Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of the upcoming Agriculture Bill for the environment, and wondered whether Defra would clear this early hurdle in its quest for a ‘Green Brexit’.
I am glad to say that, having read Defra’s press notice issued today, the early signs are good.
Andy Hay's image of a skylark (rspb-images.com)
Once we have had a chance to digest the content of the Bill, I will offer further reflections later in the week. But for now, the Defra press release offers a positive outline statement of intent about where they want to go with a future policy, echoing much of what was good in their Health and Harmony consultation paper from earlier in the year.
Reading the headlines, it is clear that Defra has…
…reiterated the intention to focus the majority of public money on public goods – those things that we all need from land, but which we cannot pay for at the till, such as more wildlife, clean water and carbon storage
…identified environmental protection as a particular focus with a future environmental land management policy as the “centrepiece of the Government’s new approach to farm payments”
…committed to “maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective”
In short, this is a welcome statement of intent about this Government’s future policy ambitions.
There are gaps and weak points – very few Government announcements would be complete without them. The intended transition period is longer than we think necessary, and there are no obvious mechanisms to enable cooperation between the four Governments of the UK.
The big unresolved issue though is funding.
As expected, there is no clarity on how the Government intend to fund their Green Brexit beyond the existing commitment to maintain the current level of expenditure to 2022. This will be our priority for the passage of the Bill as it progresses through Parliament and through the upcoming Spending Review. This is something which we should be able to strike common cause with all farming unions. The resources made available to back up the new policy will ultimately be the key test as to whether this Bill is a success or failure.
For now, this feels like an important step forward - improving the sustainability of farming is key to realising the UK Government’s ambitions to restore nature in a generation.
Today’s announcement suggests that Ministers are taking this challenge seriously.
Great news, Martin, and a tribute to all the hard work that has gone into getting this far.
What you have said about funding makes it all the more important to point up the flip side to spending - the savings and risks averted through land use for the environment, not just for maximum food production. Also, the extent to which biodiversity can be restored through broader land use issues - for example managing our river floodplains for flood prevention, rather than rushing the water off the land into our houses as we've been doing for the last 50 years.
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