Date: 8th March 2016
Venue: Farmers' and Fletchers' Hall, Three Cloth Street
Inaugural Lunch at Farmers & Fletchers Hall
As the party of Liverymen and their guests gathered in the newly refurbished reception of Three Cloth Street the benefits of the re-development of our Hall became immediately apparent. The upstairs reception area is light, airy and most convivial. It coped admirably as it gradually filled with members and guests arriving from their trains, taxis and cars from all parts of the country. Drinks were served and enjoyed and the buzz of conversation as friend greeted friend rose but never overpowered. Some say this opportunity to mingle, meet and greet is almost the best part of our Livery Lunches – it is certainly an important part of the event and was made both more enjoyable and more practical by the new surroundings. It is quite a change from the old arrangements downstairs, and one that seemed to be welcomed by everyone present.
The improvements continued to be appreciated as the assembled company, called to lunch by the Beadle, made its way down the spectacular new spiral staircase and into the much brighter and more modern dining hall.
With one hundred and twenty Liverymen and guests sitting down to dine, the hall was at capacity as the Master stood to greet his audience and to welcome guest speaker Professor Jane Rickson – Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation at Cranfield University. The Master in his opening remarks, eloquent as ever, quoted Daphne Du Maurier on the importance of soil as a preface to the talk to come from the Professor and asked the company to greet the principle guest - which they did warmly.
Soil, it became evident, is something that Professor Rickman has thought long and deeply about. And it was clear from the way she warmed to her topic – Managing Healthy Soils for Sustainable Intensification - that it is something about which she feels passionately. Not just as a simple growing medium but as the source of what she called ‘eco-system goods and services’. In other words, as a key contributor to the way that the whole eco-system of the planet functions in response to the demands we place upon it. She talked about the 4 Fs of Food, Fuel, Fodder and Forestry. Making the point that the management of soil has a vital role to play in sustaining the world’s population in so many different ways.
Another key topic was the need for the world to learn how to manage soil for Sustainable Intensification. In other words, with the demand for food growing at 3% per annum and the world’s land mass getting no bigger, we need to be able to harvest more and more from our soils but we need to do it in a way that has no impact on the ability of the soil to do the same again in future.
Professor Rickson went on to discuss briefly the need for accurate methods of assessing and measuring soil quality and introduced the notion of SQIs – Soil Quality Indicators. And it was clear that in her brief talk she could only scratch the surface (no pun intended) of a topic that many of the audience would dearly loved to have had a chance to explore more fully. Lets hope there is a chance at some point in the future to plumb the depths of Professor Rickson’s knowledge more deeply.
She concluded her talk with a quote to match the one in the Master’s introduction. In Professor Rickson’s case, from Dorin and Parkin, 1994, rather than Du Maurier – 'The thin layer of soil covering the earth's surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life'. A profound and somewhat sobering thought that many of us were still pondering as lunch began to be served and are likely to continue to do for some time to come.
The three-course lunch was the first chance many of us had had to try the fare from our new catering supplier. The meal opened with a salmon and monkfish roulade, followed by some excellent salt marsh lamb and concluding with a deeply indulgent, chocolate truffle. All accompanied by three excellent wines. The desert wine being particularly notable.
As is usual when one is in good company, the time seemed to fly by. And all too soon we were rising to clap out the Master and the guests from the top table. A stirrup cup was served in the upstairs reception area and after a most enjoyable and educational few hours, the gathering began to disperse as Liverymen and guests gradually and reluctantly started to drift off to start the journey home.