Brus­sels warns of High­land ‘de­pop­u­la­tion’ if sub­si­dies are cut

The Scotsman - - News Digest - By PARIS GOURTSOYANNIS

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.”

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