MPs must seize huge opportunity for green recovery this week

© Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Agriculture Bill must solve nature crisis to ensure future food security

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 one of the first pieces 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.

In practice, this means rewarding farmers for 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.

In practice, this means rewarding farmers for restoring hedgerows and wildflower meadows, for creating wetlands that filter agri-chemicals and protect rivers and our drinking water from pollution

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.

The Wildlife Trusts are part of Greener UK – an alliance of green charities – that are calling for the Agriculture Bill to include commitments on:

  • trade – no lowering of farming standards
  • regulation – to introduce a regulatory framework
  • sufficient, long-term funding for farmers to pay for public goods.

92% of the public want farming to focus on tackling the climate and nature crises [1]. Research shows that £3 billion 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).

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.

References

[1] An online omnibus poll with 2140 UK adults was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Wildlife and Countryside Link between 18-19 December 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)
[2] See 3 billion needed for nature friendly farming