Thank you for contacting me about the Government’s commitments on farming and nature.
Claims by some environmental groups that this Government is rowing back on our commitments to farming reform or nature are wholly untrue. It is deeply misleading to say that ‘existing protections will be ripped up’ – there is simply no evidence for this.
Nor is there any evidence to say that the Government plans to remove funding from farmers for agri-environmental schemes. The events of the last twelve months, not least the war in Ukraine, have fundamentally altered our awareness of food security. Amid a cost-of-living crisis for all of us, on-farm inflation currently stands at around 22%. It is therefore right and appropriate that the Government reviews its plans to make sure that we have a healthy, environmentally sustainable domestic food supply chain. Agri-environment schemes will remain a key part of the Government’s plans to continue to deliver for nature.
We must make sure our food supply in the UK is secure; this does not mean everything needs to be produced in the UK, but that we must produce as much as we can, alongside protection and enhancement of the environment. We can and will do both.
It makes no sense, for example, to pay farmers to remove land from beef and lamb production if we then import Brazilian beef, produced on reclaimed rain forest land, shipped here via aviation to sit on the shelf where UK beef was.
With taxpayer’s money helping farmers through agri-environmental schemes, we can secure and improve our efficiency in production of more food, continue to protect and increase our biodiversity and the environment and help farmers stay profitable.
This only works if the schemes we have are simple to deliver and apply for, rewarding to the farmers and the environment, and affordable to the taxpayer. This is possible and this Government is getting on with it.
Outside the European Union we are free from the Common Agricultural Policy, which did little to deliver for farmers, farming or the environment. Our Conservative Manifesto was clear that we would maintain the budget for farming but spend it in a way that does better for farming and nature. We are rolling out new schemes right now that will support farmers to both produce high quality food and enhance the natural environment.
We want to support the choices that individual farmers make for their farms, boost food production and agricultural productivity. This in turn will bolster the rural economy and support communities across the country.
In my view, the environment, farming and economic growth go hand in hand. Last year, we passed our world leading Environment Act, which included a commitment to halt the decline of nature by 2030. We are fully committed to doing this. I want to be clear that this Conservative Government will never undermine our commitments to the environment in pursuit of growth. Any reforms we make will rightly contribute to growing our economy in equal step with successfully meeting our commitments in the ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ and reaching the legally binding environmental targets we will be setting under the Act.
Internationally, we have committed to protect 30% of the United Kingdom’s land and ocean by 2030 too, through the Leaders Pledge for Nature, committing to put nature and biodiversity globally on a road to recovery by 2030.
We are living through a period of change, but there is great opportunity ahead. We have the chance to have a farming industry that is more independent and financially resilient, with the bureaucratic rulebook of the EU era that damaged the environment confined to history. It will be an industry that champions economic growth and increases domestic production whilst returning nature to the land and improving the natural assets – like soil – that support food production.
To be clear, this government is committed to protecting our natural environment as we pursue economic growth, and we will deliver on our manifesto commitments to protect and enhance our environment. That is why we have legislated for enhanced environmental protections through our Environment Act, set out our 25-Year Environment Plan and brought forward our Nature Recovery Green Paper setting out proposals to reform our system of protections. This Government is committed to protecting and enhancing our natural environment – ensuring future generations will inherit a greener and cleaner United Kingdom.
Lastly, the RSPB claim that the new Investment Zones would allow developers to build anything they want anywhere they want, including on Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, is untrue. Investment Zones - like Enterprise Zones before them – will not cover a whole local authority area. They will have very tightly defined boundaries, specified in the bids submitted by the local authority. It is completely irresponsible of the RSPB and other conservation charities to suggest otherwise. The aim of the Investment Zones is to encourage investment into our communities, helping them to regenerate. New ‘liberalised’ planning rules will release more land for housing and commercial development within the defined area and the all too often non-productive negotiations between councils and developers over affordable housing will be scrapped and replaced by a set percentage of affordable homes – something I very much welcome in Hastings and Rye.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann hart MP