Ellie Brodie issues a challenge to MPs: Be the countryside’s Santa not Scrooge this Christmas!

Yellowhammer - Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

It's time to act. The future of our countryside is being determined by the Agriculture Bill.

Our country’s future may be in doubt right now – but the future of our countryside is being determined as the Agriculture Bill quietly ploughs through parliament; the coming weeks could prove critical in deciding whether nature continues to decline in the country – or recovers. MPs will soon to have a choice on the kind of future they want for our countryside, farming and wildlife. Step into the Tardis with me and imagine it is nearly Christmas, 2028, ten years on from Brexit chaos! Here’s what things could look like if MPs support The Wildlife Trusts amendments that would create a greener Agriculture Bill. I’m calling this scenario Santa’s Bountiful Wildlife Grotto…

Visionary MPs back in 2018 realised that nature is valuable in its own right and is also vital to our long-term economic prosperity and our individual wellbeing. Realising they had the power to stop wildlife’s decline they voted for Greener UK’s – the main nature charities - amendments to the Agriculture Bill which successfully made its way through to becoming law.

Here’s what things could look like if MPs support The Wildlife Trusts amendments that would create a greener Agriculture Bill.

Ten years on and our world-leading Environmental Land Management Scheme pays farmers and land managers for their hard work meeting targets that ensure clean air and water, healthy soils, public access to high-quality natural green spaces, connected and quality habitats and abundant wildlife including pollinators. Crucial to the success of the Government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme was guaranteed long-term funding set at the level required to deliver its ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Now wildlife is thriving again because farmers are being properly paid from budgets that are set well in advance so they’re able to plan ahead to deliver these public benefits across their land.  

The satellites that take photos monitoring the land for signs of pollution or degradation have helped to bring down the costs of enforcing regulation because farmers know that if they allow sediment, slurry or chemicals to run off into nearby streams and rivers, they no longer stand a 1 in 200 chance of being caught by a visit from an inspector – they will be found and fined.

Agritourism is thriving as visitors from around the world come to see the success story of wildlife thriving on what were once arable deserts.

However, let’s imagine a plausible alternative scenario - Scrooge’s Ultimate Wildlife Grab becomes reality instead…

It’s Christmas 2028 and funding for farmers and land managers has been slashed in government spending review year on year, with record low investment in looking after our land -  three quarters of which forms the farmed countryside. The Environmental Land Management Scheme was abandoned and public money is spent on paying farmers to produce cheap food.

Soils are degraded and wild habitat has shrunk. Wildlife  declines have been compounded by the absence of environmental targets for nature’s improvement, because no one - farmers, civil servants or politicians - stretched themselves to meet them. There was no vision, ambition or accountability. And now there is no agri-environment scheme either. Back in the early 2020s farmers were so unsure of whether they would get fairly paid for the public goods they provide for society, from creating habitats for pollinators to reducing the risk of flooding, that many decided not to bother.

Instead, they used a government lump sum (the so-called delinked payment) for machinery to help them apply ever more toxic chemicals. Now bees are threatened with extinction in the South and East of England and anglers can no longer fish for brown trout as our waters are too contaminated. In fact, we no longer have much loved species in our countryside – hares, dormice and water voles have all gone extinct.

Doesn’t sound so great, does it? But this is where we could be without action this Christmas from MPs.

So, it’s over to MPs who could help make our vision a reality. To each and every MP I ask: please make your vote meaningful in the report stage of the Agriculture Bill!  Read our briefing on how.

Ellie Brodie is Senior Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts

Brown hare

Brown hare by David Tipling/2020VISION