On the edge - Interview Jake Fiennes
Country Life UK|April 28, 2021
Holkham’s director of conservation on changing farming to feed us and protect wildlife
James Fisher

WHAT if everything we were told about farming, that it cannot exist without hurting the environment, without hurting Nature, was wrong? What if, instead of damaging Nature, farming could help it flourish and that, as well as restoring habitats, we could feed nine billion people? Jake Fiennes says you can and he’s proving it.

He has 30 years of experience managing landscapes, a passion he’s harboured since childhood. Bar two years doing PR for London nightclub Limelight, Mr Fiennes, who has two actor brothers, Ralph and Joe, has been walking and working the fields of the UK, listening, watching and understanding how the complex, unpredictable forces of Nature can co-exist with the managed environment.

His career began at Knepp Castle in West Sussex with Sir Charles Burrell and Isabella Tree, but it wasn’t until he became a gamekeeper, then estate manager, at Sir Nicholas Bacon’s Raveningham estate in Norfolk that his theories were put into practice. There, Mr Fiennes realised something wasn’t right. ‘The mid 1990s was the peak of intensification of agriculture. We had 10% set aside, land doing nothing,’ he remembers. ‘It wasn’t producing food and it wasn’t even useful for the natural world because it was considered “nothing”. We topped it, in April, May and June, when we had hares and skylarks and butterflies and caterpillars and their young. It was wrong. I could see hares being scorched by chemicals and they would be writhing in the fields being poisoned.’

He’s quick to add it wasn’t the fault of individual farmers, but farming as a whole. ‘This was an industry that was asked to deliver something and was delivering vast amounts of cheap food. We did it efficiently, and in large quantities, to the detriment of our natural world. I could see it because I was in the fields. It couldn’t continue.’

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