Contribution from Dr Peter Carey
1) In your opinion what are the biggest risks and opportunities for farming and the environment upon leaving the EU?
As others have mentioned, the quality of produce from UK farming is high and could continue to be so as long as there is market for it. I think it is highly likely that environmental standards will be at least maintained because we will want to continue trading with the EU and adherence to the Habitats Directive, Water Framework Directive etc. will probably be a prerequisite for this. I think, with public support (through democracy) there is an opportunity for the UK to strengthen some aspects of environmental regulation as we will be free of the inertia of the EU. I did not see any of the contributors so far mention building and infrastructure development in the countryside. Currently, development can be constrained by the UK implementation of European Directives if there are likely to be impacts on the environment (biodiversity and water especially). Will the constraints on planning be weakened by government if we leave the EU?
2) What do you see as the basis for future public payments for farmers and land managers? What, in your opinion, should public funding aim to deliver?
The Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy no longer serves the public need for supporting agriculture. I agree with others that a support system that can help protect the environment and the wildlife that lives in it as well as landscape aesthetic would be desirable. I have little idea what the population as a whole would think of this. There is obviously a pressing need for more funding for public services and without a rise in taxation I can only see the money needed for the environment reducing.
3) How should public support for farming be offered? E.g. Direct payments, Agri-environment payment, or other forms of financial (grants or loans)/non-financial support (advice, knowledge-exchange).
Targeted agri-environment schemes that we know have positive effects should be continued. Advice to farmers is vital and a single outlet for this would help. The reinvention of what ADAS used to do might be one way of doing this. Interviews with farmers show that they would really appreciate a single advice forum.
4) Do you see any potential for private financing to facilitate/replace public payments?
There is a potential for private finance to help the environment, but what proportion of the current level of support is not so easy to imagine. There has been some discussion that a premium on produce produced to high environmental standards could be charged. Produce would have to be traceable and carry some sort of ‘mark’. The supermarkets would collect the premium and pass it on. However, the supermarkets in a competitive market are not likely to be keen to do this.
Developers should be forced to ensure at least ‘no net loss’ of natural capital from their projects through the mitigation hierarchy (avoid, mitigate, compensate).
5) What direction do you believe future trade policies need to take, and how might this affect future agri-environment policy?
See answer to question 1
6) What impacts might the changes you envisage have on farmers and land managers?
I am not sure leaving the EU will have a larger impact than the current pressures on UK farming. In the uplands, the economics of farming will continue to be difficult for many.
6a) What might the wider impacts be on the countryside/rural communities?
In areas where horticulture and crops that still require labour to pick them (leaks for example) the lack of people to do the work could change the landscape quite dramatically. The population of the UK could suddenly decide that these are jobs are actually something they are prepared to do, but I doubt it.
6b) How might you propose to mitigate the impacts? Do you think any additional policy measures will be necessary and what might these be?
If policy continues to aim at reducing overall immigration then some form exemption for the agricultural industry may be necessary.
7) What impacts might the changes you envisage have on the environment (farmland biodiversity; wider biodiversity; soil health; water quality etc.)
Assuming we do continue to adhere to the current EU Directives or even improve on them then I think there is a relatively bright future for the environment. Where things do go wrong, or continued decline is predicted, as a community we must inform those that make policy in the UK. To do this we must have appropriate monitoring to gather the evidence. In the last decade the national capability of the UK has been weakened in this regard. Although citizen science has its place and is useful, some of the most important work requires professionals. This is because the training required to do the work can take a long time and because it is boring to do (not many citizens would do it).
8) How might your proposals secure the government’s commitment to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”?
We need to know what the state of the environment is and monitor how changes are taking place, otherwise the government can say what they like.
9) What impacts might the changes you envisage have on visitor/tourists’ perceptions of the countryside?
The countryside has changed considerably in recent decades and the vast majority of the public occasionally notice, often prompted by the TV or the media but do not normally. I wonder how many have noticed the disappearance of oil seed rape this year, for example. On the other hand it is difficult not to notice solar farms and wind turbines, and should these continue to increase then I would imagine perceptions of the countryside will change, not necessarily negatively. Removal of permitted footpaths created through agri-environment schemes could cause some comments.
10) What would be your 25 year vision for the future of farming, the environment and the countryside in the UK?
I think the UK countryside will continue to change as it always has, based on the economics of farm economics and land management. I do not think leaving the EU will make too much difference overall. Key changes will be determined by climate, the need for housing, recreation and the need to protect water and soil resources. Tree diseases could have a major impact on the UK countryside but we do not yet know. Development of new crops and forestry and techniques to grow them could have a big impact at a farm scale but as mentioned above at question 9 I do not think the public will notice.