Walking the meadow at Dorset Downs it may be hard to believe the wildflower-rich pasture used to be arable land. The arable cultivation during world war two was significant in Dorset. So much so that restoring locally distinctive landscape has become a key priority within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is wonderful that the natural burial ground has supported this. Helping to return it to the way it used to be before the last drive for food. However, nearby you will come across fields used for arable farming. This is because the Natural Burial Ground is part of a larger farm venture. Arable farming is a key part of our food resources and as with everything in nature it is about finding a balance.
The burial ground has allowed the landowners to follow a path of 'greener pastures'. But new techniques are also enabling them to follow a path of greener farming practices. One of these you can see in the maize fields surrounding the natural burial ground, planting under a film.
Not all is as it seems
Planting with film has become a popular practice. But it's not surprising that often we associate these films with harmful plastic. The use of plastic film in China has highlighted how damaging non-biodegradable materials can be. The initial impact of improved crop production may seem worth the risk. However, when residual plastics accumulate over time these become more harmful than helpful.
The reality at Compton Valance Farm is very different to the above. The owners of the natural burial ground wanted to explain a bit more about the film you can see covering the maize. While it may remind us of plastic it is in fact a biodegradable alternative. As it is ‘Plastic Free July’ it is the perfect time to delve into the 'plastic friendly process' they use.
Biodegradable Mulch Film; An eco-friendly alternative
Organic Biodegradable Mulch Film was created around 15 years ago. This was in response to the increased ecological crisis of plastics in agriculture. Unlike its plastic counterpart, it degrades into the soil and does not leave harmful residues. It also offers environmentally friendly benefits to arable farming.
The most obvious benefit of using biodegradable film is that plastic friendly practice. In 2018 it was established that ‘plastic films generate around 80% of agricultural plastic waste’. The use of biodegradable film is a significant step in reducing this waste. In addition, there are no microplastics left in the soil which affect soil productivity. In fact, the decomposition of the biodegradable film can result in better soil nutrition. This is because it can ‘enhance microbial activity and enrichment of fungal taxa’. The increased nutrition in the soil may then reduce the need for fertilizer.
Less space, higher yields and more native habitats
Using film produces higher yields, this makes the arable space used more productive. If this then means less space for higher yields it can only be a positive thing for our natural habitats. These can be protected and restored, as they have been at Dorset Downs Natural Burial Ground.
Supporting sustainable practices
Using film also helps to conserve moisture. This naturally accumulates reducing the need for watering and irrigation. It helps to promote sustainable water practices and makes the most of what nature has given us. It also means farmers can plant from seed as the use of film promotes germination. As more seeds are productive, it may mean in the future we need to collect less, conserving fuel. Or a surplus of seeds can be shared with those who need them. Using a biodegradable film also provides a protective layer against pests. If fewer pesticides are necessary this is beneficial for our wildlife and the environment. It also benefits us because as they say, ‘you are what you eat.
So, there are many eco-friendly benefits to planting under film. What is essential is that we are moving towards organic materials. Biodegradable films that promote positive growth, soil restoration and increased crop yields. These help the fight towards a ‘plastic-free planet’.
Stories and thoughts from the Leedam camp.
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