Make the countryside matter
The countryside is at a political crossroads. CLA President Ross Murray explains why now is the time for everyone, wherever they live, to come together to shape its future
Make the election count, urges CLA President Ross Murray
The British countryside is the eighth wonder of the world and the envy of many. We are fortunate to be part of it and must not forget our mutual interest in preserving its quality, its natural state and many purposes, its continued viability and our ability to share it with those who live in towns and cities. The countryside matters to everyone, all the time.
For it to succeed, however, there needs to be investment and strong leadership. Brexit brings us to a fork in the road: for the past 43 years, most of the oversight, regulation and support for the countryside has come not from our own government, but via the eu. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been just that: common to a diverse range of countries, peoples and climates, its budgets, rules and environmental laws shaped elsewhere. The CAP has been the master of many, but insensitive at times to national and local needs.
The Prime Minister will understand all of this—she is a geographer, after all—and, given that she’s called a General election, there is no better time to ask her and all other candidates what their intentions for the countryside are [Country Life will analyse the rural credentials of all party manifestos next week, May 24].
I don’t believe that any candidate or party seeking election on June 8 would want to cut off the funding that ensures our land and landscapes are managed in the best interests of future generations or ensures that we have safe, secure, high-quality and affordable food.
I am optimistic that the next government, of whatever colour, will continue to invest in the countryside, but I’m not complacent, because there are competing demands on the public purse. Therefore, we have to make the positive case: we have to show that a public and private co-investment in our countryside is a shared priority. We have to do this, not just during the election, but throughout the crucial months ahead to help shape the countryside policy that will emerge in various forms throughout the UK.
A strong farming industry is the heartbeat of a successful countryside. Given the right conditions and investment—and Government leadership—it can thrive. A new generation of farmers needs to be inspired to improve their industry: its profitability, output, levels of investment and skill sets, as well as the natural environment in which it sits. We must help farmers to work together and in new ways for the better performance of their own businesses as well as the wider economy.
The CLA suggests that a step change in conservation can be based on a new contract between the farmer and the state—a partnership that clearly sets out goals, rewards and penalties for both parties, as in any contract, and one that pays a fair return for the services provided, such as managing the land to store and clean water, to create and maintain wildlife habitats and to meet the right standards of food production.
A strong farming industry is the heartbeat of a successful countryside’ ‘For the past 43 years, most of the regulation and support for the countryside has come via the EU
These objectives are what the CLA’S Countryside Matters campaign is all about. It’s about giving everyone a chance to show that they believe the countryside should be a priority, that it’s a worthy public investment and that the return on that investment benefits us all.
The CLA will be out and about making this positive case throughout 2017. We will be mobilising those who live and work in the countryside to ensure their voice is heard at this critical juncture. Above all, we will be reaching out to those who live and work in towns and cities, whose love for the countryside is no less strong, to help them to understand why investment is needed.
Together—individuals and a coalition of like-minded organisations—we can grasp the opportunity that lies ahead. We can leave political leaders in no doubt that supporting the countryside is the right thing to do and that a living, working countryside benefits us all.