Defra Secretary Michael Gove has outlined his plans for a ‘Green Brexit’, including a domestic agricultural policy that rewards farmers for protecting and enhancing the environment.
In a speech at WWF’s Living Planet Centre, Mr Gove described himself as an ‘environmentalist because of hard calculation as well as the promptings of the heart’. “Unless we take the right environmental action we risk seeing more species die out, with potentially undreamt of consequences in terms of the health and balance of nature,” he said.
He said Brexit create an ‘historic opportunity to review our policies on agriculture, land use, biodiversity, woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity, air quality and so much more’.
“Leaving the European Union means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, taking back control of environmental policy,” he said, describing the CAP along with the Common Fisheries Policy as ‘the two areas where the EU has most clearly failed to achieve its stated environmental goals’.
“Both have been reformed during their lives, and improvements have been made, but they are still not designed to put the environment first,” he said.
“The Common Agricultural Policy rewards size of land-holding ahead of good environmental practice, all too often puts resources in the hands of the already wealthy rather than into the common good of our shared natural environment, and encourages patterns of land use which are wasteful of natural resources and often intrinsically poor value rather than encouraging imaginative and environmentally enriching alternatives.”
He confirmed the Government we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022 and said he wanted to ensure ‘we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come’. “But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear,” he said.
Need for reform
He highlighted the ‘high quality food’ farmers produce and their role in protecting and enhancing ‘beautiful landscapes’, such as the Lake District, as reasons why Government support for farming is justified.
“While continued support is critically important, so is reform. And indeed I have been struck in the conversations I have had with organisations like the NFU, The Farmers Union of Wales and the CLA that it is farmers themselves who most want the CAP to change,” he said, citing the CAP’s bureaucratic constraints and the way it holds back productivity and impedes progressive environmental stewardship.
“And from all the conversations I have had so far I with farmers, land owners and managers I know there is a growing appetite for a new system of agricultural support which puts environmental protection and enhancement first.
“That means support for woodland creation and tree planting as we seek to meet our aim of eleven million more trees. Because trees are not only a source of beauty and wonder, living evidence of our investment for future generations, they are also a carbon sink, a way to manage flood risk and a habitat for precious species.
“We should also support those land owners and managers who cultivate and protect the range of habitats which will encourage biodiversity. Heathland and bog, meadow and marsh, estuaries and hedgerows alongside so many other landscapes need care and attention if they are to provide home to the growing diversity of animal and plant life we should wish to encourage.
“And alongside encouraging greater bio-diversity, I also want to see higher standards of animal welfare. We need to take action to tackle the trade in illegal ivory, improve scrutiny of what happens in our abattoirs, move on circus animals and examine the future of live animal exports. Cruelty towards animals driven by man’s worst exploitative instincts needs to be met with the full force of the law.”
NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “A future agricultural policy must be comprehensive in its range, comprising measures for protecting the environment, improving productivity and managing volatility.
“The NFU set out its vision for a new domestic agricultural policy in March, and we share the Secretary of State’s view that we should seek a bold and ambitious policy once we have left the EU. It is important that we see a broad and innovative range of measures to ensure farmers continue to deliver all the benefits – for our wellbeing, for our economy and for our environment – that the country enjoys.
“Such a policy needs to be comprehensive, providing support to farmers not just for environmental work, but also to manage risk and volatility, and to improve productivity and resilience among farming businesses.
“It needs to be properly resourced, maintaining current levels of public investment in UK agriculture so that the industry remains competitive. And it needs to be planned, with a sufficient implementation period to allow farmers to adjust to a new system, ensuring certainty and stability for farm businesses.”
British Veterinary Association President Gudrun Ravetz said: “We welcome the focus on good environmental practice in the Government’s early plans to replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP payments, however there must be greater emphasis placed on animal health and welfare as part of a comprehensive policy moving forwards.
“After all, as the Secretary of State acknowledged, the success of our agri-food sector is built on the UK’s reputation for high animal welfare standards, and good animal health status.”
Former Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said: “Michael Gove promised to maintain payments for farmers, now he’s breaking that Brexit promise and the chickens are coming home to roost.
“This speech does nothing to address the huge uncertainty farmers face over the long-term viability of their businesses. Gove has glossed over the crucial issue of whether farmers will be hit with tariffs when selling to customers in Europe.
“If high tariffs and lower subsidies put small farmers out of business, it will be the end of the family farm as we know it. The bottom line is that the best way to protect British farmers is to defend our membership of the single market.”