looking.

Oh, they are. They're sweet.

Do you know what that's for?

No idea. Well, years ago
we used to make hayricks.

Right, yeah,
and put all the hay out to dry.

Out to dry. Well, then you'd go up
with your wagon, you see,
and you'd want a wagon load of hay.

And you'd have to cut the hay
across to take away a section
to put on the wagon...

and that you have to go like this.
Oh, and literally cut like that?

Yeah, like that.

It's a good old weight,
though, isn't it? We weren't mice.

I wasn't big but boy I was strong.

The Lord gave me a lot of strength.

He certainly did, He gave
you all a lot of strength

and we don't realise how easy
we've got it now I think, do we?

You don't.

For those tasks too heavy
for people, there were horses...

and Pearl was an
incredible horsewoman.

Oh, Pearl, look at that, wow.

Look at those.
Yeah, that's me bridles...

Those are bridles.
How many have you got, Pearl?

Well, we had you see
three big shires...

Of course you did.

When you had a horse and cart,
well, it often was too big a load
for one

so you'd put that on the fore
harness and that horse had a collar,
that on it and two chains that came

back and hooked into the front
of the cart...

So when you needed a bit more extra
horsepower, literally... That's
right, that one was there to pull.

To get you up a hill. Yeah.

At best,
Pearl had a two horsepower system
to help her with the heavy work.

Today, farmers' tractors
can be up to 400 horsepower.

Trips off the tongue, doesn't it?

400 horsepower...
but think what it actually means...

400 horses...

that's the power we get
from oil today.

Do you know, today's energy supply
is equivalent in energy terms

to 22 billion slaves
working round the clock.

So we're basically living with
this enormous stock of slaves
working for us in the form of oil.

But by the end of this century,
there ain't any more of them. And
that's a huge change we're facing.

It affects just absolutely
every aspect of the modern world.

I often think how times have changed

because you see we do all this work
just to keep our cows going but now

a bit of silage boy and
it's all done mechanically
and you can go and sit down.

Your sons,
if they had to farm like you did,
do you think they would do it now?

No, I don't think they would,
I think they'd have more sense.

But I was happy.

This way of farming is something
we couldn't go back to
even if we wanted to.

When Pearl was young,
there was ten times as many
farmers in this country

and only half the number
of mouths to feed.

Also, most British farmers today
just don't have the physical
strength for hard manual labour.

The average age of a farmer
in Britain now is 60.

And even worse,
there's only 150,000 of them left.

As an industry, British farming
has effectively been left to die.

And in recent years, more and more
of our food is coming from abroad.

The UK is a net food importer
by a long shot, so this is a...
This is a very perilous situation.

Because of course all of that import
has to come by way of fossil fuelled

vehicles of one kind or another,
whether it's ships or airplanes.

And as fossil fuels again become
more scarce and expensive, that
means that that food is going

to become more expensive and
the whole system will start to
creak and groan around the edges.

Realistically, the only changes
I can make are right here.

And even that isn't as
straightforward as it may seem.

Ours is a traditional
livestock farm.

Raising beef and lamb on pasture
may not look that fuel intensive,

but there is one major problem.

Bringing the cattle in in the winter
for beef farming or dairy farming
is just part and parcel

of what we do in this country
because of our climate.

If we were to leave
them out on the land,

it's actually bad for the pastures
because they carve up the grass

and it hasn't got enough time
to recover for the next spring.

And obviously
with the cattle in the barn,
then they can't get to their grass.

So we then have to bring their grass
to them in the form of this hay.

And the hay harvest by far
is our biggest single use of
machinery and fuel on this farm.

This is why I was fascinated to
hear about a farm up in Shropshire

run by Charlotte Hollins
and her brother Ben.

Fordhall Farm is much the same size
as our farm and like us,
they raise cattle and sheep.

But at Fordhall, the cattle stay
out on the pasture all winter with
little need for additional feed.

