Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:

An audience of over 150 people gathered to hear the Defra Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, in conversation with me at our ‘Brexit Breakfast’ event at the Conservative Party Conference on Monday.

After successful fringe meetings at the Lib Dem and Labour Party conferences the Alliance team moved on to Manchester this week to tackle the Government on key issues of rural policy.

The Secretary of State started by setting out his vision for the countryside and said that in 15 to 20 years’ time the countryside would be “healthier and more productive” than ever before. I asked if Defra was ready for Brexit and Mr Gove assured the audience that his department was changing to meet its new demands and said he had a “mild prejudice” to keeping Government departments in the same shape and said that there was merit in combining environment and farming in one department.

Discussing a new agricultural policy, I said that some upland communities were concerned about proposals for radical policies for landscape scale land use change. Mr Gove said that upland communities were “vital” and was committed to supporting upland farming. However, he said that the Government might want to see some areas of “experimentation” to try and capture the benefit of the land in other ways and said that some changes in land use had benefits for tourism and other industries.

On the Brexit negotiations Mr Gove said that securing tariff-free access to the EU market for food and farming was “an uber high priority” although he stopped short of calling this a ‘red line’ for the Government. I specifically raised the importance of trade with Europe to the shooting industry with the movement of game birds, firearms and ammunition, and Mr Gove said it was the Government’s aim to maintain tariff-free trade across the entire supply chain for the rural economy which would also include shooting.

On post-Brexit policy Mr Gove said that the UK had played a part in some EU regulations that had helped improve the environment, however there were others that could be improved. Interestingly he also suggested that Brexit offered the opportunity to create new institutions to capture the desire to deliver rural policy on the basis of principle and evidence.

We were extremely grateful that the Secretary of State sacrificed a normal breakfast (he did eventually manage to eat a bacon sandwich) and so much of his time for what we certainly feel was a very worthwhile meeting.

You can listen to a full recording of the meeting or watch a video of the meeting on Facebook.

In addition, you can listen to a full recording of the Wildlife Law meeting with Professor Roger Scruton and Jim Barrington which took place on Tuesday 3rd October. Read more here.