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25 May 2021

As incoming Executive Secretary of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association last spring, Victoria Murrell faced unique challenges, not least to progress key work on environmental sustainability.

Like many across the country, the impact of the Covid pandemic and Brexit meant that the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry rapidly had to make time and reallocate resources. We had to look for workable solutions to any obstacles that arose, and the evolving situation experienced since March 2020. 

I wasn’t sure what a ‘normal’ working week would look like in this role and perhaps this made it easier to adapt my daily routine to whatever new challenges came along.  Even during that period of dense workload, we were keen not to lose grasp of some really crucial workstreams.  The Horse Welfare Board’s February 2020 report gave recommendations on areas for improvement across the industry, which we wanted to drive forward on behalf of British breeders.  Parliament’s June 2019 legislation aiming for the UK to be a net zero emitter of carbon by 2050, was also something we were interested in exploring for the thoroughbred sector. 

It wasn’t difficult to assemble an Environmental Sustainability Working Group, as we soon found that many of our members had started to introduce more environmentally friendly practices and technologies on their stud farms, and were trying to be proactive in making positive changes in advance of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) being introduced.  Shadwell’s Assistant Director, James O’Donnell was one of the first to engage with the TBA on sustainability and agreed to be the Chair of the Working Group.  We are also lucky to have the expertise and enthusiasm of Stud Managers from leading organisations, as well as Paul Overton, an Agronomist specialising in pasture management for horses, Nick Patton (Managing Director of Jockey Club Estates) and Nick Angus-Smith (Chairman of the Newmarket Stud Farmers’ Association). 

At the first meeting, it was decided that it would be beneficial to assess the current environmental impact of stud farms as a start point, so to facilitate this research I was rapidly educated by my colleagues in the process of applying for industry funding!  The Racing Foundation has been extremely supportive of this project and awarded a small grant to the Working Group, to allow us to carry out assessments and use those learnings to create guidance materials for the benefit of the industry.

Recently ADAS, an agricultural advisory organisation, performed the first onsite environmental impact assessment and carbon calculation of a Newmarket stud farm.  A second farm, in Gloucestershire, will also be evaluated by the end of the month.  We are excited to share these case studies with the industry once they have been completed.

The pandemic taught many of us to reassess our priorities and the national lockdowns encouraged us to reconnect with the local countryside.  This heightened respect for the environment and reinvigorated interest in nature and biodiversity, can only be of great help to breeders and farmers (perhaps with the odd exception of well-meaning public feeding inappropriate foodstuffs to our livestock!). We look forward to embracing a new system that will award public monies for public good.

Find out more about the TBA’s Study for Environmental Sustainability improvements on Stud Farms:

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