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Now is the time for a new deal for farming and nature

PUBLISHED: 10:19 25 April 2018

Grey partridges are just one of the species becoming rare in our countryside.

Grey partridges are just one of the species becoming rare in our countryside.

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Brexit gives us our best chance in generations to give nature a better deal, says RSPB regional director James Robinson. If you agree, it’s time to make your voice heard.

Patchworks of wheat, potato and sugar beet, bordered by dense hedgerows that line the sides of roads. A quintessential image of the East Anglian countryside. One that so many of us associate with nature and, as with all systems, is underpinned by nature.

Nature provides and sustains us with fertile soil and pollinators that we need to grow our crops, as well as the fresh water and air that directly influences the quality of the food we eat.

More than three-quarters of the UK is farmed. It is a practice that has shaped our landscapes and in turn, has and continues to shape the wildlife that calls the UK home. Such extensive swathes of land play a large part in influencing the richness and diversity of nature across the region, nationally, and worldwide.

Unfortunately, over the past 50 years agriculture has been one of the major drivers of nature-loss worldwide. In the UK, and across the EU, the damage has been an unintended consequence of decades of farming policies that failed to account for nature and the environment.

Much of this has been driven by inappropriate public policy, particularly the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Despite the hard work of many farmers to help wildlife, policies have driven the destruction of important wildlife habitats, overuse of pesticides that kill bees and other pollinators, depleted soil fertility, and increased water and air pollution.

Even with more recent reform of some of the more damaging aspects of CAP in recent years, it has failed to do enough to undo the damage of the past, and we continue to lose wildlife from our countryside as a result. Having grown up in the farmland of East Yorkshire, I have noticed the disappearance of birds I once took for granted around home. I now struggle to find corn buntings, turtle doves or grey partridges in the countryside where I spent my childhood and I feel very sad about it.

Of course, as a nation we have voted to leave the European Union: a decision that leaves us, and nature, with many uncertainties, but also endless possibilities.

On exit from the EU, we need policies that direct public money spent on farming towards nature, beauty, and environmental quality – the very things current policies have inadvertently damaged. These are products that farming can provide, but that we don’t purchase in shops – products that if we pay for, will ultimately enrich our lives.

Many farmers agree and are calling for change, and the Government is listening. Present government proposals say that they will make the environment their main priority for agricultural spend in the future – a welcome suggestion. However, at the moment these are simply proposals, but they are seeking public support to turn them into policy.

This is our first big chance since the Second World War to choose a completely new food and farming system that produces food and restores nature. The UK Government is running a public consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment which closes on May 8 2018 so you have just under two weeks to have your voice heard.

There are three ways you can get involved:

1. The most impactful and powerful way to help: take 20 minutes to send a detailed response directly through the UK Government’s questionnaire. Visit: http://www.bit.ly/FutureFoodandFarming

2. If you’ve got less time: take five minutes to tell the UK Government what’s most important to you through the RSPB online campaign action. It’ll help you create a unique, impactful message. Visit: http://bit.ly/rspbtakeaction

3. And of course, share, share, share the online action! Here’s one tweet to get you started: Do you want farming that grows food and helps restore nature? Take five minutes now to tell @DefraGovUK http://bit.ly/rspbtakeaction

James Robinson is the RSPB’s regional director for the East of England

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