BBC Awards Showcase Environmental Leadership: Biodiversity and Regenerative Farming in the Spotlight

Alice Farmery Regather

BBC Food and Farming Awards: A Celebration of Good Food

In October Regather attended the BBC Food And Farming Awards ceremony, as one of three shortlisted candidates in the ‘Farming for the Future’ category. Although we narrowly missed out on the top prize, we were delighted to be recognised within an extremely strong field of nominees.  

The BBC Food and Farming Awards is an annual event which brings together growers, producers, consumers and activists from across the UK. Launched in 2000 “to honour those who have done most to promote the cause of good food”, the Awards now span across 9 categories, including Best Food Producer, Community Food Champion, and Digital Creator Award. This year’s Farming for the Future category saw a particular emphasis on sustainability, with a shortlist that reflected the critical role that regenerative agriculture plays in safeguarding the future of food production. 

Challenges Facing the UK Food Sector

The UK has over 42 million acres of agricultural land, with farmers taking care of 71 percent of Britain’s iconic landscape. Domestic agriculture is responsible for around 61 per cent of the food consumed in this country, with farming contributing around £11.2 billion to the UK economy each year. However, over the past century, unsustainable food production and consumption patterns have wreaked havoc on soil, hydrological systems, biodiversity and human health. 

According to the Environment Agency, intensive agriculture in the UK has caused arable soils to lose about 40 to 60 per cent of their organic carbon. Almost 10 million acres of soil are at risk of compaction across England and Wales and nearly 5 million acres of soil are at risk of erosion. On the global scale, our food systems account for a quarter of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are now ranked among the top five threats to humanity in the next ten years. With these figures in mind, it is easy to see how encouraging more sustainable and wildlife-friendly farming practices can have a huge impact on both people and the planet. 

How Regenerative Agriculture Can Offer A Solution 

The concept of regenerative agriculture has risen to popularity in recent years in response to the challenges faced in securing equitable access to food in a changing climate. More than just a buzz-word favoured by politicians and policy-makers, regenerative agriculture can be defined as a holistic approach to farming that focuses on the health of the soil and the entire farm ecosystem. It includes practices like managing water and fertility to improve the overall health of the land and wildlife. Regenerative agriculture also offers vast potential for carbon sequestration, a process which involves the capturing, securing and storing of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Global cropland soils have the capacity to sequester upwards of 1.85 billion tonnes of carbon (or roughly 6.79 billion tonnes of CO2) annually. 

Farming for the Future Award Nominees: Pioneers in Sustainability

This increase in public prominence for regenerative farming was reflected in the shortlist for this year’s Farming for the Future Award. Regather was selected alongside two other contenders. Each displayed exceptional innovation in their approach to sustainable food-production, incorporating a range of regenerative technologies practices.

Regather Cooperative: Nurturing Community And Environmental Stewardship

Regather was lauded by judges as an unique example of community-driven enterprise, operating at the intersection of sustainability, food, and community empowerment. Our veg box scheme has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and now supplies over 400 households in Sheffield with organic, local produce every week.  

The judges were particularly interested in our work beyond the veg box. For example, Regather also works in partnership with The South Yorkshire Sustainability Centre, Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield to deliver a range of research projects and to facilitate education and training opportunities. We also aim to build a stronger local community by hosting a diverse array of events, workshops, and gatherings, creating spaces for shared learning, skill-building, and connection. Current projects include developing an urban greenspace, running food-growing workshops in schools, orchard planting in the Gleadless Valley, and our annual community apple juice pressing scheme. 

Green Farm Collective: A Unified Approach to Regenerative Farming

A second nominee was The Green Farm Collective. The Collective is primarily a carbon and biodiversity investment community, founded by Angus Gowthorpe, Jake Freestone, Tim Parton, Richard Suddes, Simon Cowell and Michael Kavanagh. This group of regenerative farmers from across England are all previous Soil Farmer of the Year winners, united by a passion for planet-friendly growing practices. 

The aim of the Collective is to enable farmers to calculate and verify their carbon position, and to sell any surplus carbon stored on farms. The Collective also helps farmers to measure and sell habitats created for biodiversity on their land. Biodiversity is sold either as ‘broadacre’ (care for soil, air and water, minimal use of synthetic inputs) or ‘enhanced’ (practices and features that enhance nature – ponds, hedges, pollen and nectar field margins etc.). By linking farmers with customers, they aim to promote planet-friendly farming and help ensure that businesses can thrive financially while doing so. 

Andy Gray: Devon Farmer Making Multifaceted Contributions to Sustainable Agriculture

Also featured on the Awards shortlist was Devon-based farmer Andy Gray. Gray’s work spans a diverse range of activities, from butchery to quarrying. He supplies locally-sourced and pasture-fed meat to the hospitality industry and butchers throughout the South West of England. 

Alongside his commercial enterprise, Gray is also involved with scientific research investigating soil health and silvopasture, an agricultural approach integrating tree cultivation with livestock farming. He is participating in a 12-year trial by planting 5,600 trees on his 165-acre farm, and carefully monitoring effects on carbon sequestration, flooding, drought-resilience, animal health and weight and biodiversity. The aim of the trial is to feed into the development of the government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme,  devised to provide financial support for British farming after Brexit.

Throughout his career Gray has shown exemplary commitment to ecological causes, as a trustee of the Westcountry Rivers Trust, chair of the River Taw Fisheries and Conservation Association, Chairman of Council for the Devon County Agricultural Association, Non-Executive Director of Devon Farm Kitchen and an ambassador for the Forestry Commission.

BBC Awards Recognition  

BBC Food and Farming Award judges, Charlotte Smith and Lucy Speed, eventually decided to bestow the prestigious award on the Green Farm Collective, in recognition of their commitment to promoting farming practices that enhance biological diversity and reduce carbon emission, 

The Farming for the Future shortlist all showed significant diversity with their activities, yet were united by a dedication to the principles of regenerative agriculture and a commitment to disseminating the social and ecological benefits that this practice can deliver. Recognition of these practices by institutions such as the BBC represents a significant step in the right direction, by raising public awareness and understanding around the critical issues that determine the trajectory of the food system across our current century and beyond. 

By continuing to support Regather’s work, you can help to promote regenerative agriculture and advocate for a stronger, fairer and more sustainable food system in Sheffield.