Incoming east boss vows to keep up campaign to cut red tape and combat hare coursing

Ben Underwood is taking over as eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association

Ben Underwood is taking over as eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association from Nicola Currie, who is retiring. - Credit: Su Anderson

Farmers and rural entrepreneurs in East Anglia will have a new champion following a key regional appointment at the CLA.

Ben Underwood, pictured left, said it would be “a privilege and a great honour” to become the CLA’s eastern region director in January, taking over from Nicola Currie.

Mr Underwood, originally from Sussex, has previously worked as the association’s conservation adviser and assistant director for the south-east before his current role as CLA director in Wales, lobbying ministers in the devolved government.

He said although the landscape – both geographical and political – may provide very different challenges on the opposite side of Britain, the key issues are very similar.

“The principles in terms of what the CLA is lobbying for are the same,” he said. “That is, to enable farmers and landowners to make informed decisions about how they run their business, without the shackles of endless regulation, and other bodies sticking their noses in and being blinkered about their objectives.

“For example, we are often representing landowners and rural businesses in a room of 20 other interest groups, from environmentalists to renewables companies, who all want to have their say on what landowners do with their land. We are there to broker that discussion and make sure the landowners are able to benefit from opportunities and policies on the horizon. That does not differ between Wales and East Anglia – it is the same principle of defending the interests of the farmer and the landowner.”

Mr Underwood said his first priority would be to meet the association’s regional branch committees to hear about the localised issues affecting farmers and landowners in the east.

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He is also keen to maintain the profile of long-running CLA campaigns to reduce red tape in the planning system, to prevent illegal hare coursing and to encourage more share farming agreements.

And, with a general election on the horizon, he hopes to begin the process of putting the concerns of farmers and landowners to prospective parliamentary candidates.

“That is when the process of influencing begins, rather than waiting to find out which of those people becomes elected,” he said.

“A key question mark in the next four or five months will be the detail and the understanding of the Common Agricultural Policy, and then we lead into the changes in the agri-environment portfolio, with the new Countryside Stewardship schemes – so there is a lot to be getting stuck into.

“Another big issue for the east is flooding – inland waterway management, coastal realignment and coastal defence. This is the bread basket of the country, with very high grade farmland. That’s one big difference between East Anglia and Wales, where most of the land is Grade 3 or 4. So there is really a case that we need to protect this land because it is going to provide our food security going forward.”