Kevin Prince has wide experience in farming and rural business in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy. His family also run a diversified farm with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.


Napoleon – you may have noticed a recent media feeding frenzy over the latest film about him – famously described the English as a nation of shopkeepers.

Were he alive today he might have to eat his words. We could soon become a nation of park keepers, particularly where the rural community is concerned because altered eating habits are driving land use change.

Meat consumption is apparently on the decline, maybe something that will spring to mind as we all concentrate on getting this year’s turkey, ham joint, and whatever other delicacies tickle our taste buds at this time of year.

It seems that people in the UK consumed less meat last year than at any time since records began in the 1970s. Beef, pork, and lamb consumption has gone down by 26 per cent since 2012 although chicken and other meats have seen a less dramatic decline of 11 per cent. Even takeaway meat consumption has dropped with fewer burgers, kebabs, and pies purchased over the same period.

Interestingly, it seems younger generations may be choosing not to eat meat due to perceived climate benefits as much as on animal welfare grounds. The reduction in consumption, if it continues, must ultimately affect the size of the UK meat market and might take the glint out of the eyes of Australian and New Zealand producers who have been rubbing their hands over unlimited market access in the post-Brexit trade deal. This reduction in turn will lead to surplus areas of grassland and arable acres which would have been used for animal feed production.

What use will this land than see? There are emerging markets for natural capital and undoubtedly some will be suitable for either replacing habitat lost to development or for off-setting nutrients produced by new development. This latter point is very familiar to Hampshire planners and developers and something that all planning authorities will have to get to grips with next year as Biodiversity Net Gain becomes part of the planning process.

Farmers and landowners are in the process of the biggest mindset change since the World Wars. From focusing entirely on food production in one way or another - either the final food product or other parts of the food supply chain - there is now a shift to managing the countryside for the greater good rather than for the most efficient production of food. Thankfully for many farmers, the two objectives have always been inextricably linked and are bound to be appreciated by the new DEFRA Secretary, Steve Barclay, who is reported upon appointment to have said he knew about the countryside as he walked his two dogs there!

The more difficult mindset change for most farmers is switching from being able to control their own finances - through spending more or less in seed or fertiliser for example - to being locked in to set payments. There are advantages to this of course; by mixing food production with managing natural capital for the nation farmers will be able to budget more accurately and possibly be able to smooth out the highs and lows that can come with the vagaries of the British weather.

Whether or not Napoleon referred to us as a nation of shopkeepers, it seems referring to us as “les rostbifs” (roast beefs) will be a thing of the past for the French!