Have we got the balance right between protecting the environment and producing food

Land Manager Mark Tinsley and the RSPB’s Mark Avery respond.
Tell us what YOU think – post your comments at the bottom of the page.


Mark TinsleyMark Tinsley, Land Manager

We do not have a coherent strategy for land use in the UK. Policy is ad hoc and designed to achieve short-term political gain. It is reactive rather than pre-emptive and the balance between environmental, social and commercial consideration is heavily weighted in favour of the environment.

It is understandable why the environment was given priority, but social, commercial and environmental positive outcomes are interdependent. If a policy neglects any of these three influential factors, it is unlikely that medium and long-term strategic objectives will be achieved for the others.

The UK countryside is widely admired because, for generations, commercial activity has funded rural strategic stewardship. Not all that funding emanated from rural commerce, but a significant proportion did. In the future UK consumers will decide what outputs from the land they wish to pay for; whether they are food, energy, resource protection, tourism, birds or whatever, should be a matter for ongoing parliamentary debate and review.

We need an intelligent land use debate for the UK, looking ahead at least twenty five years, and taking into account rising world populations, dietary change, water shortage, climate change and political instability. Government, the major UK retailers and NGOs are driving policy in a way that is damaging rural commercial activity in the UK. If not changed, this will adversely affect the UK rural environment and consumer well-being.

We need to decide rural policy based on a balanced perspective between environmental, social and commercial influences. Much of the past environmental damage at field level has either been reversed or is improving rapidly. However, we continue to reduce our commercial competitiveness by allowing the environment to dominate decision- making on issues such as Research and Development strategy.

Present Government policies will result in a continued decline in our food self sufficiency. It is right to debate whether that is strategically sensible. Rebuilding a home based food industry, if we allow it to wither, would be difficult and costly.


Mark AveryMark Avery, Director of Conservation, RSPB

Agriculture policy is moving out of the dark days of scant environmental awareness, but we’re far from a positive environmental footprint.

In fact, I’m not convinced, taking agriculture in isolation, that this is an achievable aim. We need to produce food, and until there are radical improvements in technology, growing food will emit greenhouse gases, skew water and nutrient cycles and affect ecosystems. This is not to suggest that great improvements can’t be made – they can and must. The RSPB’s farm in Cambridgeshire has doubled its farmland bird populations, against a national background of decline, without damaging profits or yields.

I get more hopeful, however, when we stop talking about agriculture, and start talking about land management. Land management can, and should, have a net positive environmental gain. Productive agriculture is a vital part of that, but the key is to recognise other land management objectives, which governments have, up to now, failed to value sufficiently.

Take the uplands. In this 40% of the UK, agriculture is on its knees, causing enormous distress to those involved. Our rescue package has been to shore up the holes in Upland Farming plc’s accounts with very small dollops of cash from agriculture funds. Result: declining production, communities and environmental assets. But the uplands capture 70% of our drinking water, host charismatic wildlife and stunning landscapes, and harbour the most extensive carbon store, peat, in the country. A land management approach to the uplands, would secure a huge array of assets. Upland Land Management plc’s accounts would be very much in the black – environmentally and economically.

The folly of recent bioenergy policy shows us what happens when we try to force production to answer all the questions. We must include conserving and enhancing wildlife, mitigating and adapting to climate change, managing water resources and quality, and providing outdoor space for people’s exercise and spiritual enrichment as equal objectives, alongside production, in our land management policies. That is the only way to gain the environmental riches we hunger for, and be able to feed ourselves and our children, too.

49 Responses to “Have we got the balance right between protecting the environment and producing food”

  1. Hilary Benn Says:

    We all have a stake in the countryside and it’s important that we all have a say in its future. I am therefore delighted that RELU is launching this debate on rural land use as part of its contribution to National Science Week.

    As a society we need to take a fundamental look at how we use and value our rural land and what sort of countryside we want future generations to inherit. The rural environment provides us with a huge range of benefits: from food production to health and wellbeing; from wildlife conservation to water and flood management. It is also central to the challenge of climate change and has a really important role to play in both mitigation and adaptation.

