Monday 24th October 2016                 Change text size:

Government Called On To Make A Better Future For UK Countryside

bluebell wood by stewart black via flickr

Today, the largest nature organisations in Britain have launched their collective vision for a post-Brexit farming, environment and rural policy.

WWF-UK, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB are calling for:

  • A new policy for the countryside – UK Governments to work together to replace the CAP with policies that deliver high environmental standards for land management across the UK
  • The creation of an independent Policy Commission – to examine a future policy for the environment, farming and rural development and encourage an inclusive and engaging public debate
  • A joined up approach between Government policies and plans for farming and the environment – Any future environment, farming and rural development policy must work together with the Westminster Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment
  • Continuation of agri-environment schemes – All existing agri-environment schemes should be kept open until a replacement policy is fully operational.

The call comes as the UK plans for a future outside of the European Union. Major decisions will need to be made about how all governments across the UK support the environment, farming and rural development to replace the Common Agricultural Policy.

Last year, over £3.1bn was spent on the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK. Its rules directly affect how farmers look after their land. This has an impact on everything we do – from the food we eat, and the water we drink, to the air we breathe and the woods, meadows and soils we leave for future generations.

Recent data from the State of Nature report suggests that 56% of native British wildlife species are declining. With around three quarters of the UK’s landscape being farmed, the agricultural policies that influence management of our countryside could do much more to support farmers to restore nature.

The conservation organisations are calling on Government to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature, by supporting sustainable farming that not only produces great food but also rewards farmers for protecting and restoring the farmed environment.

A healthy countryside is vital and necessary for the whole country: we need good food, healthy and productive soils, clean water, protection from flooding and an attractive countryside rich in wildlife. This requires existing levels of environmental protection to be maintained or bolstered while also thinking very differently about how we support the land management we want and need in the future.

Developing the right policies to enable this is critically important and a wide range of stakeholders must be involved, the conservation charities say.

WWF-UK, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB collectively have over six million members and supporters across the United Kingdom. They own and manage 500,000 hectares of land, around half of which is actively farmed, either in hand or by one of their 2,000 tenants and graziers.

Rose O’Neill, WWF-UK, Freshwater Programme Manager commented:

It is vital to recognise that we all have a stake in the future of the British countryside.

“Whether we are farmers, the government, conservation groups or city dwellers, we all need to work in partnership to achieve a countryside rich in nature alongside vibrant communities and a thriving rural economy.”

Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director for Conservation commented: “As the recent State of Nature report highlighted we’ve already lost species once common to much of our countryside, and worryingly face losing much more if we don’t take action today and step up our efforts in the years ahead. We want to work with farmers to realise our shared ambition to restore UK biodiversity within a generation. We should grasp this opportunity to secure the future of the countryside and show we can deliver for both nature and farming.”

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “The public deserves great food, produced in a way that benefits wildlife whilst providing farmers with a sustainable business. But government needs to give farmers the right support, rewarding them for managing land for a full range of public benefits: wildlife, food, public access, beautiful landscapes, cultural heritage, reducing the risk of flooding and holding carbon in the soil. It’s only by changing how we support farmers that the long-term future of farming will be secured.”

Steve Trotter, Director, The Wildlife Trusts, England, commented: “People love the countryside and wildlife is a crucial part of what makes it special. The Government needs to be bold and take a radical new approach to the way public payments are used to deliver the things we need from a healthy countryside, like clean water, beautiful landscapes full of wildlife, nutritious food, healthy soils, jobs, room for people to exercise close to nature, as well as practical benefits like reduced flood risk. This is a once in a generation chance to help reverse the huge decline in wildlife and it must not be missed”.

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