Glastonbury. Billed the greatest festival in the world. A unique mix of headlining bands, new musical talent, wacky benign fun, and the best Green Fields I have ever visited. Where else can you listen to Caroline Lucas, Tony Benn, Billy Bragg, Polly Higgins, Penny Poyzer and Aubrey Meyer in a day and then rock off to a Stones gig later that evening? I love to walk around the Healing Fields, chat to Glennie Kindred and other friends there, visit Green Futures and the crafts fields and appreciate the gardens, sculptures, and the eclectic mix of innovation and art...
Thursday was fine until 4pm. Then it began to rain and that heady aroma of clay soil, cow manure and Somerset cider began to be puddled into the landscape and I began to ruminate a theory...
250,000 bipeds descend upon this valley. Their soft-boned feet aren't as effective as the hooves of cattle but add a pair of wellies or Gortex boots and the pure concentration of humanity herding from stage to stage and area to area, and the inevitable British rain does a fine job. Could it be that Michael Eavis has his very special brand of Holistic Management?! Human bipeds herd through his pastures for four to five days, trample the sward, leave their nitrogen deposits behind (despite requests not to pee on the land). Worthy Farm is then cleared of all discarded debris and litter, the land is made safe and allowed to recover before the cattle return.
This is not unlike the Holistic grazing methods developed by Allan Savoury. Ruminants are clustered into small areas where they graze, defecate, urinate, trample with cloven hooves and then are moved on to a very specific formula. The idea is to mimic nature. In the wild grazing animals cluster in herds for safety and move on quickly to avoid their predators. They never stay long enough to over-graze an area and the grasses and shrubs recover quickly.
The grass is eaten down but not over-grazed and the concentration of animals means all the sward is eaten, not just the tasty bits. Disruption of the ecology is the key and the combination of ruminant pruning back the growth, trampling the soil and adding fertiliser kick starts the grass into a new and vigorous growing cycle. Carbon is locked up in the soil and the pasture is quickly restored to lush growth.
In 2010 I met and interviewed Michael Eavis, the father of Glastonbury Festival. It was a particularly muddy year. One of the questions I asked him was how long does the farm take to recover? To my surprise he said it was a matter of weeks before the lush growth of grass restored the pastures fit for his diary cows to graze. Michael Eavis said, "The farm recovers remarkably quickly!"
So whilst I trampled through the mud with a quarter of a million other bipeds, I reflected that Glastonbury Festival is a synthesis of farming, amazing music and arts festival and a cocktail of social conscience, politics and vision. But I hadn't quite appreciated that it is also a land management plan as well as a clever piece of farm diversification. This is quite possibly Michael Eavis' vast experiment in Holistic Grazing as well.
Maddy will be talking at Glastonbury's Toad Hall on Saturday 29th June at 1.30pm on what inspires her about permaculture.
She will also be on Green Futures radio at 2.45pm the same day and at the speakers forum on earth restoration and Permaculture magazine.
Maddy Harland co-founded and edits internationally acclaimed, Permaculture magazine – practical solutions for self-reliance.
For more on holisitic grazing read: Joel Salatin's Pattern For Carbon Farming at Polyface Farm
For more on Allan Savory watch: How to Green the World's Deserts and Climate Change - Hope for the Future