    We therefore need a properly informed debate about how to get the best from our land, based on the most up-to-date evidence. I believe that RELU has a key role to play in this. In particular, we need to work towards a consensus on how we can use land, not just for one purpose but to achieve multiple benefits – for communities, for the environment and to meet our economic needs. There are already many excellent examples of this, such as Community Forests and work to restore our upland peat bogs. We need to learn lessons from this practical experience and from what science and economics can tell us about future land use trends and pressures. These are the issues which Defra’s Land Use Project is exploring, and I hope this debate will make a significant contribution to that project and our thinking on the future of land, both urban and rural.

    Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  2. Iconoclast Says:

    I’d like to question the policy which puts thousands of decisions about delivery of environmental services in the hands of only two people – the farmer and the state official. Isn’t it time that we involved rather more interests in critical decisions about what habitat is recreated where, what land is managed for flooding rather than arable crops, what land is restored to saltmarsh to mitigate coastal flooding, what land is put back to grass to reduce nitrate and phosphate losses from soil erosion, what peatland is restored to sequester carbon, what land is converted to woodland for community access? Why can’t we have a land management policy which is delivered through local communities rather than through one-to-one, state-to-farmer, agreements? Why shouldn’t the communities around farmed land have a voice – and a say? After all, they will be just as knowledgeable about how land use has changed, and about environmental risks and opportunities than farmers. Hence it could be the ‘community land trust’ (say) which receives an agri-environment payment from Defra – which it then uses to purchase the environmental services which the community wants from the farmers around it. It’s still voluntary, but it’s not just a cosy discussion between a farmer and an Official about what to do where. Let’s get more people involved in how land is managed for the public good.

  3. Critical friend Says:

    Maybe there have been some recent environmental gains via agri-enviroment schemes, but they come from a very very low base. We are never going to be able to recreate the huge areas of chalk downland, heathland, wet grassland, etc which were lost to ‘agricultural improvement’ in the 1960s-80s. A few skylark patches, a new hedgerow, a pond, and a blocked grip are not going to compensate me for the sight of ancient woodland being rooted up and ploughed for cereals in August 1981. Mark Avery is right to say that farming still has a long way to go. How to do it? The key is to help land managers to recognise and reduce the costs of the unwanted damage caused by insensitive farming (to soil, air, water, biodiversity, landscape, recreation opportunities) and at the same time to reward them for the valuable services which they (can) deliver (flood protection, carbon sequestration, biodiversity restoration, coastal protection via managed retreat, access for recreation and tourism and health, and so on). We need to ‘internalise the externalities’ – both good and bad. And we need to tackle both at the same time – at the moment costs are being imposed on society unchecked, and society is purchasing benefits piecemeal. We need to do this better.

  4. Joe Bailey Says:

    I am not being anti SE but the rest of the country must have a different perspective on the use of land in their region. The North West Regional Strategy 2006 NWDA. See Page 42- item – Box 84.
    http://www.nwda.co.uk/pdf/RES06v2.pdf
    I think there is an academic at Birmingham University who could comment on RDAs Policies.
    My Contribution.

    Brown felid sites could be reforested as patchwork national park. If land on the green belt was allowed to be built on the price of greenbelt land could be three times as it is priced. This could pay for the work on the brownfield sites which would be left to go back to nature. All new builds on green field sites would have to be built to the highest environmental standards.

  5. Joe Bailey Says:

    Comprador class?

    The BBC debates the provision of a servant class of person in the countryside.
    That is the low paid working people to keep the countryside ticking over.

    It is never clear who has second homes. Do the BBC people have second homes? Live in a congested town? Do the politicians?
    Save the countryside? The return of the agricultural labourer? Where will he live?
    Who lives in the country or lives in the towns. Those who wish to defend the countryside should make statements of interest before commentating.

    Surely all statements should start with the statement. “I have given up living the countryside to protect the Countryside from being spoiled.” Now for my informed view.

