Memorandum submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) (SFS 59)

 

Summary

 

1. The value attached to the food supply system by society is very closely linked to the animal welfare and environmental outcomes of farming and food production

 

2. Key strengths of the nation's farming industry include good animal welfare standards, effective agri-environmental schemes and close association with the great variety of landscapes found in Britain. These are at risk from narrowly productionist farming

 

3. The three processes most likely to damage locally distinctive landscapes and habitats on a wide scale are abandonment of less rewarding farm land, ruthless rationalising of farming techniques to cut costs, and renewed and increased intensity of farming on productive land.

 

4. From research CPRE undertook with the NFU, it appears that a weakness of England's food production system is the reliance of some farmers on the CAP Single Payment to remain economically viable.

 

5. We would like to see the CAP evolve into a new policy that delivers sustainable land management, a European Sustainable Land Management policy. The policy should reward farmers for the full range of environmental public goods that are produced through farming activity, while also being compatible with sufficient provision of high quality food and other production.

 

6. The onset of climate change means far more uncertainty than ever before over the viability and productivity of farm land everywhere in the world. Competitive advantage may one day come to our relatively temperate climate and rich soils in the event that growing conditions deteriorate in major commodity and food producing parts of the world.

 

7. A strategic approach to the integration of soil and farm land protection across all sectors of Government policy is thus urgently needed given the existing, accelerating and competing pressures on land.

 

8. We believe there will be an increasing need for research into how food production and environmental protection and enhancement can be successfully integrated and expanded. CPRE also believes an increase in the provision of agricultural training is vital for the future of sustainable farming in the UK.

 

9. There is a serious risk that a solely production and target led approach could lead to a level of environmental degradation through intensification last seen in the 1980s.

 

10. CPRE strongly believes that our farming industry is an immensely valuable national asset, with strategic, technical, environmental and societal contribution to make beyond the calculation of contribution to national prosperity from food and commodity production.

 

11. The monitoring of the effects of increased production should include both quantitative and qualitative measures, including landscape quality, biodiversity, archaeology and the viability of local food networks.

 

Submission

 

1. CPRE has led the debate about the purpose and the future of the countryside since its foundation in 1926. We have worked with successive Governments to ensure that the incomparable asset of the English countryside is retained and enhanced for future generations. CPRE works for a beautiful and productive countryside for both present and future generations.

 

2. We are closely involved in the debate over the connection between food production, rural businesses and communities and planning policy. We have pioneered work on these relationships (Food Webs, 1998 and The Real Choice, 2006). We are now continuing this work through Mapping Local Food Webs, a lottery funded project that will map local food networks and identify their benefits to local economies, communities, farmers and the countryside.

 

3. CPRE does not own land and this means that the perspective of our policy judgement is sometimes usefully different from that of leading land-owning environmental NGOs.

 

4. CPRE acknowledges the crucial role that food production plays in the management of the English countryside. We are also strongly aware of the importance of sustaining a farming community which has this expertise, together with the associated professions and businesses: veterinary practices; machinery maintenance, markets, product processors and trade support.

 

5. We gave evidence, both written and oral, to the House of Commons EFRA Select Committee during their inquiry into the Government's CAP Vision document (February 2006) and to the House of Lords European Union Committee, Sub-Committee D (Environment and Agriculture) inquiry on the Future of the Common Agricultural Policy (June 2007). We also recently responded to the Defra discussion paper, 'Ensuring the UK's Food Security in a Changing World' (September 2008).

 

6. Our responses are framed within the following question which CPRE believes is crucial to the issue of securing the UK's food supplies:

 

What should be the extent of land used primarily for food production and how should this be influenced by prioritising built development, protection of the natural environment or opportunities for innovations in research, technology and land management policy?

 

How robust is the current UK food system? What are its main strengths and weaknesses?

 

7. CPRE considers that the terms of reference for answering this question need to be broad. Many of the things which our society regards as strengths in our food system are related to the environmental quality associated with food production.

 

Strengths

 

8. We would draw the Committee's attention to two important strengths of much English farming which are of great importance to the majority of the population. These are good animal welfare standards and thorough implementation of EU Directives and policies aimed at improving the environment whilst conducting productive farming. The UK and British farmers has shown leadership in developing agri-environment schemes amongst EU member states. However, implementation of the Water Framework Directive and Nitrate Vulnerable Zones has been slow, and the Government and the farming lobby have opposed the development of a Soils Directive.

