HOW MANY children across the UK have the chance to live on a working farm for a week, learning in the great outdoors and enjoying the beautiful countryside?
For some children that is a daily privilege but not necessarily for children from inner cities.
So, children’s author Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare founded Farms for City Children (FFCC) at Nethercott House in Devon in 1976 to offer urban children from all over the country a unique opportunity to live and work together for a week at a time on a real farm in the heart of the countryside.
In 1986, FFCC acquired Lower Treginnis in Pembrokeshire on a long lease from the National Trust. After a highly successful fundraising campaign, the buildings were converted and re-structured by FFCC and in May 1989 Lower Treginnis opened for its first schools. The project won many awards for its sensitive restoration of the original farm buildings to provide a purpose-built, child-oriented space.
In 1993, a further property was secured on a 99 year lease – Wick Court in Gloucestershire, and across the three farms the charity now welcomes over 3,000 pupils and 400 teachers every year.
To see for themselves how much the children enjoy being out on farm and what the project has to offer, representatives from the Farmers’ Union of Wales joined a group of school children from London at Lower Treginnis farm, St Davids.
The farmstead dates back to 1284, and is the most westerly farm in Wales. Here Farms for City Children works in partnership with organic farmer and FUW members Rob and Eleri Davies, who keep around 900 sheep.
The award-winning buildings were converted and re-structured by FFCC to provide for up to 40 children and their teachers. Here the children help look after poultry, horses, donkeys, milking goats and a breeding herd of pigs. The farm now welcomes over 1000 pupils every year and is booked up for 32 weeks a year.
In charge of running the project in Pembrokeshire is School Farm Manager Dan Jones, who in 2009 started his teaching career in Swansea. He wanted what most teachers want – to help each child achieve their personal best, help them excel and feel fantastic about themselves. Disillusioned with the education system Dan decided to quit general education just five years later.
He explains: “The current education system makes it increasingly difficult for teachers to inspire children to learn. There is a huge workload teachers have to deal with, statistics and data inputting are a priority and that can have a real negative impact on teachers but also the children. It was more about reaching targets and getting my performance related pay and the children were no longer seen as children but as a level.
“So I quit and moved to the most westerly part of Wales – Lower Treginnis farm. The Pembrokeshire coast is now my classroom and the sheep, pigs, horses, goats and vegetables are my resources.”
The farm was not new to Dan. Every spring he would head west for a week of muck and magic with a group of Year 6 pupils and fell in love with the place.
“I would beg to be one of the team who accompanied the children and when a few years later the manager’s position at Treginnis was advertised I knew this is what I wanted to do. I was eventually appointed and am now doing my dream job. My wife, a city slicker at heart, supported my decision and we both handed in our notices and left for Treginnis. To say I am thankful to her for supporting me is an understatement,” Dan said.
Every Friday a coach load of children, aged 9-11, are welcomed to the farm and for many this is their first time away from home. FFCC aims to encourage learning, to raise self-esteem, and to enrich young lives by providing a safe and welcoming setting where children and their teachers together get involved in the working life of a real farm with real farmers.
“Treginnis is not a petting zoo, and we ask them to do real farm work. They are up at the crack of dawn milking goats, feeding pigs and poultry or looking after newborn lambs. The children are completely unplugged from the virtual world and instead can enjoy a game of chess, play cards, read a book or a kick about on the playing field.
“Three times a day the children sit at the dining table with their peers and teachers and eat together. For some that is a new experience but one that they relish. In only a week, you can see a change in the children. They are more confident, have more self-esteem and a real understanding of hard work and perseverance. These experiences and memories stay with them right the way through into their adult lives.
“It is an intense, ‘learning through doing’ experience of a different life – for children who may not know where their food comes from and have limited opportunities to explore the outside world,” explains Dan.
Alun Edwards, the FUW’s Education and Training Committee Chairman who joined the farm visit, said: “This is a fantastic project that helps children understand farming, the countryside and food production and it was great to see how teamwork helps to develop them socially and emotionally.
“The children are immersed and completely involved in a way of life that is so very different to their normal week, helping them to learn also about healthy eating and using practical, hands-on learning outside the classroom really helps with enhancing the requirements of the national curriculum.
“For some of these children it is an opportunity of a lifetime and they may never experience anything like this again. Looking at how the project here celebrates success and building self-worth through work and the completion of tasks, experiences like these should be on the national curriculum.”
FUW criticise Assembly Committee
ACCORDING to the FUW, a National Assembly for Wales committee has been misled into making a draconian recommendation that would play into the hands of multi-billion pound telecommunication companies.
The union has also suggested that the committee may have been naive in not identifying the true motives of those advocating such moves.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee published a report entitled Digital Infrastructure in Wales, which included a recommendation that ‘The Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure, and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future, in particular any likely convergence between broadband and mobile internet connectivity.’
Responding to the report in a letter to Committee Chair Russell George AM, Gavin Williams, chairman of the FUW’s Land Use and Parliamentary Committee, said: “The Farmers’ Union of Wales has long been a proponent of increasing both broadband and mobile phone coverage in Wales, and has worked closely with Ofcom and others for more than a decade to highlight the needs of Wales’ communities in terms of both.”
Mr Williams goes on to highlight the fact that the union is unaware of any instances where farmers have refused to enter into a fair agreement with commercial companies responsible for digital infrastructure – but is aware of many cases where agreement has been reached between farmers and communication companies but planning permission has been refused, and of instances where companies have behaved in unacceptable and unprofessional ways in order to try and install communication infrastructure on private land.
