Liz Bonnin Wildlife Trusts appointment sparks farmer backlash

Farmers have voiced concerns on Twitter about the appointment of TV presenter Liz Bonnin as the first female president of the Wildlife Trusts.

Wildlife biologist Ms Bonnin, 44, sparked a huge backlash from the farming industry last November with the controversial BBC programme Meat: A Threat to our Planet?

The presenter visited factory farms in the US and South America and was reduced to tears by what she witnessed in the meat trade. She said she had stopped eating red meat since filming the programme.

See also: Myth buster – the BBC’s anti-meat programme examined

But the NFU complained that the BBC documentary was biased as it failed to make clear distinctions between global and UK meat production systems. President Minette Batters said UK grass-based systems are “incomparable with the intensive feedlot-style systems shown on the programme”.

The NFU escalated its complaint to the television watchdog after the BBC failed to give a timely response. It said the programme showed a “lack of impartiality”. The BBC upheld the NFU’s complaint in October and removed the documentary from iPlayer.

On Friday (27 November), the Wildlife Trusts announced on its Twitter page that it was “thrilled” to announce Ms Bonnin as its new president.

Twitter backlash

The announcement sparked a strong reaction from farmers.

Cheshire-based dairy farmer Phil Latham asked: “Presenting dubious programmes where a false equivalence is placed on US megafarms & UK family units in order to tar all livestock farming with the same brush, does this bode well for good relations with the people you rely on who farm livestock?”

Lincolnshire farmer Steve Elnor tweeted: “Liz Bonnin won’t have trust of farmers that the Wildlife Trusts will want to work with. I applaud their work but this is an ill-thought out situation. Apology / explanation still not received from Liz Bonnin so far as I’m aware.”

Rob Halliday, a first-generation farmer based in Cornwall, described the decision as “inflammatory”.

He tweeted: “In an era when we should be working together to improve the natural environment, appointing someone who has been called out for misrepresentation of the UK livestock industry is hardly fostering a working relationship.”

Ms Bonnin tweeted: “I’m incredibly honoured and humbled to accept this role, and very excited about what, together, we can achieve in the coming years. Let’s do this. #NatureRecovery #InThisTogether #30by30 #HighlyProtectedMarineAreas.”

The appointment of Ms Bonnin comes after an angry farmer backlash following a Twitter post by its chief executive Craig Bennett.

Mr Bennett posted a photo on his Twitter account of a sloping field of emerging wheat in Cambridgeshire and suggested it had been “ploughed up and down the slope”, thus contributing to soil erosion. He then went on to blame farmers for flooding.

But angry farmers pointed out that his tweet was factually incorrect as the field had been sown with a cereal crop so the roots would reduce soil erosion.

The Wildlife Trusts are a UK-wide movement of 46 independent charities with more than 850,000 members and 35,000 volunteers. It manage over 100,000ha land over 2,300 nature reserves, owns 29 working farms and provides advice to more than 5,000 landowners each year.

Wildlife Trusts across England are working with Defra on tests and trials projects for its upcoming post-Brexit Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which will replace the CAP and pay farmers “public money for public goods”, such as improving air and water quality, wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding.

Farmers will need to engage and work in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts and other environmental groups to develop the new agri-environment scheme.

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