Paul Cherry and his brother John began experimenting with regenerative farming about 15 years ago. John then travelled to the US to look at mob grazing and ‘no-till’ operations in practice.

Intrigued by the possibilities and the potential applications in the UK, they then set up the Groundswell Festival in 2016 with an initial audience of 450 – way above their expectation. The festival has grown into an annual two-day event attracting over 5,000 people. It has become the focus for ideas surrounding regenerative farming and has arguably eclipsed traditional, more mainstream gatherings

Paul joined my Galbraith colleague David Hurst and I in a podcast to talk about his family’s annual event in Hertfordshire.

Paul explained the Cherrys’ excitement in providing a great experience for a wide audience and being the principal 'ideas festival' on this subject. It is aimed principally at farmers, often with the younger generation bringing their parents, but it also acts as a powerful influence on related industries, NGOs, students, politicians and the general public. Remarkably, it even appears that visiting politicians are as much on receive as transmit, and Government policy seems to be endorsing the regenerative approach, with the SFI reflecting and seeking to bring many of its elements and techniques into the mainstream.

Paul commented that for many farmers, the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) is proving to be useful Plan B in the light of current climatic and market conditions, but it is also designed to steer us towards potential longer-term solutions. These involve much lower-input farming practices, with less reliance on high borrowing requirements to fund industrial-scale inputs. Yields may initially be down, but hopefully profits can be sustained. This is increasingly important as post-Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) Government subsidy commitments could well diminish, with funding diverted to other departments.

We discussed the links between organic and regenerative farming movements, both of which Paul suggested have a vital part to play, albeit within slightly different frameworks. Organic is essentially prescriptive, but regenerative relies on the ‘five principles’ approach. This embodies more flexibility, but, as with organic, the label is increasingly being hijacked by marketeers and this threatens to devalue its currency and vibrancy. Paul suggests that the Groundswell brand in itself is now the touchstone, as distinct from regenerative farming.

While carbon has been the focus of much new climate-crisis thinking, the key element in sustainable farming has to be the improvement and maintenance of soil quality. It is pleasing to see more innovative approaches being taken particularly with the reintroduction of livestock into arable rotations, though infrastructure such as fencing and water supplies need to be reintroduced. Fortunately electric fencing technology now allows much more management flexibility. Paul suggests that the Cherrys’ beef shorthorn herd more than pays its way and is helping to increase organic levels year by year.

The audience at Groundswell has developed over the years. Partly through Covid, the original flow of foreign speakers highlighting their experiences in more brittle environments, has diminished. In line with the view that visitors to early events were asking “should we do it ?”, there are now more UK-based speakers demonstrating ''how can we do it?”. Paul feels that this is generally mirroring the generational change afoot in the wider farming community.

Groundswell has now become the go-to event, but the Cherry family is still juggling with the balance between farming conference, food festival and pop concert; the unique mix remains captivating.


  • Natural Capital: Galbraith’s expert advisers guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.