A full decade of “damaging uncertainty” is in store for the countryside unless the Government acts on public will and urgently supports farming and wildlife in the wake of Brexit, ministers have today been warned.
The director general of the National Trust, Helen Ghosh, said it could be as long as 10 years before new support packages for farmers are in place, so waiting to formally leave the European Union before policy decisions are made will be “too late”.
While the Government has committed to spending the same total on farm support as afforded to British farmers under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy until the end of the current parliament in 2022, uncertainty hangs over the long-term support for farming in post-Brexit Britain.
Mrs Ghosh said affordable, high-quality food and wildlife-friendly methods can be secured if the annual £3bn support for the industry is maintained.
The public wants support for farming to remain post-Brexit, according to a YouGov survey of 1,609 people commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). Of those surveyed, 61 per cent said that the annual £3bn sum currently spent on the countryside is either the right amount or too little.
Ross Murray, the CLA’s president, said: “Managing the landscape, producing quality food and planting trees bring benefits to every person who lives in, works in, or enjoys visiting our countryside. But these benefits require investment. We have a unique opportunity post-Brexit to ensure farmers and landowners are better recognised for undertaking this vital work.”
And, speaking today at the BBC Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Mrs Ghosh will say: “We are within touching distance of a vision for the future of farming that sees thriving businesses successfully meeting the needs of the nation into the 21st century and beyond.
“The longer we wait, the more we risk losing all the gains we have made over the last decade.”
Mrs Ghosh said uncertainty over the industry’s future had prompted some farmers to revert to intensive methods for short-term profits, saying: “We have already seen examples of short-term decision-making, where farmers, in response to uncertainty about the future and income, have ploughed up pasture which was created with support from EU environmental money. It’s very understandable, but heart-breaking.”
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Leaving the EU provides us with a golden opportunity to set up new frameworks for supporting our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.
“We have committed to match the £3bn agricultural support until 2022 and the Environment Secretary (Michael Gove) has said that support for our farmers will continue for many years to come where the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.
“As we develop this new approach to food and farming outside the EU we will not compromise on our high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.”