We welcome the Minister’s speech and hope to work closely with him and his department on the topics raised in it. Specifically, the need to reduce red tape for farmers, the absolute priority of addressing our soil health in the UK and the assurances given to farmers that their subsidies would continue but would focus more on rewarding environmentally beneficial farming practices.
Limiting the bureaucracy that farmers have to battle through in order to deliver a countryside rich in game and wildlife is a key strand of GWCT policy. As the Secretary of State pointed out at the moment farming is “all about mathematically precise field margins and not ecologically healthy landscapes”.
Like him, we wish to reverse this situation. We advocate a single inspection of farms which is carried out by a single inspector; one who is qualified to assess all parts of a working farm’s needs, from animal welfare to nitrate levels in the soil. We are now hopeful that future farming policy will utilise such simplicity in a bid to make life easier.
The GWCT also welcomes Mr Gove’s assurances that farmers who sign up to current agri-environment schemes and who are already signed up to existing ones will not be disadvantaged when future schemes are put in place. Having lobbied (with other organisations) for such an assurance in a letter sent to the Secretary of State on 13 December 2017 we know that this announcement will be welcomed with relief by many farmers and will encourage those who held back to now sign up for such schemes..
Mr Gove’s vision of a world in which “if we want to preserve that which we cherish - a thriving agriculture sector, a healthy rural economy, beautiful landscapes, rich habitats for wildlife, a just society and a fair economy - then we need to be able to shape change rather than seeking to resist it” is one that is closely aligned to the GWCT’s vision for the future of British farming.
Agri-environment schemes which seek to reward farmers who seek the most ecologically positive ways in which to manage their farms is precisely the message that the GWCT supports. Our science will help to identify what can be done and how to do it to achieve outcomes which the farmer and society in general can both celebrate.
Speaking on behalf of the Trust, Director of Policy Alastair Leake said:
“We are delighted that the Secretary of State has identified the importance of rewarding those who conserve wildlife. It is refreshing also that he mentions the “vital matter” of soil health. Our research farm at Loddington is a world leader in examining this. Soil degradation and other types of Natural Capital will require a greater focus if we are to find ways of valuing them and rewarding careful stewardship in the future.”
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