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Episode 20: With James Rebanks

James Rebanks in doorway

In this week’s podcast, Patrick talks to James Rebanks, farmer and best-selling author of The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District (2015) and English Pastoral: An Inheritance (2020).

Starting off with James’ own story – which is simultaneously traditional and quite exceptional for a Cumbrian shepherd – the conversation then turns towards the challenges faced by our food and farming systems.

The pair discuss the undeniable impact of Sir David Attenborough’s new documentary and film (Extinction: The Facts and A Life on Our Planet), which both beautifully depict the core environmental issues of our time, but also raise somewhat of a question around the topic of agriculture.

As Patrick voices his concerns regarding the theme of rewilding, James highlights the more pressing need for a transition towards regenerative agriculture. Using his own experience as an example, he explains the various ways in which rewilding can in fact be seamlessly integrated into farm management: replicating, where possible, wild ecosystems, welcoming more biodiversity onto our farms, and rebuilding soil fertility.

The two agree that this transition cannot be achieved without the fundamental role of livestock: ‘If we’re going to farm sustainably, with lots of biodiversity’, James suggests, ‘we need to get back into that mixed rotational pattern’. The major challenge, however, is widening the public understanding of this concept.

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James Rebanks runs a 600 year-old farm in Matterdale, the Lake District, where he lives with his wife Helen, their four children, and his mother, as well as 500 sheep, 15 cattle, two pigs, 7 chickens and 5 sheepdogs. With over 134k followers on twitter, he has been nick-named ‘Twitter’s favourite shepherd’. A widely acclaimed writer, his No.1 bestselling debut, The Shepherd’s Life, won the Lake District Book of the Year, was shortlisted for the Wainwright and Ondaatje prizes, and has been translated into sixteen languages.