Farmers ‘up for’ delivering environmental benefits post-Brexit, says NFU advisor

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project 2018 - from left: Robert Erith, David Bark

Speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project 2018 - from left: Robert Erith, David Barker, Fiona Cairns, Ruth Philo, Rob Wise, Nigel Chapman, Simon Amstutz - Credit: Archant

Many farmers are ready to deliver environmental benefits in a post-Brexit Britain, attendees at a Suffolk conservation forum heard last week.

Rob Wise, NFU

Rob Wise, NFU - Credit: Archant

Rob Wise, an environment advisor for the National Farmer’s Union, was speaking at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum 2018, hosted by Robert Erith at his farm in Lamarsh, near Sudbury.

Mr Wise was referring to the government’s proposals to redirect payments under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which are based on the amount of land farmed, to a new system of paying farmers “public money for public goods” - principally their work to enhance the environment and invest in sustainable food production.

Other public goods which could be supported include providing public access to farmland and the countryside, and measures to support the resilience of rural communities.

It has been estimated that £3.5bn, which is currently paid through CAP, could be redirected in any new system, which would come into force after the UK leaves the EU, offering the potential to significantly impact farming and wildlife.

Mr Wise said: “ Brexit offers an opportunity to look at how we do things - CAP has become increasingly prescriptive.

“One farmer said to me that he didn’t mind if he was producing a ton of wheat or creating habitat for butterflies and bees, as long as he can put bread on the table but one of the challenges is how to put in place mechanisms that reward farmers who are producing public goods.”

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Mr Wise said any trials should “get back to the simplicity of schemes we had 20 years ago, such as the ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) schemes”, which encouraged farmers to safeguard areas of high wildlife or historic value.

He acknowledged that the current Environmental Stewardship schemes had received criticism because they are too easy to enter, but said they had also brought about “a sea-change in the farming community”.

He continued; “There is a mindset change in that many farmers now consider multiple benefits - we’ve got a generation of farmers who are up for delivering multiple benefits.”

But green farming champion, David Barker MBE, said some farmers still have a lot to learn about sustainable practices.

He said: “There is an ignorance among some farmers and they will have to change the way they do things.

“If they are resistant to change they won’t get any public money - there’s a big learning curve coming for many people.”

On access, AONB manager Simon Amstutz said getting into the countryside brought many physical and mental health benefits and that people should be encouraged into it through walking, and bike or horse riding.

“But we need to ensure that all sections of society have access not just the ‘wealthy well’,” he added.

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