  6. Agnostic Says:

    Is it really simply a question of ‘balancing’ the aims of ‘protecting the environment and producing food’? Shouldn’t we put this debate into the ‘ecosystem services’ framework, and recognise that we need to manage land to deliver a very wide range of services of which ‘producing food’ is only one? Hence holding and releasing water (managing floods), sequestering carbon, enhancing biodiversity, filtering rainwater, providing aesthetic beauty, and creating recreational opportunities, should be valued in their own right – and maybe often more highly – than simply producing food. And NB we have to go far beyond simply ‘protecting’ the environment. We need to actively restore the quality of water and soil, and the diversity and abundance of species and habitats. The idea that farming should be allowed free reign just so long as it meets some bare minimum standards of ‘protection’ is not the right mindset. Some farmers do recognise that farming is about more than kg/ha of meat and grain. Let’s mainstream that view – helping land managers to deliver the full range of ecosystem services from land (and using public money to reward them for doing so where the market does not already do so).

  7. David Gibbon Says:

    If this is to be a realistic debate, all the stakeholders in land and its associated resources need to be involved. It is not likely that this will happen with this format so related public meetings are crucial if the debate is to have any meaning and value. We need to make a special effort to include farmers voices and views ( both small and large, organic and non organic) in the discussion.
    The key question is rather simplistic and needs widening, as the initial contributors have done so already. The experience of other countries in Europe of managing the multifunctionality of land-based resources needs to be learned from as many have a long history of considering agriculture as one component of multifacited and multigenerational livelihood systems.

  8. Wyndham Rogers- Coltman Says:

    It seems to me that the range of this debate is far too limited. The real problem is surely that the supply of food is going to be restricted in the future by an excess of demand over supply. As with energy high prices will have severe social and political consequences. Neither Europe nor the UK has a food supply strategy at present. This was once a pillar of the policy of the founding fathers of European Union. The tragedy is that the poor undeveloped nations of the world will suffer the consequences of starvation first as we are seeing in Africa currently. The consequences of food shortages are hard to imagine for those in the current and second generation but are well remembered by the third generation who grew up with rationing and state control of virtually all food production. There is no reason why these times of shortage should not return. Weak government has led to restrictions on scientific advance in food production. Many of our potential problems could be delayed, if not solved, by the application of already well developed scientific techniques. Genetical modification is probably the most immediate technical advance from which food production (and the environment through the production of biodegradable plastic substitutes) could benefit. There are many other technical and scientific advances in the pipe line. It is not like Newcastle University, with whom I have had a long association through their agricultural society, to be trying to solve past problems but this is what you are in danger of doing in this debate.

  9. Town-dweller Says:

    Wyndham makes a good point. Wouldn’t it be much better, for example, to supply all our vegetable and salad needs from glasshouse production. We could control the environment (soil quality, pests, etc) far more easily, minimising wastage of fertilisers and pesticides. We could make hugely more efficient use of irrigation water – which would increase water supply for wetlands, and to meet the needs of growing communities (especially in the SE). OK, we’d have to heat the glasshouses but sensible planning would enable us to use heat from waste incinerators and other processes, and or from biomass. Has nyone modelled how much land we could thereby free up for other public needs and for wetlands and habitat restoration? Maybe we could re-wet the peat soils of East Anglia to develop their carbon storage function? And yes, if we used GM-varieties in glasshouses we would minimise the risks which others perceive from growing them in the wild. We need to think much more radically here.

