Last night I was fortunate to be part of an invited audience at the Royal Society in London to hear politicians from a number of parties put forward their position on the environment and respond to questions from the audience. The group behind the event, Greener UK, is an umbrella organisation comprising 13 environmentally-focused membership bodies such as the Woodland Trust and RSPB (full list at www.greeneruk.org) campaigning for effective environmental regulation after the UK leaves the EU. The event was ably and entertainingly hosted by Clive Anderson and featured Kate Parminter for the LibDems, Therese Coffey for the Conservatives, Barry Gardiner for Labour and Caroline Russell for the Greens (the latter 2 pictured below).
One of the key points in the discussion was the challenge of managing the transition from the current regime of CAP payments to a post-EU scheme. The significance of these payments varies from farm-to-farm but can be very significant to their commercial viability (see https://fullfact.org/economy/farming-subsidies-uk/). There was a surprising level of agreement across the parties that a future payment mechanism was necessary, and that it should be linked to protection of natural capital and provision of ecosystem services. The devil is in the detail, of course, but whatever the outcome of the election next week, we can expect to see something of this sort being put in place.
A real-world illustration of what any new payment system needs to address can be found in Derbyshire’s Peak District. The landscape exists largely as a result of beef and dairy herds such as the one shown above, and attracts large numbers of visitors every year – between 17 and 27 million visitor days per annum depending on which figures you read. There is no direct linkage between the costs of running the farms that create much of the landscape and the benefits enjoyed by the visitors and it will be a challenge to achieve it fairly.
One of the concerns in any such scheme is that there may be unintended consequences from funds being withdrawn by parties which were not intended to be the primary recipients. Arguably, this has happened with solar PV FITS where large-scale solar farms rather than domestic roof-top installations have been significant beneficiaries. There is also controversy around some recipients of existing EU payments.
This is just one of the many significant changes in the UK’s agri-food system that will arise from Brexit. Staying close to developments will be vital for any businesses in the sector.