Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by The Wildlife Trusts (AB32)

Response to House of Commons Public Bill Committee - Agriculture Bill

1. About The Wildlife Trusts

1.1 The Wildlife Trusts are a movement of more than 800,000 members, 40,000 volunteers, 2000 staff and 600 trustees, from a wide range of backgrounds and all walks of life. We manage over 2,300 nature reserves for the benefit of wildlife and people. We are commenting on the Agriculture Bill in our capacity as land advisors and major landowners in our own right. We manage almost 100,000 hectares of land and own 31 working farms which we manage positively for wildlife, as well as giving advice to more than 5,000 landowners each year.

1.2 We are part of Greener UK – a group of 13 major environmental organisations, with a combined public membership of 7.9 million. We are united in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment.

2. Introduction

2.1 The Wildlife Trusts protects, champions and acts for wildlife and wild places on land and at sea. We believe that people are part of nature; everything we value ultimately comes from it and everything we do has an impact on it.

2.2 Nature is valuable in its own right and is also vital to our long-term economic prosperity and our individual wellbeing. It sustains us with fertile soil and provides water and pollinators for our crops. But the natural world is in long term decline. Urgent action is required and as 70% of the UK’s land area is farmed, agricultural policy is vital to this.

2.3 There is an economic as well as a social and moral imperative to improve and maintain our country’s natural infrastructure – our rivers, woodlands, peat bogs and meadows – our natural capital. Farmers need to be rewarded for the work they do that delivers benefits or services they cannot sell but that society needs.

2.4 Nature needs to recover. To make this happen, we need to change the way we look after our land - we need to make space for wildlife, to better protect and join up important places for wildlife – we need a Nature Recovery Network [1] .

2.5 The Wildlife Trusts believe that we need to put the health of our environment at the heart of our future agriculture and land management policy – which means designing a new system based on environmental outcomes and public benefits.

3. The Agriculture Bill

3.1 The Agriculture Bill represents a unique opportunity to put in place the measures to support nature’s recovery. The Agriculture Bill should be aligned with a future Environment Bill that we believe must, amongst other things, legislate for: (a) statutory targets for environmental recovery, including by statutory mapping of Nature Recovery Networks; and (b)

environmental principles by which our society should live.

3.2 We believe that the Agriculture Bill should ensure:

· Substantial government funds are allocated to the creation of new and expanded habitats for wildlife with appropriate provision of public access;

· Farmers and land managers are rewarded for delivering these and other societal benefits for which the market cannot pay, such as clean water, carbon rich soils and flood mitigation; and,

· That regulation of farming prevents damage to wildlife and ecosystems that would not only compromise wildlife now but would limit the ability of future generations to grow food and timber and have access to clean water.

4. Proposed amendments to the Agriculture Bill

4.1 The Wildlife Trusts welcome the plans in the Agriculture Bill to grant powers to allow the provision of funding for public goods; but to achieve nature’s recovery at scale the Bill needs to:

· Have a clear purpose and objectives if it is to change the course of land management into a truly sustainable system.

· Include a duty to establish a new system of payments for public goods as well as a duty to ensure any interim funding for productivity is for sustainable production only.

· Establish legally-binding targets aligned with the future Environment Bill targets expressed through statutory Nature Recovery Plans towards which agriculture will contribute.

· Deliver long-term funding at the scale required to meet these targets and wider government stated ambition.

· Ensure a strong regulatory baseline is established and enforced.

These five points are expanded below.

4.2 Defining the purpose of the Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill is currently mechanistic rather than visionary. We believe that a broad purpose should be added to the Bill which clearly sets environmentally sustainable land management as an objective, and which is supported by the payment of public money primarily for the provision of public goods.

4.3 Payments for public goods and ensuring no environmental harm

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the focus on public goods in the Agriculture Bill’s accompanying policy statement; but the Bill contains no duty on the Government to make payments for public goods, nor to have an environmental land management scheme. The Bill therefore currently lags behind the Common Agricultural Policy, which requires Member States to have an agri-environment scheme and should be rectified.

We want to see the Bill define financial assistance for productivity by restricting it to only those activities which deliver sustainable, innovative and humane production. This might include switching to more sustainable farming methods (e.g. low/minimum tillage). Otherwise payments could be made for activities which damage the environment such as mass planting of Sitka spruce which improve financial productivity but damage the environment. The Bill should also include a duty to ensure funding does not harm the environment.

4.4 Ambitious and legally binding targets for nature’s recovery

New legally binding targets are needed to guarantee the delivery of the Government’s ambition in its 25 Year Environment Plan for clean air and water, public access to high quality natural green spaces, healthy soils, connected and quality habitats and abundant wildlife including pollinators. The Agriculture Bill should require the Government to develop and set specific, measurable and timebound environmental land management targets to deliver this ambition. These could set the path towards the Environment Bill.

4.5 Long-term and sufficient funding

Crucial to the success of the Government’s proposed new Environmental Land Management system will be guaranteed long-term funding which is set at the level required to deliver its ambition to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Farmers need to be paid properly paid for managing their land to deliver public goods and agreed contracts may last from 5 to 15 years.

A report by The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB found that at least £2.3 billion a year is required to ensure the UK meets it current environmental land management commitments [2] . The Bill should therefore create a duty on the UK Government to routinely assess the scale of financial need and to allocate long-term funding in a way that ensures its ambition and targets are met.

4.6 Public investment targeted through Nature Recovery Maps

By taking a strategic and spatial approach to payments it will be possible to improve the state of our rivers, reduce flooding, join up habitats for wildlife and improve people’s access to nature. The delivery of the new Schemes should therefore be guided by statutory maps designed to drive the recovery of nature and should support the development of the Nature Recovery Network.

4.7 Regulatory baseline for all

The Agriculture Bill says little about regulation beyond the ability to establish an enforcement and inspection regime for new financial assistance payments. We would like to see the current review of Farm Inspections and Regulation inform the Agriculture Bill by proposing that it enshrines strong regulation for all - regardless of receipt of payments. Only this will provide a safeguard for nature on our farmland as well as in our cities and wild places.

October 2018


[1] The Wildlife Trusts, 2018. Towards a Wilder Britain. Creating a Nature Recovery Network

[1] to bring back wildlife to every neighbourhood Available here: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/nature_recovery_network_final.pdf

[2] Assessing the costs of Environmental Land Management in the UK, Final Report, 2017, RSPB, The National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts. Accessed at: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/RSPB%2C%20The%20National%20Trust%20and%20The%20Wildlife%20Trusts%20-%20Assessing%20the%20costs%20of%20environmental%20land%20management%20in%20the%20UK.%20Final%20report..pdf

 

Prepared 30th October 2018