National Trust Rural Enterprises Director, Patrick Begg, reflects on the announcement today by the Government on how its carving up funds from the Common Agricultural Policy:
I wonder in life if there’s always a slightly misplaced sense of relief whenever dodging a metaphorical bullet? Perhaps that’s why the announcements today on England’s Common Agricultural Policy settlement has solicited an initial huge sigh of relief followed by a more reflective, at least in me, air of disquiet about the general direction of travel.
It’s refreshing that DEFRA has battled hard to bolster support for agri-environment schemes and the promised staged move from 12% to 15% of funds transferred from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 (if delivered) will be a positive move . Also, the emerging design of the new green farming schemes looks progressive and in many ways enlightened. In fact, there’s a sense that the concept of fundamental environmental protection and enhancement lying at the heart of the future of a sustainable farming system has retained and even strengthened its currency in DEFRA. Owen Paterson has stuck to his mantra of “public goods for public money.”
But if you delve deeper the Government’s core focus on the short term growth agenda in the countryside at the cost of long term viability of farming is still a major concern. The late interventions from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury to try and divert vital funds within Pillar 2 away from farming that benefits nature to Local Enterprise Partnerships-led rural growth schemes confirms this persistent threat. And make no bones about it, in real terms, over the course of the next 7 years, there will be less cash available to encourage the style of farming that safeguards and nurtures soils, water and wildlife and delivers real public benefit for the investment of huge sums of public money. We cannot be pleased with that overarching truth.
No-one can disagree that environmental quality is the fundamental building block of a healthy and resilient countryside and that it lies at the heart of farming’s future. Likewise, sustaining and increasing public support for farming and its role in delivering a rich and beautiful landscape must be critical. Yet every indicator tells us that England’s natural environment is under pressure and in decline like never before. We also know that people have become disconnected from the natural world and the outdoors at an alarming rate.
Without well-resourced and robust long term plans for improving the quality of the environment, it’s hard to see how farming’s future, and the sense of instinctive public support that it enjoys, can be secured. DEFRA needs to continue to fight, make and win the case for a broader and deeper commitment to future-proofing farming and securing its environmental foundations, whether through direct or indirect subsidies.
 Pillar 1 is made up of direct subsidies that go to farmers and Pillar 2 consists of money from the Rural Development Programme which supports schemes to improve the farmed environment, boost rural economies and improve competitiveness.