I found it hard to believe,
but as a result, the only machinery
they have is a quad bike.

The secret to this is underfoot.

The grass.

Even though we have hundreds of
species of wild grass in this
country, most farmers only use four,

which they buy in a bag
from a seed merchant.

But not at Fordhall.

And we've probably got almost 20
different species of grass here.

Some are hardier than others, some
will grow quicker than others and
some have roots which go deeper down

in the soil and bring minerals up
and some have got much shallower

roots which help then protect
the soil across the surface.

If you come down and have a look
at the grasses here,

you can see straight away
that you've got a great big tight
structure there at the bottom.

It's like Scottish Tweed.

Exactly. And even when you get to the
soil, it's so matted up with roots,

it takes an awful lot of force
and effort to break through it.

So it doesn't get trodden up
to a muddy mess straight away.

Then the cows and the sheep
get the benefit of it

and you get the benefit because you
don't have to buy so much feed in.

We know year on year it will work,
there will be feed...

We can produce beef,
we can produce lamb, and we can
sell it and we can make a living.

And whatever happens to oil
prices or anything else, we know
we can keep going on that system.

But these amazing grasses
didn't happen by chance.

Charlotte and Ben's late father,
Arthur Hollins, was a bit of a local
legend and a farming visionary.

Dad started his way of farming

just after the war but he spent his
whole lifetime developing the system.

And it was only just before he died
in 2005 that he actually said,
"I'm happy with this.

"I think I've got the grasses right,
I'm happy with the pastures."

The soils on our farm
are completely different

to the ones here at Fordhall,
so the grasses Arthur encouraged may
not suit our fields back in Devon.

But that's not to say we couldn't
try something similar
with other types of grass.

Knowing which species to encourage
may be just a case
of careful observation.

And that's exactly what
old Arthur had to do

because the pastures here
weren't always so rich.

Dad was always a great observer
and he came through the woodland

and he saw how much was
growing here, especially
during the summer months,

and he wasn't touching it. But more
importantly he wasn't paying for any
of it to grow, it was just doing it.

And he saw straightaway in the
top few inches of leaf litter
on the soil there was life,

whether it be spiders,
or woodlice or centipedes.

And then you go down a little bit
further and you start to see worms.

But he couldn't see any of that
in his soil he was ploughing
and cultivating year on year.

There was no sign of any life.
It was dead.

It was dead. And he got to then learn
about all the millions of different

bacteria and fungi that were
also in the soil that keep it
fertile, cycle the nutrients,

that hold those nutrients in
their bodies and release them to the
plants, and they weren't in his soil.

I mean, if you just look down, I
mean, this is classic woodland soil,
look how rich this is.

Yeah. Exactly. And it's
gorgeous, gorgeous rich topsoil.

I mean, even there in that soil
you've got bits of twig,

the bits of leaf that are slowly
being broken down to create soil.

And the worms and everything
else do that job for you.

They eat it, process it through their
bodies and you end up with worm poo,

you know, which is soil,
which feeds the plants.

And without that life,
you've got nothing to feed the
plants to keep that system going.

Taking the lessons he learned
from the woodland, Arthur realised
that to rejuvenate his fields

he would have to go against
one of the most fundamental
principles of agriculture.

The biggest thing Dad found was
damaging the soil

was exposure to sunlight.
Overturning through ploughing.

And Dad always said it would be like
humans ripping off their skin...
You know, it's not nice. No.

And you know, and you don't survive.

So why do it to the soil and why
kill all those organisms in the soil

that, at the end of the day,
are your best friends?

Are you telling us not to plough?.


We've been ploughing for 10,000
years. It's what farmers do.

Not ploughing is a pretty radical
idea for any farmer.

But looking at some old footage
from our farm, the damage it causes
is now pretty obvious.

This is one of our fields
back in the 80s.

The life in the soil
is a feast for the birds.