  10. Just A Simple Link to the Humble Plant Says:

    I am on the demand side of the agricultural economy. W consumers need to know the language in order to understand the business, which can puzzle the inquisitive. Words like “Food-Chain” are imparted to some in education, but are perhaps rarely understood even in the classroom context. We are ‘fettered’ by our lack of true understanding – like ‘the old woman who swallowed a spider’ whose story might be given far more learning time because it contains a more profound insight, even though both result in the same end. Who invented the “Food-Chain” concept, and for what purpose? I know people who like food for thought, and people who think we become what we eat, and even those who think we are what we eat: but the “Food-Chain” concept seems to refute all of these notions. The “Food-Chain” concept gives each living creature two identities which confer rank: (1) according to its appetite to devour another, and (2) according to its palatability to another. It has more to do with convention than nutrition or sustainable production. I think it odd that it is blindly accepted as a fact of life by such a knowledgeable society as our own, without any critical appraisal of its ethics by the economic community. Personally, I would like to opt out of that sort of pecking order altogether. Could we not start talking about a “Food-Base”? At least we could then calculate the most economical use of the required and available units per capita, for people and animals alike. We could promote vertical superiority to foodstuffs which could be piled up in simple stores for the longest time without losing any nutritional value nor gaining toxicity. Or to those which have the highest yield with either least work and investment or most healthy intervention to cultivate. (Or is that too topsyturvy?) We might then begin to recognise fertile ground as a valuable commodity, to be purchased for posterity as much as financial gain, and even as a right to life (for creatures of other species who we would like to survive, as well as our own families and fellow humans). I wish that I could more effectively demand that the food I require to eat be produced by farmers in the UK. Instead, along with all of those other pests struggling to survive in both urban and rural Britain, my voice is easily dismissed as background interference and noise to be silenced.

  11. adrianskilling Says:

    I think its simplistic to say preserve the environment vs farm on it. Approaches such as organic farming do some of both. Even better are sustainable approaches to farming with perennial crops and can support much greater wildlife, think fruit or nut Orchards and other agriforestry approaches which combine crops with livestock. A lot of these approaches need further research, organic farming gets only about 2% of goverment funding compared to GM (see http://www.i-sis.org.uk/dirty_GM_secrets.php). These ‘radical’ low-tech approaches need goverment support.

  12. robin pershore Says:

    we can have a land management policy that is good for people and wildlfe and dealing with climate chaos; but it means encouraging people to get close to the land. our current planning policy totally fails here and instead prices people who want to care for land right out of the market. this has to change. we must gear rural policy to support people who want to grow food in sustainable ways, for local consumption, and to increase tree cover for recreation and wildlfe and energy reasons. we cant go on importing apples from new zealand for ever, nor should we. local food and energy production means less food miles, renewable electricity, and people who live and work in the country who can ensure our environment is cared for. subsidy needs urgent redirection to these areas.

  13. Jenny Hall Says:

    Simon Fairlie has already done the figures to work out how Britain can feed itself within six scenarios (1) Livestock chemical (2) Vegan Chemical (3) Livestock ORganic (4) Vegan Organic (5) Livestock Permaculture (6) Vegan Permaculture available at http://transitionculture.org/2007/12/20/can-britain-feed-itself

    The scenarios may appear under different names but essentially the difference between organic and permaculture is that “organic” happens on specialist commercial units and so requires inputs (and associated fossil fuels) and the “permaculture” scenarios are more in line with closed biological cycles including the recycling of all organic wastes to agriculture. On a crude estimation the vegan permaculture scenario seemed to be producing half the greenhouse gas emissions for feeding people a healthy diet (than livestock permaculture which was also recommending a reduction in meat consumption) with the widespread consumption of fruit and vegetables seeming the most important element in line with health policy.

    Within the article there are several criticisms of the “vegan approach” however I have made a lengthy reply to this which will appear in the next edition of “The Land”. I have done this under the concept of “stockfree fertility” that is closed biological cycles using green manures, composts, mulches and chipped branch wood. These require serious consideration. At present we are recommending that arable land should be 40% in 2 year green manures (like red clover) which are amazing carbon sinks and wildlife habitats if mown sensitively. Also we recommend that the growing of trees including crop trees needs to be integrated into the annual growing of crops.

