Prior to our vote to leave the European Union in June this year it was nigh on impossible to find an environmentalist who supported Brexit and after the vote had occurred there was a widespread gloom and fear about what the future held for the environment. However once Theresa May had made it clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ the mood rapidly changed and all the major environmental NGOs and others began to explore the opportunities that existed in re-designing the subsidy system after we left the Common Agricultural Policy. For example in August the National Trust issued a six point plan which set out what it thought a re-designed new scheme should include – see here. Dame Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General for example said “Public money must only pay for public goods. Currently, most of a £600m pot from the EU (out of the £3.1bn CAP funding) benefits wildlife and the environment. The majority of the remainder is allocated based on the size of farm. There will need to be a transition to the new world but this basic income support payment should be removed.”
I have also written recently about the Uplands Alliance meeting in London where options for the future were discussed – see here.
Yesterday another approach and contribution was launched, again involving the National Trust but this time in partnership with the Green Alliance ‘New Markets for Land and Nature. How Natural Infrastructure Schemes could pay for a better environment‘. You can download the report here.
For the past few years the National Trust have been developing their Land and Nature programme, an attempt to define and expand the Trust’s work in saving, creating and enjoying nature. One of the work streams was exploring new economic models for agriculture. This work carried out by the Green Alliance for the National Trust is the first major contribution to that debate.
The Executive Summary states “Agriculture is under pressure to increase production, reduce its environmental impact and eliminate its dependence on public subsidy. Many farming businesses are operating at the limit of their profitability, often to the detriment of soil health, water quality and biodiversity. Farmers are in a unique position to restore and protect the natural environment, but there is no commercial basis for the provision of natural services from farmland. This report sets out a mechanism for establishing natural markets to bring new income streams into farming, supporting a fundamentally different approach to land use.”
The report uses an ecosystem service approach and focuses on a market for ‘slow clean water’. They argue that by creating such a market water companies would not need to spend so much on pollution reduction and water treatment measures and bodies such as the Environment Agency, local authorities and insurance companies would not need to spend so much on flood protection schemes along with the costs of clearing up after such events had occurred.
This approach builds on DEFRA’s ecosystem payment model by increasing revenue with ‘a market for avoided costs’. The report suggests that the cost of floods and treatment for water pollution to be £2,373 million a year, equivalent to £24 million a year for each of the one hundred water catchments in England.
This diagram gives an overview of how Natural Infrastructure Schemes (NIS) and NIS Plus might work – driven by farmers and land managers and funded by industry / public authorities who save money from the avoided costs of pollution and flooding which then benefits a variety of different customers.
It is a very interesting contribution to the debate on post Brexit agriculture, the State of Nature, flooding and pollution. It offers a mechanism whereby farmers, especially those in the uplands can secure their financial futures by providing additional ‘public goods’ along with an albeit reduced farming output. It offers the opportunity of giving upland farmers a large, important and publicly valued societal role at a time when their own self esteem has been reduced by an otherwise unprofitable agricultural regime.