Brussels warns of Highland ‘depopulation’ if subsidies are cut
The Highlands of Scotland face being depopulated unless existing levels of financial support for farmers under the EU are maintained, officials in Brussels have warned.
Rural communities risk a “calamity” of being starved of their economic lifeblood and stripped of essential services without the right level of subsidy. Environment secre- tary Michael Gove pledged this week that a new scheme to replace the EU’S Common Agricultural Policy would not see Scottish farmers lose out on the generous share of financial support they now enjoy.
Mr Gove said farm payments would not be “Barnettised” – meaning Scotland would not see its share of the cash calculated based on population. Scotland gets 18 per cent of UK CAP funds despite having just 9 per cent of the population.
However, he has also said payments would be based on how well farmers protect the environment, rather than paying them to produce.
In a blunt intervention in the growing debate over the future of farm subsidies after Brexit, a senior EU official told reporters that financial support was critical for the continuation of Highland rural life.
Asked about the impact of a cut in support, the official said: “The obvious implication is that farmers stop producing, which has its own consequences in terms of food security, but I think more importantly the consequences are potentially calamitous for the environment.
“Farmers are critically important stewards of the landscape and of the countryside and if you look at what has happened in the United States, where farmers have effectively abandoned land and left it, you have dust bowls and so on.”
The official added: “A very valuable eco-system is being sustainably managed by those farmers, who are essentially being kept on the land by those subsidies.
“It’s a cycle of money that maintains the viability of those small communities. If you take away the spending power of the farmer … you compromise the viability of the merchant and suddenly the whole eco-system starts to crack.”