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Experts identify opportunities for environmental land management after leaving the EU

Four learned societies and professional bodies in the environmental sector, representing over 17,000 members, have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, calling for reform of environmental land management after leaving the EU and outlining the key principles to underpin this policy.

The signatories of the letter – the British Ecological Society (BES), the Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), the Landscape Institute (LI), and the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES) – support some key recommendations outlined in the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on the Future of the Natural Environment after the EU referendum, including that a new system of land management funding to replace the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK should be designed to deliver public goods. Any new Government approach should include the expertise of ecologists, environmental managers, landscape professionals and environmental scientists if it is to succeed.

The letter outlines several principles which should underpin a new environmental land management policy. They are:

  • A shift in the balance away from income support for farmers towards investment in the delivery of ecosystem services. This investment should be based on a principle of ‘public money for public goods’.
  • A strategic, systems approach to land management, integrating agriculture and the delivery of environmental benefits at a landscape scale that enables managers to fine tune interventions to suit local circumstances.
  • A recognition of the connectivity between rural and urban systems and the impact of land management beyond the immediate locality.
  • An evidence-informed approach, drawing on our extensive knowledge of what makes an effective agri-environment scheme.
  • A focus on targeted outcomes and payment by results, rather than a prescriptive approach to environmental land management.

The signatories also wholeheartedly support the EAC’s call for the Government to recognise the interdependence of its 25 year plans for food and farming and for the environment. The integration of these plans would facilitate the identification of a common vision for the UK’s rural landscape and natural environment ensuring we work towards a multifunctional countryside that meets the challenges we face in the 21st century.

Adam Donnan, CEO of the IES, said: “Although leaving the EU poses some risks to the UK’s natural environment, it may present an opportunity to design an environmental policy framework tailored to the UK’s unique context, and
which can deliver significant benefits for both people and the environment. However, we should not underestimate the size of the task and the need for effective collaboration. The collective expertise of our members will be vital in supporting the Government in this important task.”

Merrick Denton-Thompson, president of the Landscape Institute, said: “We have a great opportunity to present a clear vision for the future of our countryside but we need to radically transform how we relate to farming and food production. A new vision should support the farming community to secure sustainable food production in a countryside teeming with wildlife. A policy providing greater access for health and wellbeing, including facilities for natural play for our children, the production of clean water, clean air, restored soils and renewable energy are just some of the many public benefits produced by a new vision.”

Professor Sue Hartley, president of the British Ecological Society, said: “The decision to leave the European Union presents substantial risks, but also significant opportunities, for the UK’s natural environment. A world-leading, sustainable environmental land management policy could set higher standards of environmental protection than the current EU ones, helping Government fulfil its commitment to improve the UK’s natural environment during its time in office.”

Jason Reeves, Policy and Communications Manager at CIEEM, said: “Brexit poses many challenges for the UK’s natural environment. However, it also provides us with the opportunity to take land management in a new and better direction, and on which there is growing consensus. We also need to ensure that this new direction is guided by the experience and expertise of those who are professionals in this field in order to deliver benefits for people, the economy and the environment.”

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