BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 23 Dec '17

Report outlines the cash required for a new agricultural policy that rewards farmers for protecting the environment

A new report reveals how much money we’d need to spend to meet the UK’s priorities for environmental land management, and how a new system should reward farmers for protecting the environment.

Public funding for public benefits

The report, from the RSPB, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts, emphasises that taxpayer support for agriculture must guarantee the protection of Nature for future generations.

It also asserts that future farming and food production in the UK should contribute to healthy, stable and productive soils, and support pollinating insects and clean water.

‘We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to help both wildlife and farming thrive – and we must seize it. Farmers recognise that public funding should be linked to delivering wider public benefits and not based on the size of land holdings.

PATRICK BEGG
Rural enterprises director, National Trust

Time for change

According to the report, the current system needs to change. It proposes that, if the government is serious about meeting even its existing environmental ambitions, then £2.3bn of the £3bn currently spent on agriculture each year must be invested in land management that also looks after Nature.

This investment represents a five-fold increase for the UK as a whole on current levels of funding for environmental land management, and is critical to helping secure the aim of restoring a healthy natural environment.

The farming sector would need to be supported in this transition to a ‘better and more effective system’. This would mean investing in new technologies to adapt to the challenges of the modern market and the needs of consumers, while supporting the recovery of our natural world and enabling species to return.

‘We have a chance to reverse the fortunes of wildlife and the soil, water and habitats which our whole society relies upon, not least farmers themselves. The estimated cost of £2.3 billion annually will help to set us on this positive path. We need to invest now if we are to see a return of species that were once common but are now rare, the return of hedgerows for wildlife, rich soils capturing carbon and water, and woodland that is not only beautiful, but helps reduce flood risk.’

ELLIE BRODIE
Senior policy manager at The Wildlife Trusts

A thriving farming sector

The report suggests that the centrepiece of a new approach to UK farming policies should be the premise that landowners are paid according to how they manage the land, not how much land they have.

In practice, this means a farmer who restores hedgerows, woodland and ponds, or provides services like carbon storage and flood prevention and alleviation – while continuing to farm their land – is rewarded. But a landowner who happens to own many hectares, but does nothing to give Nature a helping hand, is not.

This would ensure our Nature is protected, that our farmers can continue to produce the high-quality food we all need and enjoy and that farming communities can continue to thrive.

‘The UK has the potential to show the world that our nation can do something that no-one else has managed to achieve: a thriving farming sector that both delivers for Nature and for people.

‘To achieve the UK Government’s promise of leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation, governments across the UK must move away from agricultural payments based on the size of land holdings towards a model that recognises the unique role our farmers must play in helping Nature. This means investing the existing budget in a better system that works for Nature, underpins farm livelihoods and benefits everyone in the UK.’

JENNA HEGARTY
RSPB’s head of land use policy