Sent to in August 2015


Twenty years ago our farm was a fairly typical Cheshire dairy farm, producing commodity milk with little thought for the environmental impacts of the operation. Today it regularly wins awards and is one of only three farms in the United Kingdom producing top quality beef to the LEAF Marque standard from the third largest herd of rare breed Red Poll cattle in the country.

With the help of over twenty organisations, most notably Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the farm has become a haven for wildlife and an environmental beacon. Brown trout are again spawning in the River Gowy, and otters have returned for the first time in living memory. The Gowy valley is one of few areas in Britain with an increasing water vole population. Over the last seven years we have restored and replanted over two miles of hedgerows, protected and reinstated almost three miles of watercourses, created 24 acres of woodland, restored an old alder wood and a traditional orchard, and created a successful business based on environmental values and totally traceable, locally produced beef with a loyal and growing customer base of people who share these environmental values and aspirations. Since 2007 we have welcomed several thousand visitors to the farm, with over 1200 people of all ages enjoying a great day out on Open Farm Sunday last year, and hundreds more enjoying walking our permissive footpaths or learning to grow their own food in our community kitchen garden.

The farm is in both Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship Schemes, and around thirty acres are currently due to be listed as a Local Nature Reserve. But now, thanks to the headlong dash for fracking being pushed by all the main political parties, all of this is under threat and the farm faces an extremely uncertain future. We plan to join the new environmental stewardship scheme when our current agreement expires in 2017, with the possibility of becoming fully organic. Both of these are unlikely to happen should fracking commence in this area, especially given that the Salters lane site is within half a mile of our land and upstream of it. What part of turning the water on which our crops and livestock depend into toxic sludge makes sense? We are likely to lose the market we have created for our Red Poll beef. This has already happened to farmers in New York State. But this might not matter since we could lose large numbers of our rare breed Red Poll cattle through air and water pollution. This has happened to farmers in Pennsylvania. I want to continue breeding and raising Red Polls, not Dead Polls.

There won’t be much point in growing arable crops because the fracking industry is likely to use most of the available water and pollute what’s left. So even we could grow crops, nobody would want to buy them. At least it will give me time to deal with the known adverse health effects caused by fracking which, according to the Catskill Mountainkeeper website, include neurological, pulmonary, gastroenterological, dermatological, immunological, haematological, endocrinological, ophthalmological, reproductive, and genetic illnesses and abnormalities. Intense or chronic exposure to some of these toxins and combinations of toxins can result in death for humans and livestock.

The time course for manifestation of illness related to the toxins associated with gas drilling may be months, years, or decades.  Environment-related cancers can take 15 to 30 years to develop. In Louisiana, where the petroleum industry is well established, parts of the state are called “cancer alley” as a result of higher lung, liver and other cancers associated with the industry.

Support for fracking has made the future of our farm the most uncertain it has been since my grandfather came here in 1947; we are being washed out to sea in a river of doubt. Should fracking take hold in our area it is likely to drive us out of business, depriving us of a livelihood and trampling into the contaminated mud half a lifetime of conservation work. Many other farmers and food producers will find themselves in a similar position. Fracking might create a few jobs and bring a temporary windfall to cash-strapped local authorities, but at huge environmental and emotional cost.

Huw Rowlands