National Trust calls for major reforms of farming subsides post-Brexit to reverse the damage to the natural environment

  • Brexit provides opportunity to reset entire system for subsidising farming industry
  • Farmers should only be rewarded for managing land in nature-friendly way
  • Current £3bn a year payments must deliver public benefit beyond food production
  • 60% of species in decline partly due to intensive farming methods
Pentire Farm at Trevose Head, Cornwall.

Pentire Farm at Trevose Head, Cornwall. Credit National Trust/John Miller.

The National Trust today (Thursday, August 4) called on government to put the recovery and future resilience of the natural environment at the heart of the funding system that will replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The conservation charity said reform was essential to reverse decades of damage to the countryside and the headlong decline of species.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the Trust, will tell an audience at the National Trust Theatre at BBC Countryfile Live that the vote to leave the European Union presents an urgent opportunity to shape a new and better system for stewardship of the countryside.

She will call for a system that increases the benefit to the public of a beautiful, natural environment rich in nature and wildlife and that secures the long term health and productivity of the land on which our farming depends.

It is essential to act now as 60% of species have declined in the UK over the last 50 years. Habitats, breeding grounds and food sources have been lost, soils have become depleted and natural fertility impoverished.

This has happened in large part due to the industrialised farming methods incentivised by successive funding regimes since the Second World War. So it is not the fault of farmers but the fault of the system which is flawed and expensive.

Farmers currently receive £3.1 billion a year through the EU’s CAP.

Helen Ghosh said: “Whatever your view of Brexit, it gives us an opportunity to think again about how and why we use public money to create the countryside we want to hand on to future generations. Unless we make different choices, we will leave an environment that is less productive, less rich and less beautiful than that which we inherited.

“Taxpayers should only pay public subsidy to farmers in return for things that the market won’t pay for but are valued and needed by the public.

“We may need some kind of transition period to get there but that means payments for goods that go beyond food production – for the wildflowers, bees and butterflies that we love, for the farmland birds, now threatened, for the water meadows and meandering rivers that will help prevent the flooding of our towns, and for the rebuilding of the fertility and health of the soils on which both nature and production depend.

“In the long run there’s no conflict between maintaining our ability to grow food and looking after the land and nature on which it depends. The first is utterly dependent on the second.

“This is not just about the subsidy system but the way the market works. Farmers should get a proper return from retailers and food manufacturers.  If they are also producing clean water, unflooded streets or great holiday experiences, they should also get a proper return from the utilities or tourism industry.

“Farmers are key partners in finding solutions but this is too important to leave to governments and farmers to sort out between themselves.

“We would encourage ministers to now consult widely on the way we fund farming in a post-Brexit world and involve the public in the debate, along with organisations who have experience and insights to share.”

Dame Helen set out six principles that any new system must deliver for the public:

  1. Public money must only pay for public goods. Currently, most of a £600m pot from the EU (out of the £3.1bn CAP funding) benefits wildlife and the environment. The majority of the remainder is allocated based on the size of farm. There will need to be a transition to the new world but this basic income support payment should be removed.
  1. It should be unacceptable to harm nature but easy to help it. Currently, only 1/3 of the basic payment is conditional on meeting ‘green’ farming standards. In the future, 100% of any public payment should be conditional on meeting higher standards of wildlife, soil and water stewardship.
  1. Nature should be abundant everywhere.  The system needs to support nature in the lowlands as well as the uplands – people in towns and cities also need access to wildlife, recreation and the services the environment provides.
  1. We need to drive better outcomes for nature, thinking long-term and on a large scale. Nature doesn’t respect farm boundaries and needs joined up habitats on a landscape scale with subsidies implemented on a farm-by-farm basis. In the future, we should start at the landscape level, with farmers and landowners working collaboratively to set plans based on clear outcomes.
  1. Farmers that deliver the most public benefit, should get the most. Currently, the more land you own, the more money you get. In the future, those farmers and land managers who get the most public money should be those who deliver the best outcomes. 
  1. We must invest in science, new technology and new markets that help nature. Currently, some science and technology harms nature – it increases crop yields with big machines and harmful fertilizers. In the future, public money should help create ways of farming that benefit nature and help develop new markets to reward farmer for storing carbon, preventing floods and promoting biodiversity.


3 thoughts on “National Trust calls for major reforms of farming subsides post-Brexit to reverse the damage to the natural environment

  1. Hi there,

    Against the comment “Brexit provides opportunity to reset entire system for subsidising farming industry”, I would say this statement is true. However, we need more of the available funding to support the mixed farm, family farms and organic enterprises firstly. Granted, most sectors, large or small, rich or poor farmers should all have a piece of the pie but to varying degrees.

    You state “Farmers should only be rewarded for managing land in nature-friendly way”. Despite all the negative headlines, a great many already are. The landlords/landowners with the highest earnings are perhaps able to do the most for nature, which refers us back to the original comment above. Do you professionally assess your own estate for it’s diversity of birdlife for instance? Without ongoing datasets showing the ups and downs of its inhabitants, you can’t treasure what you’ve got and will fail to see what can soon become a growing imbalanced ecosystem.

    You state “Current £3bn a year payments must deliver public benefit beyond food production”. Well, yes, but a growing population needs feeding and farms are businesses first and foremost. I respect any farmer which takes the time out to let me into their busy schedules. When I get the rare opportunity to inform them of their wildlife populations, they are often shocked of the variety of species (rare and common alike) their land sustains. All of this being achieved in the face of pushing for sustainability and making a profit out of food production or whichever farming cause.

    Finally, you suggest “60% of species in decline partly due to intensive farming methods” and indeed they may be true but…… A lack of targetted conservation management of species and land alike, often hinders further progress towards a balanced ecosystem. Prey and predator relationships are no longer textbook examples of creatures living in harmony, times have moved on. There simply needs to be more analyses undertaken in order to get to the route of the problem of this increasingly imbalanced countryside of ours. Gamekeepers, farmers, shooters, beaters, scientists, conservationists and even you or I can all make this change a permanent one and a more prosperous one to boot.


    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

  2. Pingback: Statement in response to HM Treasury announcement on European Union funding beyond date UK leaves EU | National Trust Places

  3. Pingback: National Trust calls for major reforms of farming subsides post-Brexit to reverse the damage to the natural environment | Royal Oak Foundation

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