[T]he Government have finished their consultation on the future reform of the Common Agriculture Policy entitled: Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit.
The protection and enhancement of the environment forms a key element of the document with the proposal that farmers and land managers will be paid for producing public benefits. There is recognition within the consultation of the benefits that our land provides; stunning landscapes, food, drinking water, open access, wildlife and valuable habitats, open spaces for our health and wellbeing, carbon storage, a rich cultural heritage and common land.
It reiterates Mr Gove’s viewpoint that the Common Agricultural Policy is flawed and has resulted in a deterioration of the natural environment; the Environment Secretary suggesting the solution is to move to a system of public payments for public goods.
The new policy will be underpinned by payment of ‘public money for the provision of public goods’, with these principal public goods being environmental protection and enhancement. A new environmental land management system (NELMS) will be the cornerstone of the new policy, from 2022 and likely to include wildlife diversity and landscape protection.
In its written response to the consultation, landscape charity Friends of the Lake District has recognised and welcomed the proposal that farmers and land managers will be paid for producing public benefits such as landscape, access and water.
Jan Darrall, policy officer at Friends of the Lake District said: “Landscape quality and character should be viewed as an essential public good in itself as it incorporates all other public benefits. Landscape is the setting we all live in, and we depend on landscape for food, water and clean air and many other necessities – it is our life support system. Landscapes everywhere or of value, and should be the heart of any new policy as the number one priority, overarching all public benefits.”
The charity also sets out its priorities for consideration and incorporation into future agricultural support systems.
- Landscape as the number one priority – Landscape should therefore be at the heart of any new policy as the number one priority, underneath which others sit.
- Focus on the uplands and common land – The new policy is an opportunity to establish a new language about our upland areas, leaving behind the language of ‘Less Favoured’ and ‘Severely Disadvantaged’ areas and instead re-classing them as areas providing high levels of public goods and services essential for the welfare of everyone.
- Don’t forget about tranquillity, and health and wellbeing – The NHS is ever increasingly stretched and under resourced so the opportunities to complement it with ‘natural in terms of preventative medicine treatment impacts have a significant monetary value.
- Support an outcomes approach – We need a return to a more positive and helpful relationship between farmer and adviser, with mutual respect and negotiation. Farmers and land owners should be given more flexibility to determine how their land can contribute to a national framework of objectives and outcomes.
- Create a national framework with local flexibility and delivery – We would support an outcome based approach, based on local evidence and monitoring, but sitting within a wider spatial unit, such as landscape character types or national character area. This would facilitate local flexibility and the ability for farmers and landowners to respond to local needs.
The consultation is borne out of the Government’s intention to simplify the regulatory culture and streamline application processes for environmental schemes. The ability to access payments for activities which protect natural capital assets could provide vital new income streams for farmers and land managers and recognition of the true value of our landscapes.