After 20 years
of the same treatment...

No birds, the soil is dead.

Turning the soil has been part
of agriculture for millennia,

but I guess with muscle power alone,
the damage was slow to show.

With diesel power,
the destruction is much faster.

The only reason modern agriculture
can get away with killing the life

in the soil is through
another use of fossil fuel.

This time it's by turning
it into chemical fertilizer.

These granules contain three
essential plant nutrients.

Nitrates, phosphate and potash.

Over 95% of all the food grown
in this country

is totally reliant
on synthetic fertilizer.

Without it,
we'd be in serious trouble.

We've used fossil fuels,

essentially, to grow plants
in soil that is otherwise dead.

And that works as long
as we have

the cheap fossil fuels with which
to make the nitrogen fertilizer

and to transport all the inputs
and so on.

But in the end, you know, when we
don't have the cheap fossil fuels,

we're going to need
living soil once again.

And that living soil is something
that requires time and care to build,

it doesn't just happen overnight.


This field is far more typical for
our farm. It's called Orchid Meadow.

And it's never been ploughed
or dosed with synthetic fertilizer,

yet it's clearly thriving.

It just does feel like the whole
thing's heaving with life,

there's so many flowers, on a sunny
day the whole place comes alive.

And you've got the birds
in the trees, but it just buzzes -

the whole thing buzzes and you've
just got so many insects.

If you step over this,
especially in an evening,

and you walk through this, the
insects come up in great big clouds.

And it's all built on the foundation
of healthy, living soil.

After seeing Fordhall Farm, I can
see by developing these pastures,

we could reduce
our dependence on oil.

But, no matter how good
the grasses are,

rearing cattle takes a lot of land.

Every study on the matter concludes
that if Britain is to become
more self-sufficient,

we need to eat less meat.

Now I'm realising,
we'll probably have to diversify,

changing not just how we farm,
but what we farm.

And this where I get stuck.

Because I can see how you can
farm cattle without ploughing

and using natural fertility,

but how do you grow
everything else we need?

Well, it seems there are a number
of people around the world who have
already grappled with this problem.

They've developed a system
known as permaculture.

Britain's leading expert
is Patrick Whitefield.

Permaculture seems to challenge
all the normal approaches to farming.

You know, people often think

that there are
two ways of doing things.

One is by drudgery and the other
is by chucking fossil fuel at it.

Now, permaculture is about
a third way of doing things

and that is by design,
by conscious design.

Basically, you're
designing the labour out?

Or are you designing the need
for that energy out? Both. OK.

So why does it take so much manpower
and energy to sustain farmland

when you look at a natural

and we've got a wood behind us,
and that can just keep going?

Because this inherently is not
what the landscape wants to do.

If you leave the landscape totally
alone, it would turn into
something like that.

So that is the low energy option.

In the natural eco system,
there's no work -

well not by any humans, there's
no waste, and yet it's thriving.

You know, look at it.

It's easy to forget Britain
used to be a forested island.

And so much of the energy
we expend in farming

is just to stop it reverting back.

But woodland has evolved over
millions of years to be the most

efficient growing system
in our climate.

In that respect, I can understand
its appeal if you're trying

to design
the best way to grow food.

But the obvious problem for me is,
well, we can't eat trees.

With all the greatest respect,
a few wild berries, you can't...

It's not a cornfield.
Course it isn't, no, no.

No, it's insignificant.

What we've got to do
is to take the principles of this

and see how far we can bend them
towards something more edible.

'A food growing system based on
natural ecology really appeals

'to my naturalist side
but the farmer's daughter in me
needs a bit more convincing.'

I suppose the big question is,
could permaculture feed Britain?

Yeah, good question, although the
first question to ask actually is,

can the present methods
go on feeding Britain?

Yeah, I suppose, yeah. And yeah,
because actually, that is doubtful.

Well, in the long term, it's
absolutely certain that

present methods can't because they're
so entirely dependant on energy,

on fossil fuel energy.

