Many thanks to all of you that contributed to last week's debate about balancing agricultural production with conservation. Whether you posted a comment, dropped me an email or simply read it - thank you! Particular thanks to our guest contributors - Matthew Naylor, Allan Buckwell, Caroline Drummond and Johann Tasker.
I think that we reached a good deal of consensus about ambition and intent. As Caroline concluded "the future is not doing more of the same, it is about increasing sustainability at all levels". But perhaps we did not do enought to identify solutions. Allan was right when he said "until and unless there is public acceptance of the scale and seriousness of the market failures in land management which mean that farmers are properly remunerated for producing the non-food ecosystem services which only they can provide, then we will continue to wring our hands about the deterioration of environmental capital." Yet, this is not to blame farmers. It is for the policy makers to provide the right signals to which the farming community will respond.
I shall reflect further on the debate with the RSPB team. This is a crucial year with CAP reform on the horizon and Defra itself is looking at this issue. Defra has established a Green Food Project and is obliged to report its findings in June 2012. The group is chaired by the Farming Minister, Jim Paice, and I am one of the participants alongside representatives from organisations such as NFU, CLA and WWF. Through sector, product and site case studies it will explore options for reconciling the twin objectives of increasing production and enhancing the natural environment. I shall return to this subject in due course.
But my attention this week will return to the other great dilemma facing the Government - how to kick-start the economy without trashing the environment. There were two fascinating articles last week which reminded me of the tension at the heart of government. The first by Pilita Clark and Sylvia Pfeifer in the Financial Times illustrated how the Conservative rhetoric on the environment has changed dramatically since the election. The second was by Zac Goldsmith MP in the Guardian. His argument is that the environmental sector should be doing more to work with progressives within the coalition to give them space to fight battles within government.
I agree, in principle, that we should remain constructive critics to help provide political space for pro-envionment politicians to act. But we should also be prepared to act to cause political pain if the policies are not forthcoming. This is what being an NGO is all about.
I think that a statement from the Prime Minister about his environmental intentions is overdue. And, with the Rio conference celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Earth Summit due in June this year, what better time for the Prime Minister to put his head above the environmental parapet.
Do you think it is time for the Prime Minister to make a speech on the environment? If so, what would you have him say?
It would be great to hear your views.
And finally - worth reading this contribution from a Scottish farmer - Neale McQuistin. www.fwi.co.uk/.../I39m-well-up-for-CAP-greening.htm. Great to read these opinions.
Have just noticed an interview that Mr Cameron gave to Countryfile. It is worth a watch even if it does not go into a great deal of policy detail. I'll post the link on the blog tomorrow.
Agree Martin but his problem is that he has many pressing things to deal with and each group think they are the most important.
I would like to see a new planning designation so that land can be released for "sustainable housing developments committed to "sustainability"; land released at agricultural rates for "green development" to give the next generation a chance at equitable housing and to deliver greater self reliance in food production ie large allotments/orchards.
I would like to see all oil revenues ring fenced and targeted at delivering self sufficiency in energy production particularly from tidal and wave (start tapping tidal races Alderney, Isle of White, Dover Straits, Scotland etc) ; i would include Severn and Thames barrages in the mix. It would combine this with high taxes on second and energy inefficient homes and plan to save 20% of UK energy by 2020 ; a fair rent act should help stabilise the housing market as a precondition to rebalancing the economy with special engineering apprentice ships targetted at the renewable sector; enforcement of the speed limit will help reduce emissions from transport. HS2 should be scrapped as CO2 intense and spent on upgrades to the wider network.
Hi Martin, I fully agree that it is more than high time the Prime Minister gave his up to date views on the environment in the light of current statments and decisions from Ministers, these are long over due and his silence on this subject is "deafening". He needs to salvage something from his statement about being the "Greenist Government Ever." It is execellent that you are a member of the Green Food Project, well done and good luck. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that the drive for improved farming to achieve better, production, sustainability and biodiversity must come from the top i.e. the politicians and policy makers. I am sure this is right. However I also agree that the RSPB should be prepared to cause political pain and aggravation when policies are not right. If the RSPB does not upset some organisation/ person from time to time then it is probably not doing its job as well as it could. The political skill comes in not overdoing it and keeping a balance. That's not so easy.
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