MPs must seize huge opportunity for green recovery this week

The Wildlife Trusts quite understandably want the UK government to put nature at the forefront of The Agriculture Bill. But with minds focused on Covid-19 and Brexit, you have to wonder if the will is there, in parliament, to seize this opportunity.

Wetland area on the edge of a field of sheep with hills in the background.
© Phil Pickin

The Agriculture Bill returns to parliament on Wednesday 13th May – this will be the last opportunity for MPs to amend the bill, which could kick-start a green recovery by enabling nature to be restored after decades of loss, before it passes to the House of Lords.

The Bill will become the first piece of legislation to be voted on by the House of Commons’ new virtual voting procedures – an apt piece of legislation since lockdown conditions have triggered a surge of interest in people seeking solace in nature.

A large part of our nature is dependent on the way that we manage the 70% of land which is farmed. We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and The Wildlife Trusts believe that the focus of the Agriculture Bill must be to reward farmers for public goods – in other words, to switch from the old system of paying farmers for owning land to a reformed system of paying them for their role in fighting the climate and nature crises and delivering benefits to society for which the market cannot pay.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“We know that coronavirus has made people value nature more than ever; polls also suggest people have been worried about access to food. You can’t have food security without nature being in good shape – you can’t grow food without pollinators or healthy soils. It’s vital that we recognise the important role farmers could play in nature and our climate’s recovery – this Bill could mark a watershed, a shift towards a green renaissance which would be good for the economy too. MPs must not be swayed by the ‘return to business as usual’ lobby.

“We shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise what the market can pay for, and we certainly shouldn’t be using it to subsidise farming practices that damage the environment.  We should only be using taxpayers money to reward farmers for creating public goods such as restoring hedgerows and wildflower meadows, for creating wetlands that filter agri-chemicals and protect rivers and our drinking water from pollution, and for protecting soils so they can capture carbon, sustain future harvests and not be washed into rivers.”

The Wildlife Trusts are part of Greener UK – a coalition of 13 major green charities – that are calling for the Agriculture Bill to:

• Ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards

• Require a long-term funding framework to be set at a scale required to help tackle the climate and environment emergency

• Ensure a suitable regulatory baseline of environmental standards is in place as we leave the EU

92% of the public want farming to focus on tackling the climate and nature crises [1]. Research shows that £3billion minimum is need for nature-friendly farming [2]. The UK currently spends around £3.2 billion a year on both farm income support and environmental payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A report published by the National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts last autumn provided justification for re-investing the current annual UK CAP budget to help farmers and land managers to restore nature and tackle climate change on their land.

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