COUNTRYFILE ISSUES WITH JOHN CRAVEN
WHAT IS THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT’S TRUE VALUE?
What is the countryside’s true value?
The pressures on the English countryside are greater than ever. Which is why 46 conservation groups, from the National Trust to Buglife, have come together to create a vision that puts “the restoration of the natural environment at the heart of plans for the future management of farmland, rivers, lakes and wetland”.
The coalition calls itself Wildlife and Countryside Link (or LINK, for short) and the government, which is drawing up its own blueprint for the countryside, should take heed of its proposals. After all, there is power in LINK’s numbers: those 46 organisations have over 8 million supporters while the entire membership of our political parties was, at the last count, around 750,000.
“Now is a pivotal point in the history of food, farming and our natural environment,” says LINK. “The government has ambitious plans for farming to deliver increased food production, investment and jobs. At the same time, many of our current approaches to food and farming are environmentally, economically and socially unsustainable.”
What is needed, LINK believes, is joined-up thinking that also protects and improves the soils, freshwater and habitats that underpin sustainable farming. In assessing the industry that covers 69% of land in England, LINK concludes that the overall trend is one of dwindling wildlife and ongoing environmental degradation. However, while acknowledging that many farmers have a deep commitment to nature, landscapes and animal welfare, LINK didn’t talk to the National Farmers Union (NFU) about its concerns.
“It would have been helpful if we had been consulted,” says Dr Diane Mitchell, chief environment advisor to the NFU. “Because farmers are passionate about our countryside. They’ve been working extremely hard, particularly over the past 25-30 years, to protect and enhance millions of hectares of British countryside.”
According to LINK, the true value of the natural environment needs to be recognised and public money, such as CAP subsidies, invested to deliver healthy soils, clean water and thriving landscapes. It calls for long-term planning that ensures the natural environment is embedded within farming and water policies and practice; for measures to maintain and rebuild water and farmland nature habitats; for more positive responses to climate change and better enforcement of penalties for those who pollute.
Hannah Freeman, from LINK’s Water Matters team, says that during the past 30 years, freshwater species have declined by 76%. “Despite such losses, less than 1% of the UK’s entire river length and only a small proportion of wetlands are formally protected,” she says.
The Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss was at the launch of LINK’s proposals and highlighted positive trends, such as farmers using a third less nitrogen and fewer than half the phosphates than 30 years ago.
She also said she looked forward to working with LINK to find new solutions and build a truly integrated approach to the environment. That action is needed quickly because, although the £200 billion rural economy needs boosting, it should come at no further cost to the natural beauty upon which it is based.
“Only 1% of the UK’s entire river length is formally protected”
As farming occurs on 69% on the British landscape it can have a huge impact on the environment – for better or worse