Trying to make sense of farming and the environment one winter morning

I can’t remember a day when there was so much going on in the world of farming, the environment and Brexit. It is only 10am and I’m currently trying to follow at least four different stories.

  • The Oxford Farming Conference kicked off this morning with a key note speech from Andrea Leadsom, which was followed by George Eustice – both Defra ministers.
  • The Oxford Real Farming Conference is also taking place – almost in a parallel universe – at midday they will be debating rewilding.
  • The Environmental Audit Committee have launched their report on ‘The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum’.
  • And there is a headline on the front of the Western Morning News saying ‘Moors could be left to Nature’ following a leaked draft of the Government’s 25 year plan for Nature.

Leadsom and Eustice
Andrea Leadsom started and said ‘As we prepare to leave the EU the fundamentals of the sector are strong’ – really? In December I wrote a piece about the state of English agriculture – see here – the Defra figures show that not one sector of English agriculture, other than poultry is viable without the Basic Payment Scheme, agricultural-environment money and diversified income.


How can these figures be made to suggest that the ‘fundamentals are strong’?

To see how important the Basic Payment Scheme money is you only have to look at the campaigning (quite rightly) by the NFU to ensure that payments are made in a timely fashion.


Leadsom went on to talk about red tape ‘My priority will be common sense rules that work for you’. Again I find this odd – surely the rules should work for the tax payer and the environment?

She also returned to her dual commitment: the environment and profitable farming ‘We can do more for our stunning natural environment and we can export more of our food, drink and innovations to the entire world’. There is a lot in her speech about exporting and I am left rather confused about what has happened to domestic food security.

As to specifics though e.g. post Brexit CAP, trade and farming policies these will have to wait as a Green Paper will be launched on these matters by Defra later in the year. You can read Andrea Leadsom’s full speech here.

George Eustice said ‘Brexit is an opportunity to take a more holistic approach to the environment’. He also began to give an insight into what post Brexit agricultural support might look like.


Eustice also revealed this bombshell!


George Eustice also suggested that future monies would be targeted at farmed land

An interesting development for those campaigning against Driven Grouse Shooting and the conservation of Hen Harriers!

Environmental Audit Committee & the Future of the Natural Environmental after the EU Referendum
The EAC published this report this morning – you can download it here

The report highlights three main threats to farming as a result of our decision to leave the EU

  1. leaving the Common Agricultural Policy will threaten the viability of some farms
  2. trade agreements which impose tariffs or non-tariff  barriers to UK farm exports similarly threaten farm and food business incomes
  3. new trading relationships with states outside the European Union could lead to increased competition from countries with lower food standards, animal welfare standards and environmental protection

The report also highlights ‘The EU provides a number of strong legislative protections to the UK environment. The Birds and Habitats directives will no longer apply in UK law even if the UK remains in the Single Market, which has the potential for far-reaching negative impacts on the UK environment.’

As a result they make 7 recommendations

  1. The Government must commit to a new Environmental Protection Act before triggering Article 50.
  2. Access the resources necessary to replace CAP funding to ensure farm remain viable.
  3. The Government must ensure that the 2 Defra 25 year plans (Environment and Farming) are fully co-ordinated
  4. If the UK leaves the Single Market then the Government should state clearly what new measures need to be put in place to maintain food safety and security, protect British agriculture from tariff and non-tariff barriers and ensure the UK maintains our current level of environmental protection.
  5. Before Article 50 is triggered the Government must identify legislation which may be diffcult to transpose to ensure full public and parliamentary debate and scrutiny.
  6. Before Britain leaves the EU the Government must have clearly established the environmental objectives and governance model to be used for any future land management payments.
  7. Defra must, as part of leaving the EU, ensure that plans for post-EU environmental coordination between the countries of the UK is sufficient to ensure that funding is allocated fairly and transparently, with shared strategic objectives complemented by minimum environmental standards, so that the UK can continue to meet its international obligations.

This is a good report and it has been widely welcomed – the question remains though does the Government want to strengthen environmental laws? And does Defra have the capacity to do what the report suggests? This will keep the environmental NGOs busy over the coming months.

The Real Oxford Farming Conference and rewilding

I have been impressed with the CLA’s Christopher Price (standing and talking) for many months now when it comes to his attitude towards nature and the environment. Here he is talking about rewilding – 10 years ago you wouldn’t have heard such a view from the CLA – all very interesting.

The man blowing his nose is Charlie Burrell from Knepp, next to him is the National Trust’s Patrick Begg and next to him is Derek Gow – the ‘beaver man’.





Twitter is a wonderful thing but it’s not the same as being there! But at least I’m getting a flavour.

Moors could be left to nature

This is the front page of the Western Morning News – Moors could be left to Nature – I haven’t been able to track down this article yet but it appears to be based on a leaked draft of the Defra 25 Year Plan for Nature. It suggests that subsidies could be removed from parts of the uplands of the south west thus allowing rewilding to occur on a landscape scale.


This is my initial response from earlier today. I think it is far to say that this will not go uncontested!

So ……

How do we make sense of all of this –

the strong fundamentals of agriculture, no subsidies, public money for ecosystem services, a stunning natural environment, strong exports, rewilding, a New Environmental Protection Act

Catch 22 meets Brave New World?

What a morning and no doubt much more to come.