“There may well be a handful of cases where landowners have been uncooperative, but we would suggest that members of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee have been misled if they believe this is so widespread that it warrants a draconian recommendation to Government, said Mr Williams.
“Rather, we would suggest that the underlying motive for those who have suggested such a barrier exists at any scale is the wish to boost company profits by seeking changes which would allow farmers and landowners to be bullied into signing contracts which do not represent the commercial nature of work and installations.”
Mr Williams concludes his letter by saying, “We share the Committee’s frustrations regarding barriers to broadband and mobile coverage, but find it wholly unacceptable that a National Assembly for Wales committee has been led to believe – some would say naively – that it would be desirable to see multi-billion pound commercial companies boosting their profits by forcing family farms to accept one-sided agreements that in no way reflect the commercial nature of mobile and broadband infrastructure.”
Lynx trial decision near
THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA) is concerned to hear rumours that Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove may be prepared to fast-track a decision on lynx release.
It is calling on representative farming bodies and individuals to unite and take action to voice unanimous concerns over the proposals.
NSA is aware the Lynx UK Trust is continuing its campaign work while the application is considered, and feels it is essential Mr Gove appreciates the substantial and widespread concerns rural communities have around the proposed lynx release.
Lynx became extinct in the UK around 1,300 year ago.
The medium-sized cats can grow to around 1.3m, are apex predators in their environments, and hunt by ambush in forest habitats.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “I know Mr Gove is interested in these proposals and I am certain now is the time for individual farmers, land managers and their representative organisations to make their feelings heard. I would go as far as urging every farmer who has views over this to write to the Secretary of State so he can appreciate the strength of stakeholder concerns, which go way beyond the losses that will be suffered by sheep farmers.”
A verdict on whether lynx should be released in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, is still pending after Lynx UK Trust submitted a formal application to Natural England earlier this year. The Government advisory body is currently reviewing information, and is expected to announce a decision in the coming months.
The Trust has also asked landowners in Wales if they would be happy to allow lynx to roam their properties and its chief scientific advisor, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, claims that five Welsh landowners have expressed an interest in lynx being placed on their land.
Dr O’Donoghue said in Europe, the kill rate was 0.4 sheep per lynx per year.
Mr Stocker continued: “The risks to landscape and wildlife, heavily invested in for years, are real. Alongside disease and welfare risks, coupled with concerns around whether any lynx population could be genetically sustainable on our heavily populated island. This of course in addition to the resultant losses and stress on farmers.
“It is not a simple matter of a compensation package putting everything right. We know from sheep farmers in Finland, Norway and elsewhere that losses go way beyond those predicted. I simply cannot accept that the conscious release of a high-level predator is compatible with the high level of animal welfare expected of British farmers.”
The Lynx UK Trust has announced an agreement with Lloyds Syndicate ARK Speciality Programs, which they say will insure the entire sheep population against lynx attacks throughout the period of a trial – if it goes ahead.
Brexit trade agreement attacked by US
AN ADVANCE in the Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the UK Government has been rejected by the US Government and other major agricultural exporters.
EU negotiators had reached a tentative agreement with the UK to establish a single approach to dividing up their relationship with other members of the World Trade Organization post-Brexit.
At the moment, the UK is a joint member of the WTO with the other 27 EU members.
The British economy accounts for about 16 percent of the EU economy but its share of EU imports from other WTO countries at preferential tariffs varies according to products.
As the UK quits the EU in 2019, it will need to separate out its share of the EU’s overall quotas for farm goods that can be imported from countries such as New Zealand and Australia.
According to Reuters, neither the remaining EU states nor Britain want to have to accept greater quantities of low- or zero-duty farm imports from the rest of the world to avoid increasing competition for their own producers. But determining where such goods currently end up being consumed inside the EU customs union is problematic.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “We have come to an agreement on the methodology of splitting EU quotas as we move forward,”
The Cabinet Minister described the agreement as ‘a step in the right direction’, but not a final agreement.
However, the agreement reached on quotas has been rejected by seven members of the WTO, including the USA.
Those signing a joint letter objecting to the agreement are US, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Thailand.
The letter from the objectors states they were not consulted and the deal would disrupt “the delicate balance of concessions and entitlements that is fundamental to the global trade architecture today.”
It continues: “We are aware of media reports suggesting the possibility of a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union 27 countries about splitting Tariff Relief Quotas based on historical averages,
“We would like to record that such an outcome would not be consistent with the principle of leaving other WTO members no worse off, nor fully honour the existing TRQ access commitments.
“Thus, we cannot accept such an agreement.”
A spokesperson for the UK Government promised to coordinate with the complainants: “The UK wants to ensure a smooth transition which minimizes the disruption to our trading relationships with other WTO members and tariff rate quotas are one of the issues that we are discussing with the EU, and with WTO members.”
But New Zealand’s Deputy Trade Secretary tweeted: “Sorry that key partners assume a deal they strike between them will suit the rest of the world.”
And the US Government said: “Ensuring that US exporters of food and agricultural products have the market access in Europe due to them even after Brexit is a high priority for the administration.”
In a response to Brexit, exporters to the EU will want to redress what they regard as an imbalance in quotas by seeking larger export quotas for their own goods. That move could spell disaster for UK farmers, as goods could be dumped on to the UK market, potentially pushing already pressed British farmers out of business.
The British-EU proposal is expected to be debated during the WTO’s week of agricultural talks later this month and at the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December.
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