Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

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

Watch John on Coun­try­file on Sun­day evenings on BBC One.

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