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Farming leaders demand more clarity on Theresa May’s 25-year environment plan

PUBLISHED: 14:20 11 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:37 11 January 2018

Wildflower margins at Caistor St Edmund. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Wildflower margins at Caistor St Edmund. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

East Anglian farming leaders have welcomed the prime minister’s pledge that Brexit will not lead to a lowering of UK environmental standards – but demanded more clarity on how the government’s green goals will be achieved.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood. Picture: Gareth Rees-Roberts CLA East regional director Ben Underwood. Picture: Gareth Rees-Roberts

Theresa May made the vow after launching a 25-year environment plan including a raft of strategies to enhance the natural landscape, eliminate avoidable plastic waste and address climate change and pollution issues.

Measures affecting farmers and landowners in East Anglia include:

• Designing and delivering a new environmental land management system of “paying farmers public money for public goods”.

• Putting in place a “robust framework to limit inputs of nitrogen-rich fertilisers such as manures, slurries and chemicals to economically efficient levels”.

• Ensuring that the regulation of pesticides “continues to develop with scientific knowledge and is fit for purpose”.

• Supporting further restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides – already banned on flowering crops like oilseed rape – “in line with scientific evidence”.

• Enforcing regulations for new farming rules for water from April 2018.

• Investing at least £200,000 to help develop soil health metrics and test them on farms across the country.

Opponents of Brexit have warned that EU environmental regulations could be scaled back after withdrawal, as ministers seek to drive up business competitiveness and build trade links with parts of the world with lower standards.

Mrs May rejected the suggestion that Britain must chose between economic growth or environmental protection as a “false choice”, adding: “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.”

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said: “Farmers and landowners across the country will play a crucial role in delivering on this vision set out by the prime minister.

“There is however much more work to be done to make these plans more specific and signal where the hard choices will be made. Much of what is proposed will require significant investment from a range of sources consistently delivered over decades.

“It also requires us to create market opportunities, whether that be to reward land use that captures carbon, manages water or provides offsets for the environmental impacts of development. This will be a big part of making this successful and sustainable.

“We need much greater clarity than this plan provides on the role of the local planning system. If we are to deliver on our environmental ambitions as a nation we have to rethink much of how we live and work.

“This requires innovation in house building, infrastructure provision and upgrading of business facilities, especially within farming, and that means promoting significant new development. Too often the impulse in the planning system is to interpret environmental responsibilities as a need to slow or hold back development, whereas it is by encouraging and harnessing growth that we are more likely to succeed.”

A spokesman for the Soil Association added: “The 25-year environment plan addresses important areas – including the vital need to restore soil health, reduce pesticide use, deliver the highest levels of animal welfare and restore farmland biodiversity – but we need to see further detail on the practical measures that will turn these aspirations into reality in the near future.

“A fundamental shift in farming systems is required as part of that: agroecological systems, such as organic, exemplify many of the agricultural practices described in the plan and we urge government to recognise this by harnessing the full potential of these systems in the forthcoming command paper on the Agriculture Bill.”

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