    According to Chris Goodall our CO2 million tonnes equivalent emissions from our food production (excluding food grown overseas for consumption in the UK) is
    Fertiliser manufacture and transport – 9
    Methane from animals and slurry – 19
    Methane from tilling and soil management practices – 4
    Oxidisation of carbon from tillage – 13
    CO2 from farm operations 6
    Fertiliser use generating nitrous oxide 27
    Road transport in the UK – 7
    Road / sea transport outside the UK – 7
    Air freight – 2
    Food and drink manufacturing process – 11
    Manufacture of packaging – 10
    Operation of retail stores – 4
    Consumers driving to shops – 3
    Landfill gas from rotting food – methane and carbon dioxide – 13
    Landfill gas from rotting packaging methane and carbon dioxide – 4

    I believe that these could be cut by 60% in a decade if with switched to biological sources of soil fertility i.e. green manures and their seeds can also be a saleable crop making it commercially feasible. Fertility from green manures is the only chance for a carbon sequestering agricultural sector. Within the article I have written there are elaborate calculations for land use and these can be summarised as

    7.2 million hectares arable including 40% 2 year green manures
    10 million hectares of woodland for all needs.
    1 million hectares – Fruit berries and nuts. These are a really important consideration especially if sea levels rise. Most of our best arable / horticultural lands are in low lying areas and so we should take the ‘precautionary principle’ and plant food trees and bushes over rearing grazing animals. Bushes are also a fantastic habitat for birds.
    3.8 million hectares – Managed wildlife conservation including pasture and wildland.

  14. Peter Lundgren Says:

    In my opinion it will be biofuels that will have the greatest impact on the balance between food production and enviromnent.

    The impact will be most noticeable as a huge price hike in the raw material needed for fuel production – but the same raw materials are needed for livestock production. Arable farmers are enjoying a very welcome bonus but livestock farmers will find it difficult to survive – especially pig and poultry producers. Many will be forced out of business leaving those remaining to become more efficient – which has implications for animal welfare and rural employment.

    EU ministers have recognised the threat of rising grain prices and have moved to curb the price increases by suspending setaside and increasing the area of land available for cropping. And yet setaside, whilst loathed by the majority of arable farmers, has benefited wildlife. I believe its irresponsible for EU ministers to reduce setaside without putting in place proper safeguards – and its irresponsible of farmers’ leaders to gamble the reputation of farmers as custodians of the countryside whilst assuring government that farmers can increase production and maintain environmental benefits.

    Biofuels will drive a change in cropping as farmers increase the area of profitable winter sown wheat and oilseed rape and reduce the area of spring-sown crops and fallow. This will lead to a ‘bi-culture’ of wheat and rape, further intensification, a loss of diversity, loss of habitat, and less opportunity for wildlife to share our farmland.

    Those landowners currently in environmental schemes will try to opt out as they see those outside the schemes enjoying increased income from their crops and an increase in the value of their farmland

    We will also see a fundamental change in attitude towards farm management. In the past decade farmers, struggling to survive, have concentrated on trying to ensure a positive gross margin. However, as prices increase, farmers will become driven by yield rather that gross margin.

    Doesn’t sound significant but in practice the impact on the countryside and the environment will be huge.

    When farmers concentrate on gross margin sometimes the ‘doing nothing’ option has produced the best gross margin. But when farmers concentrate on yield they will be willing and able to use expensive technology and agrochemicals to drive up yields confident that any yield increase will cover the cost.

    As land prices increase on the back of increased profits then every piece of land will be pushed into production. Its no coincidence that the last time we saw this yield driven attitude to farm management gain prevalence it was coincided with the height of the hedge row removal, drainage of wetlands and the loss of habitats.

    This led to the public losing confidence in farmers as guardians of the countryside. Its taken 20 odd years to get that confidence back but I now believe that the drivers are in place to create another Hughie Batchelor – for those of you who do not remember Mr Batchelor, he farmed in Kent and came notorious for removing tress and hedges. He was jailed for his activities and came to epitomise in the public conscience the arrogance of farmers in the 70s and 80s.

    Looking further into the future I see the growing affluence of arable farmers demonstrating itself in arrogance with a corresponding loss of the publics’ confidence in farmers’ suitability as custodians of the countryside, and a corresponding loss of public sympathy.

