A plan for Britain?

In case you missed the fuller details here is the 12 point plan that Theresa May announced yesterday regarding the UK’s decision to leave the EU – entitled ‘Plan for Britain’.

  1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
  2. Control of our own laws
  3. Strengthen the union between the four nations of the UK
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
  5. Control of immigration coming from the EU
  6. Rights of EU nationals in Britain and rights of British nationals in the EU
  7. Protect workers’ rights
  8. Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
  9. New trade agreements with other countries
  10. The best place for science and innovation
  11. Co-operation in the fight against terrorism
  12. A smooth and orderly Brexit

Pretty disappointing not to see either the environment or climate change specifically mentioned.

The New Economics Foundation published a short response to the speech – here and it suggested that the government’s plan would lead to reduced workers’ rights and watered down environmental protection.

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Donald Tusk, the EU President issued this tweet

Quite a lot of people on Twitter were suggesting that May was trying to ‘have her cake and eat it’, but I guess you have to start  the process somewhere.

There is a long process ahead now and let’s hope it doesn’t just lead to a cliff edge.

 

 

Reaction to Theresa May’s Brexit speech

Various representatives of the farming industry have been expressing their opinions after Theresa May’s speech on Brexit where she clearly stated that we will not be in the Single Market or part of the Customs Union. See here.

Here are the views of the National Farmer’s Union.

Here are the views on a ‘hard Brexit’ (which is what we are getting) from the National Sheep Association.

Sheep

Whilst it had been trailed that we would be leaving the Single Market, the reality is now beginning to sink in.

Upland farmers in particular must be in shock.

It is now very difficult to predict what is going to happen next – nothing I suspect until Article 50 is triggered in March and then maybe nothing substantive until a ‘deal’ is done.

That’s a long time to wait immersed in uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

Monbiot in Farmers Weekly

The current edition of Farmers Weekly contains an interview with George Monbiot – here it is

monbiot-1

And here is the editorial

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I was pretty surprised to find this – farming at the moment is really on the back food – looks like there will no access to the Single Market and George Monbiot’s views are now becoming pretty mainstream! Something else for the farming lobby to counter.

The rules of the sea

Yesterday I went to a course  which started the process about becoming a cox for Exmouth Gig Club. Here are a few photos from my note book.

coxing-1
Different types of buoys – lateral buoys: red on the left (port), green on the right (starboard) – mark the navigable channel when entering a port; cardinal markers – locating hazards and various other buoys.

coxing-2How has priority on the sea and how to avoid collisions

coxing-3Blasts on the horn along with spring and neap tides

coxing-4The rule of twelfths and the impact of highs and lows

coxing-6Buoys in the Exe Estuary

coxing-5And how they really are from the Exmouth Tidetable 2017

A great day – thanks Max

The Uplands Alliance and the National Trust

The Uplands Alliance held a meeting yesterday in Cumbria about the future of the uplands after Brexit.

Dame Helen Ghosh, the Director General of the National Trust was one of the speakers.

Here full speech can be read here. She finished her presentation with the following words ‘There is change coming and we need to face into this together.  But upland farmers have proved over the centuries that they are resilient and adaptable and those traits will be needed again over the next decade.  If we work together, with a clear sense of our common goals, there is a bright future for farming, landscapes and nature. You can count on our commitment and support.’

The National Trust and various Cumbrian farmers have recently been involved in a very public spat over Thorneythwaite Farm – see here and therefore this speech by Ghosh appears to have gone a long way to re-build bridges.

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As I have said before – united we stand, divided we fall

 

 

World Trade Rules & the policy options for British agriculture post-Brexit

Yesterday I came across a paper ‘World Trade Rules & the policy options for British agriculture post-Brexit’ by Alan Swinbank, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Reading. You can download it here.

