In a week when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that it is "now or never" if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C, there has been much attention on how we can become a low-carbon economy and society.

The latest IPCC report prescribed how nature-based solutions can be key climate antidotes, detailing how agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions.

Otherwise, the report warned, the writing is on the wall.

Keith Brennan writes about life at Hawthorn Hill Farm

Keith Brennan has been writing about the relationship between nature, farming and the environment for four years.

He said: "I am an ex-city dweller from The Liberties in Dublin. I'm now a farmer and a writer, with a huge interest in regenerative farming, in farming for biodiversity. Hawthorn Hill Farm is a no-spray, rare-breed livestock farm here in the middle of beautiful nowhere in north Roscommon. I just found myself really inspired to write about the people, the nature, the environment, the culture of farming - that is and that was - and what that means in terms of the environment".

Keith tells the story of how an encounter with a neighbouring farmer strengthened his belief that the future of farming can be inspired by its past.

Keith said: "You know you'll talk to a 70-year-old farmer who'll just say something to you and they're basically leaving a poem hanging in the air. During one of the lockdowns this farmer would talk to me from his tractor cab. His family have farmed here for more than a century.

"He just turned to me and said, 'You wouldn't know this, but this is the first year since 1976 that I have heard the cuckoo before I saw the swallow and the reason is this. The swallows, in their migration path, encountered a massive hurricane which decimated their numbers. And so, we are hearing the cuckoo first and what swallows there are will arrive later in the year'.

"And he closed his door and he drove off. He didn't tell me any of the other things he could have told me. A hundred things that he knew I didn't know about farming that I really would need to know right there and then.

"What struck me about that is that you have this 70-year-old farmer who understands in his heart and bones that what happens thousands of miles away affects what happens here. And how he farms here affects what happens thousands of miles away.

"He instinctively understood something that is really intrinsic to farming sustainably, which is that what we do has a massive effect, here and in other places. And how we manage our land is really important."

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), over one third of the world’s soil is now moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinisation, compacting, acidification and chemical pollution.

About a quarter of the farm is set aside for self-seeding and native forests

Keith believes healthy soil is the foundation of productive agriculture.

He said: "The drive in Ireland, over the past 20-30 years has been to produce, produce, produce, no matter what. And you infill that with a lot of inputs, with a lot of chemical fertilisers, a lot of sprays, insecticides, pesticides. You plough up your pastures and replace them with rye and clover. And when you do that for long enough, you kill all the life in the soil.

"A hundred to 120 years ago, people farmed in a very different way. You would have a much more closed cycle. The farms would be untidy and scruffy. There would be margins and spaces for nature. The fact that you would have had a traditional wildflower meadow for your hay which you cut once a year in late summer meant that your ground nesting birds, your pollinators, all had a chance to grow, reproduce, and to leave. Your wildflowers have a chance to grow, set seed, and reproduce. The pollinators have the chance to go through their cycle.

"A lot of what we do here is probably what farmers in their 70s and 80s recognise as what they once did. We’re quite lucky here in that the farming land wasn’t worth enough to throw massive quantities of sprays and chemical fertiliser at. We’ve set aside between a third and a quarter of the farm to be self-seeded and planted native Irish forestry. We try to practise light touch farming. We are planting hedgerows and we’ve set aside parts of the farm for a traditional hay meadow. Ultimately all that feeds into your soil fertility. If you want to have a regenerative farm, having it built upon a biodiverse habitat is key.

"The options to farm how we used to are becoming more limited. I think, ecologically, it's no longer sustainable. I think, economically, it hasn't been sustainable to a long time. Long term, I think farmers are going to have to find ways to rediscover that sense of custodianship with the support of customers and with the support of Government."