The UK government has set out more detailed plans for two new schemes which could dramatically change how the countryside is managed: the Local Nature Recovery scheme, and the Landscape Recovery scheme.
Source: UK Farming
UK farming practices under scrutiny, as post Brexit policy changes emerge
The current UK government has been increasingly vocal about making change to farming and countryside practices, seeking to address environmental impact. As Forbes reported late last year, one of many resulting pledges from COP26 was the UK government's commitment to make £65 million available to support farmers in implementing new technologies, as well as to help with their adoption of more environmentally friendly approaches[i]. December 2021 also saw an announcement by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice on the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). BPS is effectively set to be an allowance given to farmers who are working to conserve and improve soil health. According to Edie.net, BPS will “annually pay farmers £22 - £40 per hectare for conserving and restoring arable and horticultural soils; £28 - £58 per hectare for conserving grassland soils and £148 per year for moorland and rough grazing land.”[ii]
Further changes have been given clarity as of January 2022, as the UK continues to evolve its agricultural policy following Brexit. Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on January 6th, George Eustice unveiled the next stage of plans to reward farmers and landowners for actions which benefit the environment, supporting sustainable food production alongside vital nature recovery and work towards net zero. Two major incentives (previously announced in summer 2021) which were given further clarification, are the Local Nature Recovery scheme which will pay farmers for locally targeted actions which make space for nature, and the Landscape Recovery scheme which will support more radical changes to land-use change and habitat restoration. As politics UK note, the changes are the biggest to farming and land management in 50 years. The government estimates that the two new environmental land management schemes will “play an essential role in halting the decline in species by 2030, bringing up to 60% of England’s agricultural soil under sustainable management by 2030, and restoring up to 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042.”[iii]
Wildlife charities welcome changes but remain cautious due to a lack of urgency
The proposals have been welcomed by UK nature charities, including The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, and the National Trust, yet they have all expressed concern around the time taken for these measures to be put in place, as well as a perceived lack of urgency (in their opinion):
“The real test of this agricultural transition is not so much whether it is a little bit better or moderately better than what came before, but whether it will be enough to deliver on the Government’s targets to get 30% of land managed for nature by 2030, to halt the loss of wild species abundance by 2030, to deliver on the Government’s own 25-year environment plan, and to make sure farmers are supported so that they help solve rather than worsen the nature and climate crises.” - Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts[iv]
Farming unions and consumer groups also voice concern
Alongside the reservations expressed by wildlife groups, farmers themselves have raised concerns. These relate to a lack of clarity, as well as fears around the cost to farmers. NFU (National Farmers Union) Vice President Tom Bradshaw was quoted as saying: “We welcome today’s further clarity on the roll-out of the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery as part of the agricultural transition...”[v] However, he continued: “There are still a number of questions that need answers, not least the costs farmers are likely to incur from participating in these new schemes and how the schemes are accessible right across the country and for every farmer.”[vi]
Further, fears have been raised that the schemes could impact food production in the UK detrimentally. Tom Bradshaw noted: “At a time when public support for British food and farming is at a high, our biggest concern is that these schemes result in reduced food production in the UK, leading to the need to import more food from countries with production standards that would be illegal for our farmers here. This simply offshores our production and any environmental impacts that go with it and would be morally reprehensible.”[vii] Further Politics UK quoted Chair of the National Farmers’ Union Cymru Milk Board, Abi Reader as saying: “At some point growing food alongside nature became a dirty word. It’s ok because when we can’t grow enough to eat here we can import food from other places round the world & reassure ourselves we have the upper hand on nature…”[viii].
The changes raise clear concerns that UK food production may move further away from self-sufficiency, and increasingly towards a greater reliance upon imports of foreign goods. The issue is that greater dependency on imports puts a population (which continues to grow) at the mercy of food exporters in other nations. Crop failure, price increases etc, could all have a significant impact in future. It also arguably moves the problem of green farming practices abroad, where standards may in fact be lower and greater harm is done to the environment.
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