Charles Townshend was a clever chap. He was one of those people who saw what was going on around him, spotted a problem, and decided he could do something about it.
He had a farm in Norfolk and noticed that his and his neighbours’ crops were apparently suffering from reduced yields of wheat year on year. Wheat was the staple food source for bread and vitally important, literally. He had heard of some farmers in Belgium who had noticed better yields from their crops when they changed things around a bit every now and then.
The Belgians would add something different every few years, like turnips, say. They didn’t eat a lot of turnips, but sheep did. So they allowed sheep and other animals onto the fields in order to graze the surplus. The sheep droppings fell to the ground, as they would, and when the next year’s crop of wheat grew it was better than the previous one.
Townshend came up with the idea of changing crops each year, growing wheat, then say, clover for fodder for winter animal feed, then wheat again, followed, naturally, by turnips, grazed as the Belgians did. Thus bringing the idea of what we today call “crop rotation” to the UK.
This was not 40 years ago. This was in around 1700; it was during the Agricultural Revolution, which led to Britain being at the forefront of food production worldwide.
Soil hasn’t changed much since the last Ice Age, which ground up rocks to produce it. It’s a much better medium for growing plants than rocks, and if you leave some soil in a heap it greens over with plants quite quickly, even if they aren’t always the plants you wanted. In fact, soil and plants go together rather well.
Unless, apparently, you’re a solar panel speculator. They advise that soil gets tired and needs a rest. Their idea of resting soil is to let grass grow on it. Yes, they suggest that to allow the soil to rest from growing plants, that they… grow another plant. They suggest that grass is a ‘resting’ plant so the soil can take a break. But this isn’t exactly the case, because the soil will keep growing the grass and they will need to keep chopping it to keep the growth low. But that isn’t mentioned in their sales pitch.
Nor is the fact that botanically speaking grasses are generally of the family, Gramineae, which happens to be the same family that includes Wheat and Barley (the same grasses grown on the land now) and other food ‘grasses’ like Rye, for example. Solar park protagonists would rather grow something to chop it up and leave it to rot on the ground, than grow something useful which we consume daily for food, and some of which we have to import because we can’t grow enough ourselves.
Of course, we don’t just eat wheat. We eat potatoes. We consume a lot of sugar. Neither of these is the UK self-sufficient in either. But the land on which these two Solar Parks are ‘recommended’ in East Anglia is graded as BMV land, meaning Best, Most Versatile soil. The developers own soil report confirmed this. Decades of traditional crop rotation and good farming practices used by the farmers has contributed to the soil maintaining this high quality status. It hasn’t deteriorated. If the soil truly needed resting it would not have received such a high rating.
In the UK we have some of the most productive farmland anywhere, and we have the climate to suit growing staple food. What’s more, the soil insists that it grows something; it doesn’t show any sign of getting tired. It just asks to be used properly.
Charles Townshend MP (1674-1738) otherwise known as ‘Turnip’ Townshend, who helped revolutionise agriculture on these islands actually features in about Key Stage 3 in school.
We suspect our solar developers must have had a day off that day.