Farmers are often characterised as “hard to reach” by agencies. Maybe its because the meetings they arrange are hard to attend.
Cumbria is awash with “partnerships” writing strategies for nature recovery and land management and need “stakeholder engagement”. To be honest, we could spend most lot of our time going to these meetings, but we don’t have the resources to do so. We try to attend meetings where we can gain the most information and have the greatest influence.
These day-time meetings are packed full of salaried staff from agencies and conservation bodies. Farmer attendance is thin on the ground, mostly because we are working people and can’t attend during the day. We have lost count of the numbers of times we have asked the organisers to hold at least some of their meetings in the evenings, but it rarely happens.
It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there is a level of arrogance and disdain towards farmers illustrated by the fact that these “stakeholder engagement processes” are rarely designed to be inclusive and diverse. Farmers are likely to be the most affected by all the changes in government support to the countryside, but are often the last to be asked their opinion.
When meetings don’t include a wide range of people with diverse views, the discussion has a limited perspective. Strategies based on narrow views will not be successful and run the risk of delivering unintended consequences as critical information is missed. We are all the poorer for this.