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It is a good read though in parts it is bewilderingly complicated. Trade agreements are complex to negotiate simply because what suits the UK won’t necessarily suit the country we are negotiating with. In addition the agreement the UK reaches with the EU27 must be agreed as a starting point and May has already hinted that we won’t be part of the Single Market. Running a scheme also to support farmers either by future subsidies or by ‘public money for public good’ schemes is also complex and governed by World Trade Organisation rules (the green, blue and amber boxes).

The paper conjured up in my mind the playing of a dozen games of 3D chess simultaneously….

Here are the key points from the summary

  • The EU has influenced UK food supplies and prices, the profitability of farm businesses, the rural environment and land use, in a number of ways, for example through agricultural subsidies and a highly protective trade regime. UK agriculture is probably larger and less efficient than had it been less subsidized.
  • Brexit is an opportunity to redesign policies to better suit the UK. Post Brexit, taxpayer support to the farm sector is likely to be reduced, and to become more focused on environmental goals. But WTO rules on financial support to agriculture would have to be respected.
  • Maintaining a ‘soft’ border with Ireland could be difficult if trade barriers are erected between the UK and the EU.
  • New trade deals with third countries could
    be incompatible with any future UK-EU trade regime: and may expose UK farmers to tariff and quota-free access from highly competitive overseas suppliers.
  • Food prices will be influenced by: the post- Brexit exchange rate; extra transaction costs involved in trading outside the Customs Union and Single Market; and the UK’s new food trade regime. Liberal, free-trade, policies could result in lower food prices in the UK, whilst a protectionist policy could see them increase.

And it concludes as follows

‘Farmers might reluctantly accept a drastic cut in direct income support (or greater emphasis on enhanced environmental outcomes) if tariff protection remained, but would probably protest vigorously if both tax-payer funded support and tariff protection were removed in a double-whammy. And Conservative MPs with rural constituencies could well support their cause.’

I now understand why some say it will take 10 years or more to sort all this out……

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More on Purple Moor Grass – Molinia and water levels

In my blog yesterday I wrote about the the rise in abundance of purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) on Dartmoor, the challenges of suppressing its dominance along with the role that aerial pollution may be playing in encouraging it – see here. Today I am looking at the performance of Molinia in situations where the water table has been deliberately raised so as to restore and rewet degraded peatlands.

Molinia ‘is most abundant and grows most vigorously on sites where there is ground water movement, good soil aeration and an enriched nutrient supply’ according to Taylor et al (2001). One might suspect therefore that on sites where the water table is high – reaching the surface, and constant Molinia might be at a competitive disadvantage to other wet loving species.

Peat

Over the centuries many peatlands in the UK have been drained either for agricultural purposes or for peat cutting. Today conservation organisations are attempting to restore many of the remaining drained fragments of these original peatlands. Thomas (2015) described such an approach in the Manchester Mosses Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It should be noted that the Manchester Mosses are lowland raised bogs and not upland blanket bogs such as we get on Dartmoor. Nevertheless these remaining fragments of peat had been drained and were dominated by Molinia. The restoration work carried out  on a variety of reserves within the Manchester Mosses SAC was carried out by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Warrington Borough Council. At all three sites it  became impossible to maintain raised water levels as the adjacent land had been fully drained and all the sites had ditch networks which further facilitated drainage. The restoration work at these sites involved blocking ditches and installing plastic piles around the perimeter to stop the water from escaping. The three sites combined totalled 193ha and therefore such an approach although expensive was feasible. Once the water levels had been raised it had a dramatic impact on the Molinia dominated swards – in all cases the Molinia declined and was replaced by such plant species as Sphagnum mosses and cottongrass.

