Dr. Jilly Hall
I have been involved in farming from an early age, spending part of my childhood on a farm, and later working on a number of very different farms. As a result, my interests and career have all focused on the countryside, particularly the management of land - and the circumstances, interests and behaviours of people who farm.
Building on a degree in agriculture, experience in the sector and a Masters in soil science, my Ph.D. research revealed the importance of each farmer’s social networks as a key factor affecting how they manage their land.
In January 2021, I established my own business to help people to support change, particularly change in land management:
SPSN: Supporting the People who Support Nature.
Our social networks affect the way in which we all develop: our parents, our community and our early friendships all create a strong sense of ‘self’. And relationships with different groups profoundly affect how farmers feel about meeting current policy ambitions to deliver ‘public goods from private land’. Key people for farmers include other farmers, local non-farmers and people in power (such as buyers and bank managers, government bodies and regulators). Unsurprisingly, experiences of ‘land abuse’ - trespass, livestock worrying, theft and personal abuse - can reduce the motivation to provide ‘public goods’ to a public that seems not to understand the hard work and cost of managing private land.
It is through all of these complex relationships that a person’s social context affects how they chose to manage their land - and hence the environmental outcomes, or ‘public goods’ from that land.
At a time of upheaval for agriculture, farmers who continually invest in their social networks can find it easier to change, to adapt and be resilient when everything around them is changing. They can enjoy the benefits of a range of ideas and business opportunities, adapt to policy changes, understand how society is changing, and have consistent personal support as they change.
But people who cannot invest in their social networks become isolated. This makes adapting much harder, often creating strong feelings of resistance to change, eroding the business assets and making life stressful and lonely.
Having been a Director, Trustee and Board member of the charity FCN (The Farming Community Network) from 2008 to 2017, I am very aware of the impact of stress and policy pressures on isolated farmers - and thence the environment. The challenges to farmers under pressure grow stronger and more complex each year - and can become intolerable.
With SPSN: Supporting the People who Support Nature my focus is fourfold:
- To provide training in social and behavioural science to a range of people who influence land management (including farmers, farm advisers, ecologists, policymakers and commercial organisations such as water companies);
- To help those people who come into contact with farmers to effectively signpost people under pressure to sources of help;
- To support ongoing social science research into the personal and social transitions that are necessary to help people move to more sustainable systems of land management in England;
- To contribute to improved agricultural and environmental policy to ensure that it fully encourages and supports farmers to restore the wildlife on their land.
Engaging 'Harder to Reach' Stakeholders for Post-Brexit Agri-Environmental Policy (Project output: Geography, The University of Sheffield, 2020)
Email me at jilly_hall [at] yahoo.co.uk