Not content with dire warnings for massive livestock reductions to help reduce greenhouse gases, a former adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), has called for the complete removal of sheep from our fields and hills. Ben Goldsmith, brother of ex Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, claimed in a recent tweet that “sheep have got to go.” He wrote that: “Sheep have a brutal impact on the hydrology of our landscapes, compacting the soil and expunging vegetation, thereby making soil erosion, flooding and seasonal drought ever more frequent and ever more severe and costing the country billions each year.” 

Goldsmith is a wilding enthusiast. He intends to transform his 300-acre Somerset farm into a wild habitat “so animals can roam free.” He even blames sheep as the main obstacle to the reintroduction of wolves and lynx to Britain’s landscape. His tweet has sparked anger amongst sheep farmers, as they struggle through another difficult lambing season, with snow, ice and now heavy rain, adding to the annual stress and strain of the job. The National Sheep Association (NSA), which represents hundreds of sheep farmers in Scotland, said his comments represented a “naïve and uneducated view on a vital sector.” NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “Sheep have been in the British Isles since the Neolithic settlers landed on our shores around 3000 BC, 5000 years ago. They have created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes we see and enjoy today.” Attacking Ben Goldsmith’s assertions, he commented: “The unique environment, working for most times in harmony with sheep farming, is highly valuable in relation to water management and quality, carbon sequestration, and nature, and provides people with social and health benefits.”

Ben Goldsmith’s controversial views echo the opinion of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the UK Government on emissions targets and reports to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The committee has advised that consumption of beef, lamb and dairy products should be significantly reduced, and livestock replaced with trees. They claim that reducing the amount of red meat and dairy products we eat by 20%, and reducing food waste by 20%, would save the equivalent of seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from farms.

Such is the growing anger amongst farmers across Europe at constant attacks by the environmental lobby, that a new political party set up to represent farmers in the Netherlands, stormed to victory in March, in elections to the Dutch Senate. The Farmer-Citizen Movement Party, known as BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), campaigned on a platform backing protests against the Dutch government’s environmental policies, which aim to slash nitrogen emissions by dramatically cutting back on livestock numbers. Using a campaign slogan of ‘NO FARMS, NO FOOD” the party won 15 of the Senate’s 75 seats, more seats than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling conservative VVD party — scoring almost 20% of the vote.

Dutch farmers have been protesting for months, blocking highways, and staging mass demonstrations in towns and cities. Hundreds have been arrested. They say they are fighting for the survival of modern agriculture, blaming the Greens for trying to do to farming what they have done to the power grid and the oil and gas sector. They claim that Green activists are trying to destroy farmers’ ability to produce high-quality, abundant, clean and inexpensive food. Although the Netherlands has a population of only 17 million, it is the second largest exporter of farm produce in the world after the US. Dutch farmers produce enormous quantities of beef, pork, dairy products and many other foodstuffs that are sold in Europe and worldwide. They use the latest technology to ensure that their farms are amongst the cleanest, most efficient and highly sustainable in the world. But they argue that draconian plans to reduce nitrogen oxide and ammonia pollution by 50% by 2030 would mean reducing their herd size by one third, sending food prices rocketing and forcing many of them out of business. Dutch farmers warn that if the Green revolutionaries succeed in crushing agriculture in the Netherlands, their war on farming will quickly spread to other countries.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, Minister for Zero Carbon in the SNP/Green coalition government at Holyrood, is on record as stating: “Scottish farmers are facing a perfect storm. They need to make even bigger emission cuts to make up for the wasted years”. But Scotland’s farmers are facing an uphill struggle to recover from the pandemic and trading barriers introduced through Brexit. Suggestions that they should dramatically cut livestock numbers and now the ludicrous idea that all sheep should be banned, is the last straw. The President of NFU Scotland, 

Martin Kennedy, says farmers and crofters are not only providing high- quality, nutritious food, but are doing so in a manner that puts Scotland at the forefront when it comes to climate change, the environment, and economic return. 

With the meltdown in SNP ranks in Scotland, the BBB farmers’ party success in Holland may be a salutary warning to politicians promoting anti-farmer ‘green’ policies, that a backlash could end their careers. Scotland’s hard-working livestock farmers are sick to death of being portrayed as climate vandals by an increasingly voluble vegan minority, who indulge in a gross misrepresentation of the evidence. British livestock production is among the most sustainable in the world. Indeed, the National Farmers Union (NFU) is committed to a net-zero target for agriculture by 2040, 10 years earlier than the UK government’s own aim.