Guest blog by Lucy Bjorck, Senior Policy Officer

Whatever your views on Brexit there was always one obvious opportunity for radical change for the better and that was to leave the shackles of the behemoth which is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and forge a more nature and climate friendly way forward for our countryside. So five years since the Brexit vote, roughly a year since ties were properly severed and with COP26 looming large in the news, what has changed?

The good
There was some good news from COP26 with the announcement that forty-five governments, led by the UK, have pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming. It recognised that one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, forestry and other land-use – making action on the way we grow and consume food in order to tackle climate change essential. It reaffirms the governments commitment to redirect public policies and support towards sustainable agriculture. Will this translate to action though?

RSPB Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire. Image: (c) Andy Hay (RSPB)

The bad
So far the reality has yet to match the rhetoric, for example the trade deals struck this year including one with Australia could undermine more nature and climate friendly farmers in the UK. The Trade and Agriculture Commission recommended developing a set of minimum standards for all imports to the UK, to safeguard the environment and ensure all our food meets the public’s expectations. The government has yet to should respond to those recommendations.

The work in progress
Developing new policies to support climate and nature friendly farmers is essential if we are to capitalise on leaving the CAP. Progress is most advanced in England and yet even here Defra has failed to provide a clear and compelling vision and clarity of approach to provide confidence amongst farmers and conservationists. See link to Alice Groom's article.
If we are to meet our climate and nature targets we need to step up a gear and really capitalise on the opportunities provided to redirect funding to nature and climate actions on farm to better support farmers and nature.

  • It is going to be interesting to see how the Government goes about meeting it's legal obligations under the new Environment Act. Meeting it's obligations is a steep climb - and on present evidence I don't think they'll even attempt a serious stab at it. For farming, RSPB's Hope Farm has demonstrated that for intensive arable just 5% in field measures - beatle banks, wildflower margins, can halt the decline in farmland birds - but whilst farmers have been ready to take up edge measures like hedges they have been very reluctant to take in field options - yet again skimming the cream without drinking the milk, characteristic of agri-environment grant take up sine the first ESAs.  A test of Government's good faith is whether or not they are prepared to make 5% in field options a compulsory requirement for any grant aid. I don't think they will and if they don't they have little prospect of meeting their legal obligations. In contrast, 35 years ago the Government's Broadleaves policy, partly the result of a vigorous and effective RSPB campaign, made 5% broadleaves a condition of grant aid in all new forests. Good enough for forestry, why not farming ?