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Review recommends a shake-up of ‘pernickety and nonsensical’ farming regulations after Brexit

A review by Dame Glenys Stacey recommends the government takes a more supportive and flexible approach to farming regulations after Brexit. Picture: Ian Burt

A review by Dame Glenys Stacey recommends the government takes a more supportive and flexible approach to farming regulations after Brexit. Picture: Ian Burt

The regime of “pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules” governing farmers should be replaced by a more supportive and flexible approach to farm regulations and inspections, the government has been told.

The final report of a review by Dame Glenys Stacey into the current regulation of the agricultural sector concludes that its “one-size-fits-all rules-based approach” is too inflexible – but leaving the EU provides an opportunity to make changes.

It recommends a new independent regulator to respond to individual circumstances, with local advisers able to visit farmers to discuss their specific issues such as biosecurity, soil quality or animal welfare, rather than turning up to impose an automatic sanction.

The report, which was commissioned by environment secretary Michael Gove in February, also recommends better use of technology such as satellite data and drones to monitor field margins and other “public goods” which could be attracting public funding.

Changing the balance between “on foot” and remote surveillance would make inspections more efficient for the regulator and less burdensome for the farmer, says the report.

Dame Glenys said: “As things are, farmers are subject to a number of pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules. There is little practical advice or guidance given to ensure compliance. Instead, automatic financial penalties have become the norm when at times they are unfair.

“The large majority of farmers want to farm responsibly but some need guidance, advice and support to do that. A regulator should provide that, and explain why any change on the farm is needed. Yes, sometimes swingeing sanctions are justified, but more often, more is achieved by a more supportive approach.

“There is so much scope to regulate more effectively, by harnessing technology and local knowledge. A strong regulatory culture brings many opportunities – from getting on top of systemic issues such as animal diseases, to improving plant health and our environment under the new farming system.”

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said the review sets an “ambitious agenda” for the future regulation of British farming, adding: “The primary recommendation is to establish a single regulator in place of five Defra bodies and local authorities. This would be a major change in how regulation is delivered.

“A new regulator should be able to incentivise a new domestic farm policy. While we applaud the aspiration it must not be rushed; time is needed to detail how this system would look, how it is funded, its governance and what the impact would be on farms.

“Any new system must restore confidence in our regulatory system, support farm businesses and allow them to continue producing safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation.”

The government is due to respond to the review in the New Year. Environment secretary Michael Gove said: “It’s clear that current regulation isn’t working as it should. We commissioned this report because leaving the EU gives us the opportunity for a fresh and modern approach – one that is less onerous for farmers and also helps us to deliver on our environmental ambitions.”

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