Introduction to the Sustainability Series

We’re usually delighted to see the dairy industry covered in the news, but the growing evidence of the high environmental toll of dairy products has many of us concerned. We’re cheesemongers, not farmers, ecologists, or scientists, but we’re also residents of planet Earth in the early 21st century, with an acute sense of our—and our industry’s—responsibility to steward our finite resources carefully.

In our experience, the best way to explore complex topics like these is through talking with the farmers that we buy cheese from, and not being afraid to ask questions about the good, the bad, and the complicated. With this in mind, we’ve decide to push ahead with those conversations, and to publish a series of articles featuring these interviews over the coming weeks. We want to explore wide-ranging topics in the process, covering everything from how dairy farmers think about and value biodiversity within their farming systems, to the carbon footprint of dairy farming, to the age-old and ever-important question of animal welfare.

We begin next week with the topic of biodiversity. The UK’s biodiversity is in decline – and in recent years, the single biggest cause has been the intensification of agriculture (RSPB, 2019). Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems that we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat (The Royal Society, 2020).

Farming accounts for almost 70% of the UK’s land (DEFRA, 2020), so must play a vital role in reversing the problem, too. However, farming has been less at the forefront of discussions such as COP26 than perhaps one might expect. In this omission, there is a missed opportunity to tap into the potential for farmers to be supported in developing their roles as stewards of the land and the biodiversity of the landscapes they manage.

We share three interviews on the topic of biodiversity with cheesemaking dairy farmers (Becky Holden of Hafod and Andrew Hattan of Stonebeck Wensleydale) or a cheesemaker (Carrie Rimes of Brefu Bach) giving them the chance to talk about their practices at present, the benefits and drawbacks of the status quo, how they hope farming will evolve in the future, and especially the real-world constraints that make it challenging to get where they’d like to go.

We hope that you -whether a fellow member of our team here at Neal’s Yard Dairy, a cheesemaker, or a wholesale or retail customer - will enjoy these missives from the front lines where farming meets the environment, and will join us in continuing and expanding the conversation still further in the weeks to come.

Please do join this conversation- we’d love to hear your thoughts and share any further questions you have with the cheesemakers involved. You can add your comments below or connect with us on social media.