 

9. At the same time, CPRE notes that EU environmental and animal welfare legislation, agri-environment schemes and cross compliance are often alleged by some of the farming lobby to reduce the potential for viable food production in the UK. An alternative might be that farmers could elect to produce food to lower quality and environmental standards. Quite apart from environmental considerations, CPRE is unconvinced that this would be an economically sustainable route. It would relinquish the opportunity to benefit from the marketing advantage of added value and a reputation for quality. The farming element of the food system in this country remains, for the time being, within striking distance of re-establishing the valuable reputation of the farmer as hero. This should not be forgotten in a future dominated by production-led thinking.

 

10. CPRE believes a key strength of the England's farming is its close association with the variety of England's landscapes. The significant intensification or rationalisation of agriculture in England would have far more destructive consequences for landscapes and habitats than in many other countries. This is because of the intimate association over millennia of the productive use of land, wildlife habitat and the character of the landscape, by comparison with places in the world where productive agricultural land and biodiverse wilderness are much more segregated. Examples include much of Canada, the USA and the formerly collectivised farmland of some central European countries. An extract from a speech by CPRE's president, Bill Bryson eloquently describes the contrast between the quality of farmland in England and other countries. "If you suggested to people in Iowa, where I come from, that you spend a day walking across farmland, they would think you were mad. Here walking in the country is the most natural thing in the world, so natural that it is dangerously easy to take it for granted."

 

11. This harmonious relationship between farming and the environment is vulnerable, however. Significant restructuring of farming in England could lead to networks of semi-natural landscapes (our farmland), with combinations of management to which the majority of native species have adapted, gradually being lost. The variation across the country, expressed in the style, scale, age and pattern of field boundaries, woodland, farm buildings, livestock, crops and soil, would be suppressed or allowed to degenerate. The three processes most likely to damage locally distinctive landscapes and habitats on a very wide scale are the abandonment of unrewarding land, ruthless rationalising of farming techniques to cut costs, and renewed and increased intensity of productive farm land. All three are very likely if farming is encouraged to respond in an unmitigated way to market pressures and opportunities.

 

Weaknesses

 

12. From research CPRE undertook with the NFU in 2006 it is clear that a weakness of the UK's food production system is the reliance of many farmers on payments from the CAP to remain economically viable. The Government's Vision for the CAP (December 2005) supports the ending of the CAP. The cessation of the Single Payment is likely to have a profound impact on the profitability of some businesses, communities and families engaged in farming and land management. Some beneficial land management activities will become less easy to accommodate within farm businesses calculations. Means need to be found within an international agricultural trading system of providing sufficient incentives to ensure these continue where they are necessary. Where more competitive farming is likely to bring pressure for environmentally harmful activities, avoidance of these should be encouraged. Otherwise, the indirect costs to society in terms of soil and water quality and condition, as well as landscape and wildlife damage, will escalate in the long term. The recent results of the ten-yearly Countryside Survey by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology suggest a gradual overall coarsening of biological communities associated with farm land. CPRE recommends that the Committee considers this evidence carefully in its inquiry.

 

13. Before the CAP was established, national agricultural policies which damaged the environment were pursued explicitly in the name of food security. During the last twenty years, a gradual shift in funding, regulation and objectives on the part of Government, farmers and environmental NGOs has started to slow and in some cases reverse the damage with very little reduction in efficiency. Welcome animal welfare obligations have, in particular, imposed increased costs on the livestock sector. The issue of food security raises a variety of questions beyond the merits of the case itself: whether or not there is a need for "critical mass" in farming; the level of resilience of English farming businesses to world competition; the question of the export of environmental damage through the raising of environmental standards at home and the threat of these standards to our own farming communities.

 

14. CPRE is committed to helping the reconciliation of the national asset of our farmed landscapes on behalf of the whole population, farming interests and rural communities, and the demands on farm land and rural settlements which introduce urban, suburban, recreational or industrial processes and development. The new demands on land all make increasing demands on the use of land and the skills of those who manage and make a living from the land. We recognise that the competition between different interests is increasing. It is, therefore, becoming more important to establish clear policy objectives for the use and appearance of the countryside and to ensure clear processes exist to make choices over the nature and extent of rural development.

