Upland farming and the environment were key points in the minister's plans . Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Upland farming and the environment were key points in the minister's plans . Photo: Bob Smith/grough

A charity that campaigns for national parks has given a cautious welcome to ministerial plans to overhaul farm subsidies after Brexit.

UK Government Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the current system should be changed to encourage land owners and managers to care for the countryside.

The Campaign for National Parks said it is hopeful Mr Gove’s announcement means future payments will encourage environmentally friendly practices that will enhance England’s national parks.

The Tory cabinet minister, a keen Brexiteer, said in a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference that the EU’s common agricultural policy is a fundamentally flawed design.

“Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes,” he said.

“It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth.

“It bids up the price of land, distorting the market, creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity.

“Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient and also incentivises an approach to environmental stewardship which is all about mathematically precise field margins and not truly ecologically healthy landscapes.

“As recent scholarship has shown, the so-called greening payments have scarcely brought any environmental benefits at all.”

The CNP said comments he made at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, a gathering of smaller producers, later in the day on Thursday repeated the points announced at the main event.

It said: “Campaign for National Parks supports the shift towards the use of public money to reward the delivery of public goods.

“Mr Gove also recognised the important role that upland farmers have played in keeping rural communities alive. Campaign for National Parks believes the upland landscapes in our national parks provide a significant contribution to the economy and in shaping England’s iconic landscapes.

“However, current management practices fall short in delivering the full spectrum of public benefits that these areas can deliver.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Photo: UK Parliament CC-BY-3.0

Environment Secretary Michael Gove. Photo: UK Parliament [CC-3.0]

The Environment Secretary said: “I want to ensure we develop a coherent policy on food; integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.

“Government must recognise that its interventions need to be targeted, proportionate and limited.

“Subsidies linked to the size of land holding, or headage payments, reward incumbents, restrict new thinking and ultimately hold back innovation and efficiency.

“I also have a responsibility to ask if all the incentives and Government interventions everywhere in the food chain work towards economic justice and social inclusion.

“So that does mean on the one hand that means asking how we can support those farmers, for example upland sheep farmers, whose profit margins are more likely to be small but whose contribution to rural life and the maintenance of iconic landscapes is immense.

“And on the other it also involves taking action to end the currently indefensible situation we have at the moment where food producers are incentivised to send perfectly edible and nutritious surplus stock they have not sold to waste plants rather than charities who can distribute it to individuals in need.

He said there is no inherent tension between productive farming and care for the natural world.

“Building on previous countryside stewardship and agri-environment schemes, we will design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.

“We will also make additional money available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale.

“Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this government. We are committed to ensuring we leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. And leaving the European Union allows us to deliver the policies required to achieve that – to deliver a Green Brexit.”

He added: “Public access I know can be contentious and I won’t get into the weeds of the debate on rights of way now.

“But the more the public, and especially schoolchildren, get to visit, understand and appreciate our countryside the more I believe they will appreciate, support and champion our farmers.”

CNP chief executive Fiona Howie: 'current system has failed'

CNP chief executive Fiona Howie: 'current system has failed'

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Campaign for National Parks, said “The current system has largely failed to deliver the environmental improvements our national parks desperately need.

“We have been consistently calling for a payments system based on the provision of public money for public goods, so we welcome Mr Gove’s intention to develop such an approach.

“We want to see a new system that supports farmers and land managers to protect and enhance our national parks. It must enable these beautiful areas to be more resilient to climate change and deliver a wide range of public benefits, including more wildlife, better protected cultural heritage, high quality landscapes and even more appropriate, recreational opportunities.”

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. England’s national parks hit by 28 per cent cuts
  2. Actor Caroline Quentin joins Campaign for National Parks as president
  3. Chancellor George Osborne protects national park funding despite Defra cuts
  4. Activities will celebrate young national park champions
  5. Lake District and Yorkshire Dales expansion inquiry opens tomorrow