by Liam Stokes

Countryside Alliance’s Head of Campaigns Liam Stokes writes:

As another successful festive season comes to an end in the countryside, we at the Alliance are turning our sights to the challenges of 2019. Among these challenges, none loom so large as Brexit, and this week Defra Secretary Michael Gove used his speech to the Oxford Farming Conference to highlight the scale of the task his department faces in securing a post-Brexit future for farming.

Much of the media coverage of Mr Gove’s speech has focussed on the threat of a “No Deal” Brexit, and the turbulence such an outcome would create for the agriculture sector and particularly for small farmers and businesses.

Supporting small farmers, who define and support so much of our countryside, has been a key objective of the Alliance throughout the Brexit negotiations. Last month we worked with a cross-party group of MPs to table an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, an amendment that would allow upland farmers to receive Government funding for maintaining our much-loved upland landscapes. It was good to hear Mr Gove use this speech to recognise the role upland farmers play in “maintaining some of our most iconic landscapes,” and although we share his concerns about the impact a “No Deal” could have on these farmers and the communities they support, it was also refreshing to hear him acknowledge these risks so candidly.

There was a lot to like about Mr Gove’s speech. He recognised the need to maintain the UK’s reputation for high environmental and animal welfare standards. He restated his commitment to the very best levels of digital connectivity across rural Britain. And he clearly stated the importance of “human ecology” when setting agricultural policy, something the Alliance has long been calling for.

Mr Gove was also keen to point out that “a nation as adaptable, resilient and creative as ours can and will flourish” regardless of the outcome of Brexit. Adaptable, resilient and creative: a perfect description of the working countryside the Alliance exists to support, protect and promote.

The festive period always shows the working countryside at its very best. We have received a deluge of pictures and stories from people out enjoying the countryside at Boxing Day and New Years Day meets and shoots all over the country. These are the high days of our rural community, and they represent the culmination of the year-round work that underpins the economic, ecological and social fabric of the countryside. It is in this interconnected rural community that Mr Gove will find the adaptability, resilience and creativity he is seeking to make a success of the Brexit in the countryside.

Of course, this is rural community for which the Alliance will continue to fight. Whether defending shooting, hunting and fishing, promoting rural businesses, or championing small farms in post-Brexit policy making, the Alliance will be working for you in 2019.

A very happy New Year to you and yours.

Liam Stokes
Head of Campaigns
Follow me at @LNJStokes

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