Tim Martin went looking for a marsh fritillary butterfly. But he couldn’t find one. It took him a while to work out why. And oddly enough it was all to do with cows.
One thing everyone knows is that cows eat grass. But it would be better to say they eat grasses – plural. Or they do if they can get them. Too much of the time they are forced to graze on acres of rye grass – nice and green, but monocultural, shallow-rooted, and requiring fertiliser and weedkiller to keep it going. They would much rather munch on a variety of different plants, grasses, clover, herbs and legumes, of the kind that used to be provided in abundance by the traditional meadow, and that enables them to self-medicate. The meadow is not only host to between 15 and 20 different species of flora, but is better at warding off drought and flood, because the plants have deeper roots. And it is also good for birds and bees and butterflies.
Which is what led Tim Martin to set up Farm Wilder, a social enterprise that certifies good land-management practices with labelling that advertises “Fritillary Butterfly Beef” and “Cuckoo Friendly Lamb”, thus enabling farmers to charge a fair premium for their eco-friendlier produce. “Cheap food is killing wildlife and the planet,” Martin says.