 

15. CPRE would like to see the CAP evolve into a European Sustainable Land Management policy. The policy should reward farmers for the full range of environmental public goods that are produced through farming activity, while also being compatible with sufficient provision of high quality food and renewable energy. Such a policy should avoid relying heavily on a global approach to food and energy security focused purely on markets which will be susceptible to extreme weather, global or regional economic instability and political events that could disrupt supplies.

 

How well placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by 2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable?

 

16. Opportunities for responding to the challenge of increasing global food production should not be calculated in purely productionist terms. CPRE believes it would be perverse for the UK to deplete the quality of its natural resources and its environment in a drive for production. The globalisation of food production has failed to address the critical issue of making sure supply and distribution networks deliver food to where it is most needed whilst avoiding serious environmental degradation. There is a need for caution in determining how much this country can contribute to targets for food production given its land area and society's commitment to high ethical and environmental standards.

 

17. Paradoxically, climate change could actually make the United Kingdom's farmland more valuable in global terms for its relative resilience and versatility. We will need to respond to the demands for energy production from land when the climatic pressures might set greater store (and greater price) by increased food production. Competitive advantage may one day come to our relatively temperate climate and rich soils in the event that growing conditions deteriorate in some major commodity and food producing parts of the world. Even if climate change is less severe than anticipated, there are likely to be very serious shortages of water for agriculture in many parts of the world in the near future. Our own relatively efficient use of water in food production will become a more valuable factor in world food production.

 

18. There is, in the opinion of CPRE, a serious risk that target driven food production policy could bring about the levels of landscape and habitat degradation associated with the early to mid 1980s. We suggest that this would, in the long term, be very damaging to farming interests. Society has spent the last twenty years paying handsomely to undo some of this damage.

 

19. Meanwhile, farming in this country is also put at a disadvantage through the serious decline in indigenous agricultural research and innovation work. As well as contributing to increased productivity overall, research could contribute far more to helping farming deal with changing climate, enhance production on a similar area without damage to the environment and finding new high value crops and low cost, effective cultivation and husbandry. In particular CPRE considers it to be an urgent priority to expand support and funding for research institutes beyond the ambit of university departments.

 

In particular, what are the challenges the UK faces in relation to the following aspects of the supply side of the food system? Soil quality; water availability; the marine environment; the science base; the provision of training; trade barriers; the way in which land is farmed and managed.

 

(i) Soil quality - CPRE has pressed for recognition of the importance of soils for over a decade. We have called for Government to protect soils more effectively by: linking agricultural support to good soil management practices; revision of the Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) system; raising the profile of soils in the planning system; and supporting the proposed EU Soil Framework Directive. Across the policy spectrum soil and the land space it occupies does not have the same priority in terms of environmental protection as air and water. A strategic approach to the integration of soils protection across all sectors of Government policy is urgently needed given the existing, accelerating and competing pressures on land. CPRE does not believe that current planning policy with respect to Best and Most Versatile (BMV) land gives adequate recognition to the importance of soils. The existing planning mechanism is now weaker, since the publication of Planning Policy Statement 7 in 2004. Previously, national planning policy stressed that BMV land 'should be protected as a national resource for future generations' (para. 2.17) and so 'land in grades 1,2 and 3a should only be developed exceptionally, if there is an overriding need for the development' and other land of lower grade and without overriding environmental value could not be found (para. 2.18). Under PPS7 protection of soils was downgraded and given parity with 'other sustainability considerations', with the inevitable effect of making the sealing and loss of versatile agricultural land more likely.

(ii) Water availability - CPRE believes that because of climate change there is an inherent danger in locating the majority of our arable crop production in the East of England. This emphasises the danger of the polarisation of single sectors in different regions of the UK. If the new demands of protecting water resources and managing the volumes, velocity and quality of water flows are added to farmer's ecosystem services management responsibilities, we have a huge portfolio of activities that place additional constraints of food production. These will require additional funding to agri-environment schemes.

 

 

(iii) The science base - CPRE is pleased that the Government now recognises the importance of agricultural research given the recent withdrawal of funding for Rothampsted and the closure of some of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology research facilities. We note that 400 million is to be provided over five years for international research and that Defra spends half its research budget of 300 million per year on the farming and food sectors. We believe there will be an increasing need for research into how food production and environmental protection and enhancement can be successfully integrated.

