Nature and wildlife are valuable in their own right and are vital for both our long-term economic prosperity and our individual wellbeing. They sustain us with fertile soil and provide water and pollinators for our crops. But the natural world is in serious long-term decline. Urgent action is required and, as 70% of the UK’s land area is farmed, agricultural policy is vital for working to reverse that decline.
The Wildlife Trusts welcome the direction of travel set out in the Agriculture Bill with powers to fund the delivery of public goods. To ensure it truly supports the recovery of nature we, alongside Greener UK (a coalition of environmental NGOs), are calling for the Bill to:
- Ensure guaranteed long-term funding at the scale required to meet current and future environmental commitments and wider Government ambition.
- Include duties, rather than simply powers, for Ministers to further the maintenance, recovery and restoration of the natural environment.
- Establish specific, measurable objectives and ambitious targets to drive the recovery of nature.
- Ensure that payments for improving productivity are dependent on safeguarding environmental outcomes.
- Maintain high standards in trade.
- Establish strong regulation to protect the health of animals, the environment and access to the countryside.
It is important for our economy to improve and maintain our country’s natural infrastructure – our rivers, woodlands, peat bogs, meadows - our natural capital. This cannot be done through the open market so there is a strong case for government intervention. Farmers, though, can sell the food they grow through the market and they should not be subsidised for this.
Previous efforts to subsidise the growing of food were environmentally damaging. Instead there should be substantial and guaranteed funding in ecological recovery which gives confidence to farmers to invest in modern sustainable production for which they are then fairly rewarded for by the market.
The Agriculture Bill should work with the Environment Bill to lay the foundations for a new approach to land management which would support the recovery of nature. This should include the creation of Nature Recovery Networks.