So we haven't really got any choice
other than to find something

'Last year, I may have dismissed
permaculture as not proper farming,

'but with what I've learned
about the oil situation,

'I'm keen to see it in practice.'

A visit to a permaculture
smallholding in the mountains

of Snowdonia has given
me the opportunity.

Now, the farmland I'm used to
seeing is clumps of trees
surrounded by fields.

But this is the complete opposite,

a collection of small clearings
in a massive woodland.

It may not look like a farm,
but it clearly works.

For a few days work each week,
Chris Dixon and his wife

produce all the fruit,
veg and meat they need

and the fuel to cook it.

But 20 years ago when
they arrived,

it was degraded,
marginal pasture land.

The first thing they did
was to let much of the land
return to its natural state.

Now the fertility has returned
to the land.

Observing the forest
as it regenerated offered

all the inspiration they needed
to design their smallholding.

But it is a woodland
still, and it is chaos.

It is chaos, but chaos in this
space is very, very highly ordered,

very highly structured. It's just
that we see it as untidy and a mess.

Nature doesn't see it
like that at all.

Every plant is doing
something useful, important,
valuable on the site.

So, for example, the gorse,
fixing nitrogen,

the bracken, collecting potash,
that sort of thing.

They gave me the feeling that every
plant is important in some way.

Everywhere you go on the Dixons'
smallholding seems to be teeming
with wildlife.

How important is the biodiversity?

So, we're hearing birds
above us as well.

How important is all
of that to this system?

Very important because by encouraging
the birds, the habitat for birds,

we're encouraging phosphate
cycling through the system.

So again, phosphates is another of
the sort of crucial plant nutrients,

every plant needs them.

And phosphates, you'll find in
things like insects and seed.

So the birds that eat
insects and seeds,

they're accumulating phosphates and
the excess comes out in their dung.

So, up here in the mountains,

there's no need for sacks of
fossil fuel-derived nutrients,

it's all done by nature -
nitrate, potash, phosphate.

And no need either,
for petroleum based pesticides.

We use ducks, Khaki Campbells,
as slug control.

We've kept ducks for 22 years

and the Khaki Campbells
are the best slug-eaters.

Oh, really, there's a big tip.
And it can be very difficult to find

slugs in here during the summer,
which is great. Fantastic, yeah.

Chris's veg garden may look untidy
to a regular gardener,

but like in the woodland,
every plant is serving a purpose.

For example, some deter pests,
some help drainage.

Some encourage bees for pollination

and others have long roots that
pull up minerals deep from the soil.

The largest clearings in
the woodland are kept as pasture
for the livestock.

But the animals here
don't just eat grass,

they are benefiting
from the trees as well.

Nutrient-rich willow, lime and ash
are all used as fodder crops.

Feeding trees to animals,

this is something I would never
have thought of.

We don't have much woodland
on our farm, but what we do have

are massive hedges and now I'm
seeing them in a different light.

Well, I've always thought of
a hedgerow as a land division
between two fields.

And I've always...

Well, I suppose on this farm,
thought of it as a wildlife
corridor as well.

But I've never actually thought
of it as a yielding crop.

But their potential even just
as a fodder crop is huge.

I'd never noticed before how much
the cattle like eating ash.

And there is also a wealth
of fruits here

and that's with doing
nothing at all.

With a bit of careful steering,

who knows how much a hedge
could produce.

Ironically, I've learned hedgerows
could be much more productive

than the fields they enclose
and require much less work.

You don't have to add anything,
it's self-maintaining,

you know,
you're not having to tend it,

it's just there in abundance.

And why is it there in abundance?
Because it wants to grow here.

It's the natural food
that should be here.

The only difference is it's growing
upwards and not across.

Actually, by utilising the full
height of trees and hedges,

you can squeeze a much higher yield
out of the same piece of land.

