When the UK leaves the European Union at the end of March next year, one of the biggest sectors affected will be farming. For the last forty years agriculture has been largely governed by rules from the EU and supported by payments through the Common Agricultural Policy. The Government has promised to continue to pay farm support at existing levels until 2022 but identified that there will need to be a new policy in place after that.
We are expecting a consultation from the Government in the very near future on the way forward for land management post-Brexit and we are hoping that this will signal major changes. It was heartening, therefore, that at the National Farmers Union conference today Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment has reiterated the Government’s belief that any future support for land management must be based on the principal of public money for public goods.
I believe the most important public good we should pay for is environmental protection and enhancement. The work farmers do to ensure our soils can sustain growth in the future, woods are planted to prevent flooding and provide a carbon sink and hedgerows and other habitats provide a home for wildlife should be properly paid for.
A sustainable land use policy
We have been campaigning for a number of years to change the existing artificial separation of forestry and farming administration. This separation has led to confusion and complications on the ground and reduced the ability to deliver a sustainable land policy.
As the Secretary of State has identified, trees are one example of how a natural resource should be an integral part of an innovative, leading and sustainable food and farming sector. Integrated into farming systems, trees contribute by the provision of shade, shelter, water and pollution management, soil protection (preventing erosion), soil sustainability through support of microorganisms and addition of valuable nutrients, pollination, integrated pest management and product diversification. At the same time they help to improve the biodiversity and connectivity of the natural landscape, and in some situations they provide additional ecosystem services by way of heritage and tourism.
Real on farm benefits
Many of the farmers we work with can demonstrate the benefits. Stephen Briggs is an arable farmer in Cambridgeshire who has used tree planting to tackle his soil erosion problems while also getting an additional crop.