Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: Predictions are unfashionable after the year that was 2016, but there are a few that can be safely made for 2017. Given long term trends we can be confident that in 12 months time there will be more people shooting, and just as many hunting and visiting the British countryside. We can also be fairly certain that there will be more people, cars, infrastructure and houses challenging the conservation of rural Britain.
What we can be less certain about is the future of agricultural and environmental policy that shapes our countryside and many of our lives. The Government has committed to maintaining agricultural payments at current levels until 2020 but, as Brexit negotiations begin in earnest, it will also have to start to outline a future British agricultural policy to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the coming months. Our colleagues at the NFU and CLA will be leading discussion with government, but we must never forget that farming has a far greater role than just the production of food.
The trendy jargon talks of agriculture providing ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘public goods’, which is really just another way of saying that generations of farmers have created and maintained landscapes which have extraordinary value for everything from tourism to water supply. The CAP, which has determined the shape of British farming for decades, has never been popular either with either farmers or environmentalists. Brexit provides a generational opportunity to create a policy which better serves farmers, consumer and the countryside. It also, however, brings obvious nervousness about such fundamental change, and concerns that there will be losers, as well as winners, in whatever results.
The Alliance will be focussing particularly on the wider impact of any new policy and in particular how that will affect the rural community. 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Alliance and we have just as important a role now as we did then.