Liam Stokes  -  Land based education in the 21st century

I have taught at Wltshire College Lackham for four years, during which time I have developed a passion for the transformative effect of agricultural education. Gamekeeping and wildlife management are my specialisms, and I have taught subjects such as ecology, pest and predator control, landscape history and gamebird production to students of agriculture, animal management and countryside management. I am fortunate enough to work at a college with a fully commercial farm, shoot and river fishery, and I have seen first hand the benefits agricultural education can have for both our rural industries and our young people. 

I am in fact a product of agricultural education myself. Having started a history degree after finishing my A levels I soon realised a career in the countryside was what I really wanted. A BSc in Countryside and Environmental Management from Harper Adams followed, changing my life forever. The purpose of my Nuffield Scholarship is to extend and improve these opportunities for other young people, and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to do so.

Away from work I love to write, to hunt, to shoot and to fish. In fact I like to hunt, shoot and fish and then I like to write about it. I have pieces regularly published in the Shooting Gazette and Modern Gamekeeping, and before long I hope to write a book on the subject. I like to stay fit and active, to which ends I am supported by my lovely wife Beth and my insane spaniel Panda, with whom I share my home in beautiful North Wiltshire.

Agricultural, or land-based, education in the UK is experiencing a challenging time. Agriculture courses are expensive to run, misunderstood by many and can have something of an image problem. Along with other vocational subjects they are seen by some in the education establishment as inferior to traditional academic topics, and even in the context of vocational training can be misjudged as being simple and retrograde. The truth, of course, is that agriculture is dynamic, science-led and technical, not to mention essential to life itself. Agricultural education at it's best is a pipeline, transferring the latest knowledge and research into the hands of those who can deploy it in our fields.

The purpose of my project is to assess how agricultural education can best operate in this manner, forming part of a national strategy to put the latest information in the hands of both producers and consumers. To do this I will be travelling across the European Union, to Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to see how these countries are choosing to structure their agricultural education within a similar framework to our own. I will travel to Ireland to see how a government-coordinated programme might operate, and the USA and Canada to see how more market-driven approaches are working. I also hope to travel within the developing world, to investigate how the unique challenges of educating farmers to feed a growing population are being met.

I hope to bring this information back to the UK and disseminate it through the NFU, Landex, our colleges and universities and of course the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust itself.