Recovery of nature must be at heart of government’s proposals for the future of food, farming and the environment

Thursday 10th May 2018

photo Zsuzsanna bird

Call to recognise the value of wild places as government consultation closes

The government consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment once we leave the EU has closed after receiving over 44,000 responses. This is a huge moment for the future of our natural heritage and wildlife - and so The Wildlife Trusts were among those who submitted responses.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the consultation document’s suggestion that the public purse should pay farmers and land managers for delivering the benefits that they cannot sell but that society needs. Public money for public goods is vital if we are to restore uplands to hold water and prevent flooding in towns, create new wildflower meadows for pollinators and improve the fortunes of farmland wildlife like barn owls and brown hares.

However, The Wildlife Trusts’ consultation response asked for a more ambitious strategy to arrest decades of wildlife decline and allow natural ecosystems to recover. We want to see the following addressed in the Agriculture Bill when it is published later this year:

1. Nature needs to recover. To make this happen, we need to change the way we look after our land; we need spatial planning for nature’s recovery; we need a Nature Recovery Network. This will help restore and reconnect fragmented and lost habitats - which are critical to nature’s recovery and to our own health and prosperity.

2. Small is beautiful. Most of England’s wildlife depends on the remaining areas of semi-natural habitat that are less intensively farmed. Small wild havens such as Local Wildlife Sites which are of high ecological value, are disadvantaged by the way the current agri-environment system - Countryside Stewardship - scores applications for funding. A future land management policy must rectify this issue.

3. Because they are worth it. Payment levels to farmers and land managers can be too low to make entering Countryside Stewardship worthwhile. They must be better rewarded for the natural assets they maintain and the ecosystems services they provide in a future scheme - things like clean water, natural flood risk management, and improved natural habitats. You can read more about what we think farmers and land managers should be paid for in future here, in our proposals for a future land management policy in England.

Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust Chief Executive says: “While we welcome the overall direction of travel, the Government proposals for agricultural legislation do not meet the ambitions set out elsewhere in the consultation document, nor do they meet what we feel should be set out in a future Environment Act.

“The consultation document says that “In 25 years’ time, we want cleaner air and water, richer habitats for more wildlife and an approach to agriculture and land use which puts the environment first.” It is vital that the agricultural legislation says this too. It will also need to include some targets, otherwise, how will we hold government to account, and how will we know when we have got there?”

In this region, Northumberland Wildlife Trust urged its supporters to respond to the Government consultation and would like to thank everyone who stood up for wildlife by submitting their own response.