Interview: Mark Varney
Get to know the changemakers taking part in the Future Food Systems event through our dedicated interview series.
Independent Forums: What is your favourite food? Mark Varney: I absolutely love food of all sorts but am a massive fan of the humble oat, the original superfood.
Independent Forums: Who or what inspired you the most in 2022 and why? Mark Varney: I have worked in or with the food industry for nearly 30 years, and I am endlessly inspired by the resilience, positivity, ingenuity, flexibility, and commitment of UK farmers. Particularly, Martin Lines and his colleagues at the Nature Friendly Farming Network spring to mind, but there are so many more inspirational farmers who are too numerous to name individually in this interview.
It is a tough and unpredictable job at the best of times, but 2022 in particular threw up so many challenges. The response from the farming sector was nothing short of remarkable.
Independent Forums: What is your biggest source of motivation? Mark Varney: Knowing that whilst we are in a biodiversity crisis, we have the tools and approach to make a genuine change. From a personal point of view, I am genuinely motivated by making sure the environment is there to both delight and support my children and other young people.
Independent Forums: How would you describe a typical day? Mark Varney: I spend part of my day developing brand and marketing plans for Fair to Nature, to build awareness and understanding of the scheme. This means collaborating with our partners and external agencies, and closely with my RSPB colleagues who manage the communications to 1.2 million RSPB members through our website, social media, newsletter, magazine and other channels.
In a typical day I will also normally have at least one meeting with a licensee or prospective licensee to support them in launching new Fair to Nature products or certifying their existing product ranges.
Independent Forums: What’s one thing about you that most people don’t know? Mark Varney: I live in Hampshire now but grew up in South Devon on the edge of a big market town. I am sure that had some impact on my interest in food and farming.
Independent Forums: What’s one thing about your organisation that you wish more people knew? Mark Varney: Fair to Nature is helping wildlife to recover across the farms we work with and does exactly what it says on the label, meaning consumers can be safe in the knowledge that they can trust a standard guaranteed by science and certified by the RSPB. The scheme has recently been expanded to help tackle the enormous loss of UK biodiversity that threatens our long-term food supply. There is now an opportunity for food brands to thrive in a marketplace increasingly made up of environmentally conscious consumers by becoming an adopter of Fair to Nature.
Independent Forums: Where do you see the biggest opportunity for transformation within the food system? Mark Varney: Biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide, and this decline is projected to worsen if we continue business-as-usual. In the UK alone, 41% of farmland bird species have decreased since 1970, with 10 of the 19 ‘indicator’ species of farmland bird red-listed for risk of extinction. But the impact of reversing biodiversity loss goes far beyond just more birds and bees – put simply, without nature there is no food. Wildlife plays a vital role in food production as there are intricate links between nature and the growth of crops, which in turn not only feed us but also the livestock reared on farms which ultimately ends up on many of our plates.
The Fair to Nature scheme has already achieved incredible results. On one farm we have seen a 226% increase in breeding birds, a 213% increase in farmland butterflies, almost double the floral diversity, and up to 19 times more bees than typical farms. This is why it is critical now to harness the opportunity for transformation within the food system, to make sure that what we produce and what we buy is fair to nature.
Independent Forums: What are you most looking forward to at Future Food Systems 2023? Mark Varney: Over the next 12 months, more products will be certified by the Fair to Nature scheme. It is important that farmers and food manufacturers act now to maximise the business opportunity and respond to this growing consumer demand for nature protection by showing they are fair to nature. I am looking forward to speaking with leading industry figures about the importance of biodiversity and discussing plans to give food production a greener future.
Mark will be joining a panel discussion within 'The Future of Regenerative Farming' session at Future Food Systems 2023.
Register here to join us.