    We farmers endanger public sympathy at our cost. If we’ve learnt anything from the past decade of low prices, it’s that our only defence against supermarket dominance and incompetent government is public sympathy.

    But we are farmers are trying to address these demands in a policy vacuum.

    Policy is reactive when it should be proactive. We are all so busy fire-fighting that no-one has the time or opportunity to look into the future and try to pre-empt future events

    It seems to me that what is needed is a new approach to developing policy that takes into account the wider implications of a given policy on farmers and the environment – locally, nationally, and globally.

    Too many of those charged with developing domestic agricultural policies are representing their own speciality or their own financial interests. Or are industry placemen who have insufficient knowledge of the wider practical issues.

    Too often it seems we have the cart in front of the horse with the ‘specialist’ making policies to promote their own particular interest rather than first recognising the issue and then developing a policy that meets the interests of the countryside as a whole.

    We have put our trust in specialists for too long. I would make a plea to those charged with developing policy to seek out the ‘generalist’ – what could be called the ‘specialist generalist’.

    People whose common sense and wide experience of farming, environment, politics and life allows them to see the whole picture and set a wise course.

    Only then will we be able to develop the policies that will lead to a truly viable and sustainable future.

  15. Henry Aubrey-Fletcher Says:

    You might want to include a link to the CLA website.

  16. Richard H. Barber Says:

    In response to Town Dweller on waste heat for glasshouse operations. I and a group of West Yorkshire farmers visited Ferry Bridge coal fired power station and the connected ExEl Produce hydroponic tomato facility 30 years ago and were told there was enough waste heat at this one plant to grow all the tomatoes for the UK. They did not want to de-stabilize the market.
    If RSPB can demonstrate the practical and economically viable farm in Cambridgeshire they should be promoting it as the model to follow.I have my doubts.

  17. Mike Fishpool Says:

    It is interesting that Mark Tinsley makes no attempt to substantiate his opinion that rural land use policy is heavily weighted in favour of the Environment.

    The fact is that past policy has always fallen short of protecting the environment and has only ever sought to place limitations on the amount of environmental damage permitted by commercial interests. As a result, we have seen a continual decline in the condition of the environment, as evidenced by the long term decline in the farmland bird index (currently the most reliable indicator we have of the underlying health of the natural environment). The majority of our countryside has become ecologically impoverished, to the extent that protecting the status quo is no longer good enough. We need to start reversing the damage.

    I agree with several other respondants, that the wrong question has been posed. Since the environment underpins, not only our ability to produce food, but the continuation of life on earth, it ought to be self-evident that increased food production can only be sustainable if it is achieved in tandem with environmental restoration.

    Clearly, previous policy has failed rural commercial interests. Production based subsidies simply distorted the market. Food production became a quasi-nationalised industry; there was little incentive for farmers to be entrepreneurial; farm-gate prices fell to ridiculous levels and farming ceased to become an attractive industry to younger generations. Whilst decoupling of subsidies has been a step in the right direction, the bulk of subsidies now lack any real focus and this cannot remain acceptable to the public or policy makers.

    We need a coherant rural land use policy, which allows food production to respond to market forces within a framework that seeks to enhance the natural environment and where subsidies are focused on rewarding land managers for non-market benefits (e.g. carbon stewardship, water quality, flood prevention and biodiversity).

  18. Professor John Moverley, Chief Executive of the Royal Agriculture Society of England Says:

    Perhaps it is time to re-define what agriculture is about? In my dictionary at home, I came across a definition of it being the science or occupation of cultivating land and rearing crops and livestock. However it is and needs to be far more than that. We need to view the food chain as a continuum and not split into discrete parts. Above all we must focus on sustainable development: development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The challenge of delivering food, energy and public goods within all the competing pressures for land is great. How we respond in the next 10 years is critical.

    Current national and regional rural policy must change to adequately reflect all these issues. The great challenge is how we achieve a sustainable, profitable food chain independent of product or price support and how we safeguard the countryside whilst ensuring ‘One Planet Living”, a base for rural business development and appropriate housing.

