Putting the environment back into farming.

One result of Brexit is that the UK will be leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU’s farming support programme. This, it is argued, has been responsible for much of the loss of biodiversity that has been evident over the last thirty years. Going back a decade or more, the only objective of the CAP was to increase the quantity of food being produced in the EU. Headage payments meant that farmers were paid per beast, no matter how degraded their land became as a result.  Wine lakes, barley mountains…..you name it, the EU paid for it.  It led to rapid intensification of agriculture all over the EU. This crazy system was eventually revised but farmers are currently paid according to how much land they own, with no maximum payment. It is a bit of a racket for those already having the deepest pockets. Ironically, but typically, those systems with the least negative impact on the environment, like organic farming, which is generally relatively small-scale, currently receive no additional subsidy at all.

In most of Wales agriculture is uneconomic without the EU subsidies that farmers receive. The millions of sheep roaming the Welsh hills would soon disappear if subsidies were taken away, and what a good thing that would be – some might say! But it is not that simple, unfortunately, because traditional Welsh rural culture (including the language) is deeply rooted in upland farming communities. (For more on farming in the Welsh uplands, click here)

When he was appointed the UK Farming and Environment Minister Michael Gove surprised us all by immediately declaring that he was “a closet environmentalist”, and meeting representatives of the big wildlife organisations very soon after taking office. Since then he has famously come up with the mantra “Public Goods for Public Money” – the former, in this case, meaning environmental benefits. Put simply, after Brexit,  farmers will no longer be subsidised unless they put something back into the landscape. As farming and environment are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, the latter is now putting its own slant on UK national policy. It is currently consulting widely on how its own agricultural support system will work in the future in Wales.  A rather dull WAG document called “Brexit and Our Land” has been produced and we are being invited to respond to it.

Fortunately, the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and WWF have read it for us and produced standard documents that we can just sign and send, or that can be adapted to send a personal message to the Welsh government;  I used the RSPB version. When you click through to the correct page you are asked if you would like to personalise your response; if so there are three questions for you to answer. Once you have finished you can review the final document. To my surprise the points that I personally made were rather cleverly incorporated into a standard letter which made it look like I really knew what I was talking about!

It was widely accepted that Welsh farmers largely voted “leave” in the Brexit referendum. It was said that on June 24th 2016 the Welsh hills were metaphorically loud with the sound of firearms as farmers shot themselves in the foot. It only later seemed to became clear to them that the EU subsidies which they are reliant upon would cease once Britain left. I have very mixed feelings about Welsh farmers. It is true that they “follow the money”; in other words, if they are offered subsidies to produce sheep then that is what they will do. You can understand that. And I have no doubt that there are many who appreciate their surroundings and do what they can to maintain them in a wildlife-friendly condition.

But equally there are those to whom nature will always be “the enemy”, to be subdued, and if necessary destroyed, at every opportunity.  I met one last year while I was doing a bird survey, near my home in Ceredigion, perhaps the epitomy of rural Wales. Even I was shocked at what he had to say,  the gist of which was this:

“……there are far too many red kites around now……they should be shot…..”

How someone like that will adapt to his new circumstances it is difficult to imagine.

So, for those of you who live in Wales, you still have a chance to repond to the WAG consultation.

Stage 1 : Click here 

Stage 2 : Click on one of the logos at the bottom of the page

Stage 3 : Follow the instructions on the page you have selected.

There is plenty of information for you to digest if you wish to make a personal response as well.

But remember, the closing date for your response is October 30th.


To read more Tales from Wild Wales, scroll right down to the bottom and click Follow




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