Turns out just up the road
from our farm is the best example

in Europe of just how far you can
take this way of producing food.

Until now, I had no idea it existed.

The man behind this pioneering
system is Martin Crawford.

This is a forest garden where
there is a big diversity of trees
and shrubs and other crops

all growing together,
very carefully designed

so everything is working together,
to give many different yields
from the same space.

The trees are spaced very carefully
so that there's enough light

getting into the ground layers
beneath so you can actually
grow something productive.

Forest gardens are one part
of permaculture where design
is clearly inspired by nature.

Something that makes a natural
woodland so productive
is it grows on many layers.

It's rather like having half a dozen
fields stacked on top of each other.

A forest garden imitates
each woodland layer but uses more
edible and desirable species.

This one down below my feet here
is very low, it's called
Nepalese raspberry.

And it's a fantastic plant and it
protects the soil from winter rain.

And it saves on weeding.
Yes, so there is no weeding
to be done, you see. No.

The garden floor is covered
with fruit and veg and above them,

the shrub layer is equally abundant,
if not a little unusual.

One of several hawthorn species.

Massive thorns on it, but much bigger
fruits and much tastier fruits.

And the other side is a mulberry.

You never see mulberry bushes

You don't but they're really nice
fruits and quite easy to grow really.

Another big salad crop from
the forest garden are lime leaves.

And I use them as a base, kind of
a base ingredient, in a salad.

Right. Like lettuce.

OK, so they are your replacement
for lettuce? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Big lettuce, Martin!

A bit higher up
are the fruit trees, like apples,
pears, medlars, plums and quinces.

And then there's the canopy
where those trees

that aren't producing food are
serving other essential functions,

like cycling nutrients.

And the Italian Alders
are a very good example.

They're very fast growing
and supply a lot of nitrogen
to the plants around.

And this is through the root system?

It's through the leaf litter, which
is still quite high in nitrogen.

And the root system,
and also through beneficial fungi,

which link up everything under the
ground and move nutrients around.

If there's a lot of nitrogen
in one place in the soil

and a lack of nitrogen in the other,
the fungi will move it for you.

Everything is here
for a reason, isn't it?

Everything's here for a reason,
often multiple reasons.

So, you know, behind us,
the mint here,

this is horse mint which is one
of the native British mints.

The main use for this mint
is actually to attract
beneficial insects.

It's fantastic at attracting
hoverflies, which of course eat
aphids amongst other things.

So, you know, by having plants that
attract beneficial insects,

I don't get any pest problems.

So no pesticides?

That's right. Fantastic.
That's right.

Martin has over 550 species
of plant in his forest garden.

Surely a growing system
this complex must require
endless attention and work?

Over a whole year, it probably
averages out about a day a week,

a lot of that is harvesting. Right.

In terms of maintenance,

well, say ten days a year.

'That's ridiculous!

'Compared to running a farm,
that's virtually nothing.

'But how much food does it produce?'

If designed for maximum yield,
it can be very high.

This forest garden isn't designed
for maximum yield

cos I'm experimenting a lot
and I have a lot of unusual crops
I'm trying, and so on.

So, you know, in terms
of one designed for maximum yield,

you would be able to feed probably
ten people an acre on a maximum
yield forest garden. Really? OK.

That's roughly double the amount
of people that we can

currently feed from an average acre
of conventional arable farmland.

It is an amazing low energy,
low maintenance system,

but what you can't grow in a forest
garden are cereal crops.

And we are rather addicted
to our high carb diets.

But as oil gets more expensive
and farming begins to change,

it will become necessary for us
to broaden our diets and embrace
new foods.

Down the road from his forest
garden, Martin has created
a four acre nut orchard.

It would help enormously

if we could move more towards nuts
and less towards cereals

cos they are much more sustainable
because they grow on trees.

In other parts of Europe, France
and Italy, there's a big tradition

of growing hazelnuts,
sweet chestnuts, walnuts.