    Our rural economy remains vitally important but we must be receptive to rapid and dramatic change. Rural enterprise has a major part to play in our economy as a whole. Food production remains a primary task but this cannot mean that society continues to undervalue it; or that we trivialise its importance at a time when we are required to make decisions now on how we utilise our land resource to meet current and future demands.

    Professor John Moverley, Chief Executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England

  19. Mike Collins Says:

    My first thought is that our landscape is and was produced by now mainly the activity of man. When we see the countryside we are looking at the effect of man with or over nature. If we decide to dictate what the landowners must do then we will alter what the public will see. I would like to suggest that the land use be dictated by supply and demand.
    Having made that statement I will now argue that there are some uses that seem to me to be detrimental to the self sufficiency of this country regarding food supply. In my area (Dorset) there are large areas of farm land given over to small little plots which seem to hold single horses. This has two detrimental effects, the natural state of the area is now broken up by fencing,often of poor standard, into over grazed poorly managed grass plots. These areas do not produce enough food for the animals and so there has to be other areas just devoted to grass growing to keep these animals alive.
    Could not these areas be put to better use in growing vegetation for human consumption?
    There is a world wide shortage of basic food crops especially wheat,should we not be making use of all modern advances such as GM crops and fertilisers to make ourselves more self suffcient.
    During the last war the country had to pull together, it seems that we are nearing that point again.
    Finally I would like to commend the way that The Bournemouth and District Water Company has made good use of its land. At Longham gravel has been extracted and the holes left are now lakes that are filled during the winter and in the summer water is used to top up supplies when the rivers and ground water runs low.
    Thank you
    Mike Collins

  20. Wyn Grant Says:

    I was rather concerned to see currently popular food security arguments being advanced as this could be used as a justification for continuing production oriented subsidies rather than orienting them towards more environmentally friendly Pillar 2 subsidies. I would agree, however, that insufficient money is being provided for scientific research related to food production. I think that GM technology might have been more acceptable if it had been developed and launched by a public sector agency rather than an American multinational company – although I also think that the real production gains from GM are likely to be found in tropical rather than temperate climates. Unfortunately the countries in those regions often cannot afford the technology. We must avoid overreacting to current food supply problems which are in part caused by extreme weather conditions, e.g., in Australia (although these may, of course, be climate change related). Large subsidies to first generation biofuels production do not make economic or environmental sense as the OECD has shown. Rising incomes in emerging countries will increase demand for particular foods, but this is where technology comes in.

  21. Lord Cameron of Dillington Says:

    In the CAP healthcheck, is anyone asking themselves the crucial question of what will the citizens of Europe want from their land managers in 15 to 20 years, or are they all just defending the short term interests (or worse the status quo!) of their members or constituents? Are National Governments thinking about the R & D budgets necessary to cope with the needs inherent in these changing circumstances? Are they thinking about the land use planning needed to preserve our food production potential while protecting and sustaining our land and marine habitats? Could Local Authorities or even the private sector (eg The National Trust, large estates or the Coop) have a meaningful role in ensuring we keep a sensible balance?

    Lord Cameron of Dillington

  22. Neil Ward Says:

    I do not see this as not a simple equation – protecting the environment versus producing food. I think both have been over-emphasised in debates about land use in Britain at the expense of considering the social and economic well-being of people who live in rural areas and the interests of those whose taxes support land management. While maximising food production may have been a strategic priority in the 1940s and 50s, we should be sourcing our food from wherever it can be produced most efficiently and competitively. Moving away from an interventionist and protectionist agricultural policy has proceeded far too slowly. And the fact that this debate is pitched as a simple tension between food producing and environment protection interests is merely a reflection of the ideological influence of agriculture and the environmental lobby in the UK and Europe, which has been overly concerned with biodiversity and landscape and paid insufficient attention to wider environment resource management issues such as energy, climate change and waste management.

