The agri-environment sector is concerned that it may be disadvantaged when the present Countryside Stewardship system is replaced by a better, post-Brexit scheme. Julie Liddle explores the issues.
The government is being urged to ensure farmers and landowners with a Countryside Stewardship agreement do not lose out when new and improved environmental land management payments are introduced after Brexit.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), along with a number of other agri-environment organisations, have written to environment secretary Michael Gove, calling for assurances that there will be fairness for all, during and after Britain’s departure from the EU in 2019.
Agri-environment sector leaders are demanding an even playing field
Ministers have indicated that a post-Brexit settlement will continue to provide support for achieving optimum environmental outcomes which will be more straightforward and effective. This has led to a reasonable expectation among farmers and land managers that future schemes will be more attractive than current ones.
As a result, there is widespread concern that farmers and land managers may be reluctant to restrict their access to new and better schemes after Brexit if they sign up to five-year deals under the present Countryside Stewardship system.
Mr Gove is under pressure to give farmers and land managers the confidence to carry on with current schemes that produce positive environmental outcomes.
Lack of government assurance is already impacting the sector
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer believes some potential applicants for Countryside Stewardship are already wondering whether to press ahead or hold back until the new improved, post-Brexit scheme is implemented.
He and other agri-environmental sector leaders say this would have a damaging impact on environmental management, while increasing the risk of a funding squeeze by Defra in the European Rural Development Fund. This, they fear, could happen at precisely the time greater participation should be encouraged.
Another major worry is that the uncertainty around current and future stewardship systems is jeopardising the fortunes of wildlife that has prospered as a result of the present and previous schemes.
Support for urgent government assurance is broad and deep
The breadth of organisations supporting the call for a guarantee of even-handedness underscores the strength of feeling in the agri-environment community.
As well as the CLA, the lobbying is backed by the National Farmers Union, Tenant Farmers Association, RSPB England, The Wildlife Trusts, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Trust and Farm Wildlife Advisory Group.
Mr Gove should act now and give farmers and landowners the assurances they – and our environment – urgently needs.