Britain’s countryside faces a decade of damaging uncertainty unless the Government acts now to deliver on its Brexit promises, the director-general of the National Trust says today.
Farming and wildlife have their greatest opportunity in a generation thanks to recent commitments by the Government to reward nature-friendly agriculture, Helen Ghosh will say.
She will tell BBC Countryfile Live: “We are within touching distance of a vision for the future of farming that sees thriving businesses successfully meeting the needs of the nation into the 21st century and beyond.”
However, waiting to formally leave the EU will be too late, she warns, as it could take up to 10 years from today for new support packages to be in place.
“The longer we wait, the more we risk losing all the gains we have made over the last decade,” Helen will say.
The director-general, who last year called on ministers to seize the opportunity posed by Brexit, said farmers can feel optimistic about their prospects again if Government promises become policy before we part company with Brussels.
Affordable, high-quality food and wildlife-friendly methods can be secured if the Government…
*Maintains the £3billion-a-year support package for the industry, with clear incentives for nature-friendly farming.
*Ensures £800 million of defunct pillar one greening subsidies are redirected in 2019 into more effective incentive systems rewarding farmers for working in unison with the natural environment.
*Clearly guarantee and reassure farmers that environmental protections will be maintained or strengthened.
Helen warns current uncertainty is prompting some farmers to revert to intensive methods for short-term profits, damaging long-term agriculture and dwindling wildlife.
“We have already seen examples of short-term decision-making, where farmers – in response to uncertainty about the future and income – have ploughed up pasture which was created with support from EU environmental money,” she said. “It’s very understandable, but heart-breaking.”
Helen says that the “clock is ticking” for the Government to provide clarity before the EU cash-flow ends.
The conservation charity has been working in close partnership with farmers to build a bright post-Brexit future in which farming can thrive, nature can be revived, and cultural heritage is protected in some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.
Helen said in a speech to the Uplands Alliance in January that “the future of farming is bound up with the future of nature: without a healthy natural environment the long term viability of farming is in question.”
Today she will say that the Government will need to extend its initial £3billion support package commitment for the “foreseeable future, if we are to repair the historic damage, adapt to climate change, and restore soil and water quality, habitats, species, natural flood protection and damaged landscapes.”
By redirecting £800million of watered-down EU green subsidies, the Government could almost double the pot available to support nature-friendly farming to around £1.5billion.
The Government’s Agriculture Bill and 25 year plan will give the UK a much-needed debate for what the nation wants from farming and the countryside in the 21st Century, Helen said.
“This includes the vital question of our role as a food producer, and can create much-needed certainty for farmers,” she added.
There is no need to wait, she says, because there is already consensus in Government, farming and the countryside that the new model must reward farmers who deliver the most public benefit.
“At the end of it, we need to create a situation in which sustainable and forward-looking farm businesses can thrive and deliver what the nation and the public want, within a framework of protection and restoration of all aspects of our precious natural environment.”
The Trust will also be discussing and working with devolved administrations in securing a farming settlement post-Brexit that delivers nature-friendly, sustainable farming.