Molly Biddell: Every farmer needs an ecologist

If I were Keir Starmer, dreaming up new radical agricultural policies to put into my manifesto, I would – drum roll please – give every farmer free access to an ecologist.

I’ve worked with some awesome ecologists this year, and their understanding of landscapes and what’s happening (or often, not happening) in terms of natural processes has been a complete game-changer for me.

I’ve been learning a new language – similar to farming and relating to soils, water, plants, animals and the weather – but seen through a different lens.

See also: Molly Biddell – talking about dogs-and-wildlife link on SSSI heathland

About the author

Molly Biddell
Molly Biddell works on her family’s farm in Surrey, in tandem with her role as head of natural capital at Knepp Estate. She previously spent time working in a research team for a rural consultancy firm, after graduating from Cambridge with a geography degree. 
Read more articles by Molly Biddell

Previously, I would have glanced at a field and known how many cows we can put on it, whether a tractor fits through the gate and, importantly, whether the cows would get out.

Now I’m thinking more about why things are growing in certain places, what “should” or “could” be growing, and using words like diversity, abundance, functions, niches, cascades and seed banks.

I’m sure there are plenty of farmers who are born-and-bred expert ecologists.

Maybe my woeful lack of ecological knowledge and reliance on Seek (a lifesaving species identification app) is a symptom of shifting baseline syndrome itself.

But, as farmers, with the weighty responsibility of land stewardship, we need all the advice we can get.

Without an ecological perspective, we are not seeing the whole picture. The more knowledge available, the better decisions can be made.  

Ecologists are excited to work more closely with farmers – I met one recently who explained she was delighted to now work on farms rather than just development sites.

As we increasingly value and trade the environmental services our land provides, there are more and more opportunities for our worlds to come together.

Ecologists and farmers are two sides of the same coin. After all, it’s about what makes things grow.

If Sir Keir wants to create a thriving green economy, he’s very welcome to adopt my policy. My biggest concern is whether there will be enough ecologists to go round.

Anyone thinking about a new career, I reckon ecology is a good move…