A good start for environmental and social outcomes, but don’t forget the economic!
Environmental Secretory Michael Gove’s end of term speech given at the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Centre in late July appears to have signalled a return to policy planning from electioneering.
In his speech Gove focused on the environmental returns that Government (and lobbyists) are looking for from a post-CAP deal for UK agriculture. Much of what he said will have been music to the ears of leading lobbying organisations such as the RSPB and National Trust who were making calls for a significantly increased environmental focus to farm support during the June election.
Gove’s speech was strongly focused on environmental issues.
He was robust, pointing to environmental damage and social inequity which he seemed to suggest has arisen as a result of the CAP, citing the significant loss of farmland birds, continuing erosion of fen land soil, a system that rewards size of land holding ahead of good environmental practices and encourages patterns of land use that are wasteful of natural resources.
He was ambitious; talking of the need to restore nature and reverse decline (as opposed to simply slowing deterioration).
He was also positive; talking of ‘generously supporting farmers for many years to come,’ of the importance of long term landscape scale stewardships and of the importance of ‘the human ecology of rural areas.’
There was little talk of economic outcomes from an agricultural policy, beyond food production, but that was to be expected given the context of the speech and the audience.
At Rural Solutions we are pleased to see this commitment to long term stewardship and intent to support social as well as environmental outcomes from land use policy and payments. In our view it is also vital that as this debate moves forward the economic strand of sustainability and stewardship also comes to the fore. Economics are a key part of this debate, not least because the (mainly urban dwelling) public will be likely to get as tired of paying for environmental management that they don’t get to directly experience as they have of paying basic farm payments over time.
Just as importantly however because the economics of a real living working countryside encompass far more than farming.
To that end, we welcome the CLA’s proposals relating to Land Management Contracts and are pleased to see that they include economic and social outcomes alongside environmental. The nine outcomes include maintaining the distinctiveness of places, historic landscapes and heritage and providing opportunities for enhanced access to green spaces and land based recreation facilities.
This is good, not just because these outcomes are important (and valued by many) but because they also have to be paid for by landowners and managers out of earned, and taxable income.
And whilst we are not about to argues that diversification, commercial and leisure projects should be included in a direct subsidy regime we do feel it important that the use of land and buildings for such activities is recognised as valid and included within the scope and frame of reference of Land Management Contracts in order that it doesn’t become characterised as peripheral and not core to a balanced and sustainable land management approach.
We will be watching this debate closely and working with colleagues and friends at the CLA to promote an economic focus alongside the social and environmental.