You know, an orchard crop
like a sweet chestnut,

it takes far less energy
and maintenance to grow
than a field of wheat.

'Less energy and maintenance maybe,

'but can the yield from nuts
really compare with a cereal crop?'

You're talking sweet chestnuts,
two tonnes an acre or something,

which is pretty much what you get
growing wheat organically.

And the composition of chestnut
is almost identical, actually,
to that of rice. OK.

And it's very similar to the other
grains in terms of calorific value.

Even at this experimental stage,
Martin's nut orchard

and his forest garden have a huge
output for such a tiny acreage.

Back in Wales at the Dixons'
equally small plot,

there is a similar story
of productivity.

The whole site is seven acres,

which now, after 22 years
of the natural regeneration
and the stuff we've done,

it's too much
for one family to harvest.

Wow. So, you know, really,
the smaller is better.

To me, this is the big difference
between farming and gardening.

So I'm not a farmer,
I would consider myself a gardener.

Are you trying to say
gardeners are the way forward,
rather then farmers?

I wouldn't say that gardening
is better than farming,

gardening is different from farming.

But I would suggest that, as far
as I can tell from what I've done

in my own practical experience,
and from what I've tried to find out,

that gardening with hand tools
is more productive

and more energy efficient
than farming.

It's the attention to detail
that a gardener can give

to a small plot
that makes it so productive.

A veg garden with an experienced
gardener can produce

up to five times more food
per square metre than a large farm.

Supermarkets reliant
on transportation

and the industrial scale farms
that supply them

are unlikely to survive
as oil declines.

But a host of veg plots,
allotments and smallholdings

could easily make up
for their loss.

But only if we have
a lot more growers.

The dominant demographic trend
of the 21st century, I think,

is going to be re-ruralisation.

That's not to say that the cities
will all disappear,

but the proportion of people
involved directly in food production
is going to increase.

Think back to the
Second World War, for example,

there was the Victory Garden movement
where everyone was growing a garden
plot and something like 40% of fruit

and vegetables were being produced
from front yards and back yards
and vacant lots, and so on.

That's a model to imagine
and look back to.

But we also will need a lot more
full-time farmers, otherwise, you
know, what are we going to be eating?

Feeding ourselves as oil goes into
decline is clearly going to require

a national effort
and, in an ideal world,
a bit of government leadership.

But for my part, weaning this farm
off fossil fuel is all I can do.

And the pioneers I've met recently
are a big inspiration.

Now I've learnt to observe
the land, and work with it
rather then fight against it.

I'm fascinated to find out
what species of grass we have,
and how I can improve our pastures.

And how we can make the most out
of our trees to benefit our cattle.

But also I think we need to produce
more than just livestock.

Who knows, in a few years
from now, we might even have
a forest garden here.

Although I'm not quite sure
what Dad would make of that.

But for any of these ideas to work,
it's essential to continue
preserving the farm's wildlife

and work even harder to encourage
greater biodiversity.

Biodiversity is far more important
to us than I ever gave it
credit for.

I just always thought it was
pretty and it was, you know,
it was a species we lived with.

You know, now I've learned
the big lesson that

it keeps us going, it
gives us food, it protects our food

and it's crucial that we keep it.

I'm so grateful for what my
uncle and my dad have done on this
farm because they've kept it all.

But there is still so much work
to be done here.

And what drives me to make our farm
a farm of the future

is the knowledge that I have
no other choice but to try.

Of all the people I met,

I think Dr Colin Campbell
puts it best.

What we can say now
without any shadow of doubt

is that petroleum man is just about
extinct by the end of this century.

That poses the thorny, difficult
question, will Homo sapiens be as
wise as his name implies

and figure out a way to live without
oil, which is the bloodstream
of virtually everything?

And it seems to me
the sooner we begin that transition

to a new, low-energy future,

the easier the task will be.

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