 

(iv) The provision of training - CPRE believes an increase in the provision of agricultural training is vital for the future of sustainable farming in the UK. It is interesting to note that there now appears to be a polarisation between training in agricultural skills and traditional land management skills where once these would have been one and the same. CPRE looks to rural development measures to provide the training needed. However, current levels of funding have meant the Government has had to prioritise agri-environment measures.

 

 

(v) The way in which land is farmed and managed - CPRE believes there is an urgent need for the CAP to evolve into a system of support for land management with a range of public benefits clearly stated as objectives. This could deliver public goods through farming which would compete in world markets. The attendant public benefits of competent and responsible agriculture would be accommodated through the financial support of a land management fund. CPRE strongly believes that our farming industry is an immensely valuable national asset, with strategic, technical, environmental and societal contribution to make far beyond the calculation of contribution to national prosperity from food and commodity production. Most of the landscape, access and habitats that we value require management which is intimately associated with the productive use of land. Our joint report in 2006 with the National Farmers Union, Living Landscapes: hidden costs of managing the countryside, illustrates this point very clearly. We identified landscape management activity conservatively estimated at 412m per year, beyond that directly stimulated or required through agri-environment schemes. This figure takes no account of work dedicated to wildlife management by farmers which will not always overlap with the landscape work we recorded in our research.

 

What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the food system in the UK, in terms of consumer taste and habits, and what will be their main effect? What use could be made of local food networks?

 

20. CPRE has campaigned on local food since the late 1990s and this work has combined understanding of local food economies, landscape management, retail planning policy and the distinctiveness of market towns. The work has built on Caroline Cranbrook's seminal Food Webs report (CPRE 1998) on the local food network - or food web - in the market towns and villages of East Suffolk. Further research in 2004 into the East Suffolk food web was published in The Real Choice. This emphasised the importance of local food to the survival of local retail infrastructure, enterprise, land management, diversity of the area and general economic, social and environmental well being.

 

21. CPRE joined a partnership led by Plunkett Foundation in submitting a bid to the Changing Spaces Programme of the Big Lottery Fund in 2006. CPRE's part in the programme is a joint project with Sustain to equip local community groups to survey and document their local food networks, and to disseminate these findings at local, regional and national levels to promote supportive policy change. The full portfolio of projects is entitled 'Making Local Food Work'. The programme aims to show how the needs of land and people, producers and consumers are interdependent, and that community enterprise can make this connection in a mutually beneficial manner

 

What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the UK food system are maintained and in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified? What leadership and assistance should Defra provide to the food industry?

 

22. CPRE believes that a key factor in making the UK food supply system resilient is to maintain diversity of production. This suggests the role of supermarkets in influencing the scale and location of production needs to be tackled. The proposed impact test in draft Planning Policy Statement 6 should work to increase diversity of sources of supplies of food, not restrict it. If the proposed impact test fails to retain the diversity of food retailing this could lead to a reduction in entrepreneurial stimuli with fewer more dominant retailers.

 

How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the regulatory framework for the food supply chain? Is there a coherent cross Government food strategy?

 

23. The need for Government departments to work together is illustrated in the drafting of Planning Policy Statement 6 by the Department of Communities and Local Government. The cause of viable local food networks could be greatly strengthened if there were closer collaboration between Defra and DCLG. CPRE welcomes the Foresight study on future land use challenges. This includes the Government Land Use Project led by Defra to identify 'the policy tools and levers needed to optimise our use and management of the land' to 2050 and beyond. Departmental relationships with the Treasury will be of particular importance due to the ongoing review of the EU's Budget which could have important consequences for funding of the CAP and rural development measures.

 

What criteria should Defra use to monitor how well the UK is doing in responding to the challenge of doubling global food production by 2050 while ensuring there such production is sustainable?

 

24. Defra should consider amending PSA targets to take account of the potential pressures of increasing food production. Environmental monitoring criteria that will be needed to measure the sustainability of food production should include landscape condition, archaeology, biodiversity, (through existing PSA targets and the Countryside Survey) soil, water, and carbon emissions. CPRE is concerned that quantitative measurements are likely to be favoured over the more difficult task of qualitative monitoring of the effects on the environment of increasing food production. However, it is the qualitative experience of the countryside that visitors care about most. It is our view that it will be essential to monitor changes to landscape character through further development and expansion of landscape character assessment such as Natural England's Countryside Quality Counts work.

 

CPRE

January 2009