The first major Agriculture Bill for over 70 years has now been published, promising a cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit
Currently farmers receive €4 billion in subsides each year, which is divided up related to the total amount of land farmed. For current subsidies farmers do not need to ‘do’ anything.
The new Bill proposes farmers are paid for delivering public goods; things we cannot buy in a shop, like clean water, flood attenuation, thriving wildlife and healthy soils.
Funding a 'Green Brexit'
The headlines are good. But as with everything, the devil will be in the detail.
This new approach will need substantial investment and coordination to ensure the right public goods happen in the right places for people and wildlife.
And the big elephant in the room is the funding. How do the Government plan to fund their ‘Green Brexit’? No details have been given on this so far.
Carrot vs Stick
The Government reiterated at the launch that they were committed to:
“maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective”.
This is where we at S&TC have the greatest concern.
Current enforcement is just not fit for purpose. It is totally under-resourced.
We are all for having a big juicy carrot for farmers, but it must be accompanied by an equally proportionate stick where required.
The data from our own Riverfly Census indicates that many rivers in England and Wales are suffering from the impacts of excess phosphates and fine sediments from poor agricultural practices. This impacts wild fish populations, from smothering their spawning redds, to reducing the invertebrates they feed on.
For the small minority of farmers which do pollute, sometimes repetitively, strong action must be taken.
What happens next
The Bill proposes a long timetable, where the current system of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy will continue until 2021, then a seven-year transition period to the new system, where the old payments will gradually taper off.
Like most environmental charities, we have lobbied for years for this vision where farmers are rewarded for delivering for the environment- creating a sustainable future for farming and the environment alike.
We will see over the next few months, as the Agriculture Bill makes its way through Parliament, if that vision can survive.
However, in order to achieve a truly cleaner, greener and healthier environment post Brexit, enforcement, or the current lack of it, must be addressed too.
To help us take action against agricultural pollution visit our ‘see it, photograph it, report it’ campaign.
By Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science & Policy at S&TC