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Guest blog: The Wildlife Trusts ask 'What next for farming?'

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Thursday 21st December 2017 by bbowtblog

Brown hare by Ian BoydBrown hare by Ian Boyd

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager, outlines The Wildlife Trusts’ policy proposals for the future of farming and land management in England.

Ellie Brodie

Written by Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager for Land Use at The Wildlife Trusts. Ellie oversees the Trusts’ policy work on agriculture. Before joining The Wildlife Trusts she managed the Rural Policy Centre in Scotland for Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The Wildlife Trusts believe that a healthy, wildlife-rich world is valuable in its own right and is the foundation of our wellbeing and prosperity; we depend on it and it depends on us. We recently set out our policy proposals for the future of farming and land management in England, and gave an example of how such a policy could be applied in practice in the River Aire catchment in Yorkshire.

There is broad agreement that whilst it carries risks, leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) gives us a rare chance to improve an outdated system. For The Wildlife Trusts, it provides a chance to reverse the fortunes of wildlife and the natural assets (the soil, water and habitats) which post-war agricultural policy has depleted and which farming relies on.

The Wildlife Trusts have been working closely with farmers and we are also one of the UK’s biggest land managers, with around 100,000 hectares of land in our stewardship. We manage more than 20 farms and work with thousands of farmers every year, giving advice on managing land for wildlife. Like others who care about the natural world, we want to grasp this opportunity to give our wildlife the step up it so badly needs in the farmed environment.

I want to pull out three questions that are critical to our proposals for a future land management policy. I then look at the River Aire Catchment and how a new policy approach could be applied.

1. Why should farmers get paid anything?

Farmers can sell the food they grow through the market. But they can’t sell a whole range of benefits or services that society needs.

We propose eight benefits that land managers should be paid to provide us with:

1. More, bigger and better natural habitats
2. Thriving wildlife everywhere
3. Abundant pollinators
4. Healthy soils
5. Clean water
6. Clean air and climate change mitigation
7. Flood risk management
8. Healthy people

2. How much is all this going to cost?

Less than you’d think! At the very least the current UK CAP budget of £3.1bn should be retained and divided between the four countries according to environmental need. Part of this should be invested in a new land asset management policy in England to pay for the benefits that farmers and land managers provide. This represents less than 0.5% of total UK public expenditure and compares to government budgets of £144bn for health, £87bn for education and £37bn for defence.

3. How will you know where to put the money?

Our idea is to restore habitats and join them up, often by linking together farmers and targeting investment to where there is most need. We propose three public asset funds for land management, based on delivering the eight benefits. We propose a landscape-scale approach to land management beacuse wildlife and wild places do not recognise boundaries and we need more space for wildlife by growing and joining habitats. These funds should be allocated through local environment plans that target action and investment to achieve nature’s recovery. This approach is based on ecological mapping – a spatial approach to identifying environmental needs through using local data and consultation with local people.

Case Study: Applying the new approach in the River Aire Catchment

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have taken these policy proposals and applied them to the Aire Catchment. This gives us a case-study to see how changing policy in this way and directly contracting farmers could deliver public benefits and services. It concludes that a move away from subsidy to direct public contracts for identified public goods, if managed well, would be transformational and dramatically secure environmental, quality of life and economic benefit for all (not least the UK’s farming industry).

A new contract – between land managers, the Government, taxpayers and consumers – could secure the future of not just wildlife but farming communities, a thriving and diverse economy, and a living landscape delivering the ecosystem services we rely on.

Steve Trotter, Director for England at The Wildlife Trusts, will be speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2018. Click here to find out more about the conference.

cows by Ian Boyd

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