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Defra boss must become rural champion

PUBLISHED: 09:06 03 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 October 2010

Environment Secretary David Milliband has the opportunity to become a real champion for the countryside, said landowners' leader David Fursdon.

Farmers and landowners are looking to Mr Milliband to drive the industry forward by speaking up for the rural economy across Whitehall, he said during a visit to the Suffolk Show.

Environment Secretary David Milliband has the opportunity to become a real champion for the countryside, said landowners' leader David Fursdon.

Farmers and landowners are looking to Mr Milliband to drive the industry forward by speaking up for the rural economy across Whitehall, he said during a visit to the Suffolk Show.

Mr Fursdon, who is the president of the Country Land and Business Association, was pleased by the "optimistic noises" and will be having "one-to-one" talks on Wednesday.

"I'm hoping that David Milliband will do what we've wanted for ages from a Secretary of State and become a champion for the industry across Whitehall.

"It means a champion in the Treasury, a champion in the Department for Communities and Local Government, the DTI (for renewable energy) and so on.

"We need a champion who is prepared to go out and go for it. If he will be that champion, then I'll be delighted. I would love to encourage him to do that," said Mr Fursdon.

"I'm optimistic that the noises made by the environment secretary, David Milliband will be helpful. But, it is easy to say that when you start off with a new broom and certainly Margaret Beckett distanced herself from the nitty-gritty of farming."

Mr Fursdon, who farms in Devon, made one of his first official visits to Norfolk last autumn when he toured the Ryston estate, near Downham Market, and called for a partnership between countryside and government.

He is a former civil servant and teacher and his family has owned an estate of some 750 acres near Exeter for almost 750 years.

He is keen to encourage political leaders in London and Brussels to take more of a rounded approach to a sustainable rural economy in its broadest sense.

His priorities include a new director for woodland and forestry management. As a member of the Rural Climate Change Forum, Mr Fursdon wants to explore the options for finding a commercial value for "planting as a carbon fix."

However, he is acutely aware that woodland and timber has been on the political backburner for almost two decades. "It is time that we re-visit how our woodlands are managed. We've seen two decades of inaction in the woodland sector in terms of building a sustainable and long-term successful industry."

When 98pc of our timber is imported, there is great potential to create and add value from woodland - both for wildlife, the economy and of course, landscape. There is also the further opportunity to use locally-grown wood as a fuel for heating and energy.

Mr Furson said that the biomass task force report, which was written by Sir Ben Gill, outlined a number of proposals including grant aid for boilers. "We would actually quite like the renewable heat obligation as well because we are a little bit suspicious of grant aid because it can sometimes disappear in a puff of smoke.

"I think if we can find a market for thinnings and smallwood, which we have struggled in this country to find a market, it could help to regenerate woodlands.

"Shooting is an activity which subsides woodlands. It is an unsubsidised economic activity. We need to think about ensuring a future for shooting."

He is also keen to promote the broader concept of looking at forestry and woodland in the round, which operates successfully in northern Europe.


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