Anderson (2015) describes work carried out on the North Yorkshire Moors and the Peak District. Both these areas have been severely impacted by sulphur dioxide pollution (from heavy industry since the Industrial Revolution), this has led to acidified soils which ended up killing many of the sensitive plant species e.g. Sphagnum mosses. In addition these areas attract huge numbers of visitors and as a result these Moors have suffered from a large number of accidental and deliberate wild fires. These two factors combined with heavy sheep grazing led to erosion and gulley formation (which drained the otherwise wet peat) on these moors on a very large scale. Restoration work has been going on for several decades now in the North Yorks Moors and the Peak District to try to undo the damage caused by pollution, overgrazing and wild fires. This has involved blocking gulleys with thousands of small wooden dams and in many cases the aerial re-seeding of the Moors with heather. Prior to the commencement of this restoration many of these areas had become dominated by Molinia.  The dams in many places have resulted in the raising of the water table which in turn has seen the Molinia decline and wetland species such as Sphagnum return.

Examples from the uplands and lowlands showing that where water tables can be raised sufficiently the rise and expansion of Molinia can be halted so that sites of conservation importance can start their journeys back to favourable condition.

The Exmoor Mires Project aims to deliver multiple ecosystem service outcomes by restoring peatland areas of Exmoor previously drained as part of historic conversion to agriculture or during peat cutting activities. Since 2006 the Project has restored around 2000ha of peatlands at over a dozen sites. Smith et al (2014) describe the results of their vegetation monitoring of the Project. On sites where water levels were successfully raised they have clear evidence which shows that the original Molinia dominated communities have been replaced more species rich wetland ones. At several sites the Molinia swards prevailed after the restoration work had been carried out but the authors blame failures in the ditch blocking and bunding works i.e. the water levels were not raised sufficiently to remove the Molinia.

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More recently on Dartmoor via The Dartmoor Mires Project,  a series of pilot projects have been carried out to rewet small areas where erosion had been taking place. The situation on Dartmoor regarding moorland erosion is very different from the situation described earlier in the Peak District and the North Yorkshire Moors. Dartmoor did not receive very high levels of sulphur dioxide from the Industrial Revolution on account of its south westerly location and the direction of the prevailing winds. Unlike Exmoor, the Commons of Dartmoor did not see the level and extent of agricultural drainage in the second half of the 20th century.

The pilot Dartmoor Mires Project has however successfully demonstrated at least at some of the sites that raising water levels via small scale dams in localised areas of erosion can lead to a  reduction in the area of bare peat (at Blackabrook Head, Blackabrook Down and South Tavy Head ) and that the process of paludification re-commences, i.e. new peat is formed, along with an increase in ‘beneficial mire species’ (at Blackabrook Head, Blackabrook Down and Winney’s Down Area 1). However to date there has not been a decrease in the abundance and distribution of Molinia. In the control site (where no rewetting was carried out) however the abundance of Molinia did increase (Lunt 2015). It is however fair to say that the Dartmoor project has not been running for very long and when the sites are re-surveyed in the future it could be expected that Molinia will start to decline as has happened on the other sites discussed.

At the moment work on the Dartmoor Mires Project has been halted whilst an evaluation of the results to date is carried out. It will be interesting to see whether following the pilot scheme, work will recommence on a large scale which may then have a bigger impact on parts of the Molinia dominated moor.

References
Anderson P. (2015) Molinia – the importance of controlling water and other management techniques. In Meade (2015) pp39-54.
Lunt P. (2015) Dartmoor Mires Project Vegetation Analysis 2015. Download here.
Meade R. (ed) (2015) Managing Molinia. Proceedings of a 3-day conference 14-16 September 2015, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK. National Trust. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/marsden-moor-estate/documents/managing-molinia.pdf
Smith D.M.,  Barrowclough C., Glendinning A.D.  &  Hand A. (2014) Exmoor Mires Project: Initial analyses of post restoration vegetation monitoring data. In the Bog Conference September 2014. Download  here.
Taylor K., Rowland A.P. & Jones H.E. (2001) The Biological Flora of the British Isles: Molinia caerulea. Journal of Ecology 89: 126-144.
Thomas P. (2015) Problems with Molinea caerulea in the restoration of lowland peat bogs – Manchester Mosses Special Area of Conservation (SAC). In Meade (2015) pp127-133.