Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


It is spring in the northern hemisphere and the cherry blossom has appeared on the tree in our garden. It was accompanied by the arrival of Storm Kathleen with high winds dedicated to destroying the blossom as fast as possible. Another unnamed storm has followed bringing rain and more wind to finish it off, and before going out we have to check which roads are flooded.

I have been measuring the monthly rainfall in our garden for the past 30 years and a few days into the second quarter of the year and we had passed the average for the first six months. This on top of a 2023 that was in the top five rainfall years with a huge final quarter. The ground is saturated and despite good drying conditions of higher temperatures and wind, the rain keeps coming and brings more floods.

Failing crops

Farmers here (Southwest England) like to plant a winter crop to get it started before winter. Nearly all those crops drowned and failed. To plant now they need dry land for their heavy equipment, which they are struggling to find. Many will get no crop this season at all. A few in the UK have large areas of their land that have been under two metres of water since last October.

This comes on the same day as we learn that for Europe each of the last ten months has been the hottest on record. Unexpectedly bad. Higher temperatures hold more moisture in the clouds and create much heavier rainstorms. These higher temperatures have also been melting snow in the Ural Mountains in Russia which in turn have caused Europe’s third-longest river, the Ural River, to burst through a dam and flood the City of Orsk and its surrounding area.

Consequently, both Kazakhstan and Russia are currently reporting the worst floods in decades. Russia has been celebrating the fact that climate change has opened up its Arctic ports for more of the year, and large areas of melting tundra can now be farmed for profit, but it is now discovering that climate reality brings real problems.

Assuming only a one metre rise in sea levels by 2050 whoever lives in my current house will look out over the sea. We bought on high land many miles from the sea. Much of our Southwest England region lies below sea level but when access routes to friends, family, shops and work are under water a dry house has limited use. The coastline is very long, and too costly to defend. Flooding is impacted by precipitation, sea level rise and sea level temperature and increasingly storm surges create much larger floods than expected. One metre by 2050 is a lot but many had predicted up to two metres possible given the ongoing rapid melting of Antarctic Ice, forest fires in Siberia dumping heat absorbing black ash on the pristine white Arctic Ice and fast receding glaciers.

Even a 30cm rise in sea levels looks certain to make life difficult for Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. He needs a different slogan from “drill baby, drill” for his Presidential campaign if he hopes it will hold its value.

Harmful rush to intensive crop production

What has become increasingly clear is the harm the rush to the intensive production of crops. Separating farming into arable or livestock and introducing the mass use of fertilisers and pesticides to increase crop yields was seen as progress. We would be able to feed more people. It made a huge impact on the landscape as hedgerows were removed to allow access to ever larger machinery and the diversity of wildlife diminished as the terrain became more hostile, habitats reduced and finding food harder.

Like the introduction of plastics to textiles we now recognise that it was a mistake to get so excited by this “modern” and “scientific” approach to agriculture. As well as paying a price for the loss of biodiversity and the ability of our soil to hold carbon. Producing fertiliser via ammonia was creating up to 2% of world carbon dioxide emissions, and not using livestock wastes as fertiliser for crops created unnecessary methane and river pollution issues.

Long-term grassland

Increasingly those who are seeing fields regularly flooded are moving to the most resilient situation – long-term grassland. Over time with herbs and other plants getting established in long-term grass their longer roots stabilise it against both drought and flood, while creating a good habitat for wildlife (and increasing carbon sequestration by dragging it deeper). Low intensity grazing is required to prevent any takeover by unwanted shrubs and then trees, leaving it available for ground nesting birds, and one or perhaps two cuts of the grass per year produces hay to feed the livestock if conditions limit grazing.

Many farmers are looking not to their fathers for farming knowledge but adopting methods from their grandparents. Recognising that farming used to work hand in hand with nature rather than fight it is key. We end up with healthier food and more balanced diets, leaving the real battle to be fought to reduce food waste through a post farm distribution, retail and consumption system which devalues health for the sake of profit and convenience.

And in leather manufacturing I sense that we need to go back even further than our grandparents to seek out the more natural and gentle approaches with which leather was once made.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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