As a nation we ask a lot of the countryside. It must feed us, attract tourists, be accessible for recreation and exercise, generate energy and store carbon. At the same time it must clean the air, provide an escape and inspiration, manage flood water, provide habitats for flora and fauna, and be a good place to live and work for rural communities. We ask all this and much more.
With so many expectations and many passionate voices pushing for their own priority to top the agenda, the fierce debate over visions for the countryside post-Brexit that has played out in the media over past weeks is no surprise. Farmers and environmentalists have been portrayed as battling with one another to influence Government to prioritise food production at the expense of environmental improvements, or vice versa.
In reality, working with Government to determine the right vision for the countryside will be a long and complex process but there is a starting point of consensus among those seeking to ensure their voice is heard: that farming needs to be more profitable and that we should all make use of the new opportunities to improve the environment.
Whether the motivation is passion for wildlife, recognition of public will, concern for the future of farming or dedication to stewardship of the land for the generations to come, there is no campaign for the UK to cease seeking to improve nature and the environment.
However agreement on how to achieve this important goal will take time. What are the best measures for improvements? Where should these actions be balanced alongside food production, recreation and the need for housing, roads or rail? How should government policy - and farm support - reflect this balance?
As these questions are explored more closely with Government over the coming months, it must not be forgotten that landowners and farmers are the people who look after the great British countryside day in and day out through careful environmental management. It is these land managers who manage woodlands, plant new hedges, sow wildflower seeds, create beetle banks, manage excess water, provide access and so much more.
Land managers want to continue improving biodiversity, helping tackle climate change and managing the UK's distinctive landscapes for this generation and for those to come but this work comes at a cost. If post Brexit policies do not ensure that farming remains viable, it will not just be the rural economy and local communities that fall apart, but also the delivery of land stewardship and environmental improvement work.
Brexit provides a unique opportunity to establish a long term, world-leading Food, Farming and Environmental policy that delivers better outcomes for our environment while also ensuring a resilient farming sector. Now is the time for Ministers to provide reassurance to farmers, landowners and all those who care about our countryside that this is their direction of travel.
'New Opportunities: The Case for a World-leading Food, Farming and Environmental Policy' can be accessed at www.cla.org.uk/newopportunities
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