Green Brexit: Securing the future for farming and the environment

In this blog Tom Lancaster, Senior Land Use Policy Officer at RSPB, outlines why new proposals for a Sustainable Farming and Land Management policy could secure the future for English farming after Brexit.

Cattle on the Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire ©Andrew Butler

A day after the Natural Capital Committee called for farm payments to shift toward ‘the provision of public benefits’, we have today published our proposals for what this could look like.

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Agriculture Working Group, working with the Soil Association, have set out our ideas for a Sustainable Farming and Land Management policy in England, with a short briefing summarising the contents of a more detailed discussion paper.

With our departure from the European Union (EU) imminent, and with it the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), we have a clear opportunity to develop an agriculture policy that really drives environmental improvements across the countryside. In the days before the referendum, this statement would have led to brickbats from some in the farming community. It may still. But Brexit has changed everything.

Rather than being antagonists, arguing over how to spend the CAP-cake, farmers and environmentalists now have more common cause, given that we are both proponents of continued public investment in farming and land management. Our contention today, is that basing this expenditure on the provision of environmental benefits, that farmers and land managers are uniquely placed to provide, is the best – and perhaps only – option for a long-term and stable policy settlement for the sector.

And it’s not just us who are saying this. Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has called Brexit an ‘unfrozen moment’, and identified a “…growing appetite for a new system of agricultural support which puts environmental protection and enhancement first.” The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) have called for a Land Management Contract to form the central plank of a future policy, clearly seeing where the political winds are blowing. And yesterday, the Natural Capital Committee added their voice to the growing consensus that, if public money is to continue to flow into agriculture, then it should be in return for clear and demonstrable public benefits.

Brexit present a real risks for both farming and the environment. To mitigate these risks, and realise the opportunities, we need a proactive policy response from Government, and we will need consensus to achieve this. The environmental case for continued investment provides this consensus, and we want to work with farmers, land managers and anyone else who’s willing to make this case.

This paper and briefing is a constructive, pragmatic and ambitious contribution to the debate. As we look forward to an Agriculture Bill next year, this work will form the basis of future conversations with farmers and land managers, Government and other stakeholders, as we seek to ensure that the Bill, and policies that flow from it, secures a bright future for both farming and the environment.

This blog, by Tom Lancaster, Senior Land Use Policy Officer at RSPB, was originally posted on the Wildlife and Countryside Link blog.  Visit their website to find out more about the coalition – https://www.wcl.org.uk/.  For more information about our proposals contact Marcus Gilleard, Senior Policy Programmes Manager at the National Trust.

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