    We need a much more liberal and imaginative approach to thinking about what rural land is for. We should be building more homes in rural areas, especially in the economically less developed regions of the UK. We should be using the land resource much more effectively as a source of renewable energy, especially wind and biomass. (I’m more sceptical about biofuels). But most importantly, we should be putting in place a national land use strategy which puts social and economic well-being at the heart of rural land development, rather than drifting towards ever-more complex and prescriptive arrangements for preserving so-called ‘green land’ and those fluffier aspects of the environment that we seem to get so sentimental about. We should be using rural development to experiment with new ways of living.

  23. Harry Smith Says:

    We need to move away from a ‘protectionist’ policy. There is no role anywhere any more for a payment to someone simply for ‘being a farmer’. We also need to move away from an ‘agriculture’ policy to a ‘land management’ policy. This should be a policy which recognises and gives equal weight to all the ecosystem services which land can provide, including food production – but without giving it priority over everything else – biodiversity, energy, flood management, etc. The policy should essentially be market based – hence intervention should only happen where the market cannot deliver the service (which does apply to a lot of the biodiversity, flood management, etc roles, unfortunately). The EU CAP Health Check provides a good opportunity to signal this change to those farmers who still believe they are owed a living by the state. The Health Check should be used to formally replace the ‘CAP’ with a ‘Common Land Management Policy’. We need leadership from the top on this.

  24. Win Sutton Says:

    An interesting read. I am grateful to the expertise which some contributors have presented. I started out in a rural environment, moved on to suburbia, to the inner city, and now by a lucky fluke have been able to move for retirement to the edge of the city. I am happier in aquieter, less claustrophobic place, where it is easier to breathe. Noises, yes, but they do not echo into the back of your head. Just an Archers’-listening, fairly uninformed resident of this island.

    For years I have been aware that food is too cheap, along with water and fuel. Most of us afford the basics as a side issue, before choosing a car, deciding where in the world to go for holidays, making regular use of a mobile phone etc etc …. We must import enough food to help the poorer countries. We need therefore to have regard to their need slowly to become more self-sufficient where possible, as we strive to do the same.

    For the UK a broad approach to land management is essential, but not in isolation. Less fuel would be required if there was more government support for insulation measures. The growing development of bio-fuels is worrying. I would like there to be a limit, allowing only allowing use of recycled materials for this purpose. I believe that a national policy could achieve this in the long term. I am reluctant to accept genetic modification, but it may be a risk worth taking.

    The environment/housing/agriculture debate will never be fully resolved, but a 25 year wide-ranging policy, free, as far as possible, from Political influence, may avoid us drifting into chaos, getting more and more desperate in the hands if the “free market”.

  25. Fiona Says:

    I think we should bring back self sufficiency. People growing thier owm food in thier back gardens, or even in a community garden. Society is not as close as it used to be, a community vegetable garden could benefit in more ways that one. Being self sustaining would reduce emmissions from transporting food, increase knowledge on healthy eating and reduce pressures on rural land.

    The World is not big enough to supply its population with thier energy needs, from food to electricity. This implies there is a need to conserve and reduce wastage to make better use of what is already provided. There is tonnes of food wasted everyday because it is deemed unworthy to be sold, for example damaged packaging. There is also too much wasted energy and resources in unnecessary packaging putting extra unnecessary strain on resources that are already rapidly depleating. There are many things that can be done to reduce energy consumption.

    With the growing need for biofuels to be produced and other forms of energy such as wind power, this would cause extra strain on the little rural land we have left in this country

  26. Angus Collingwood-Cameron Says:

    If only the equation was so simple! The land use debate must also consider elements such as biofuels, recreation, resource management, development, timber production, flood mitigation & alleviation, coastal flooding, waste management, renewable energy, landscape etc etc.

    Our principle land use policy, the CAP, is a centralised dictat based on 6 year programmes. By its very nature, it seeks to implement solutions tomorrow in order to solve yesterday’s problems, although it could be argued that it has a history of excessive success. The drive for food production resulted in environmental degredation and large food surpluses. The change in emphasis to environmental concerns has resulted in environmental improvements but food inflation and worries over food shortages in the not too distant future. Changing the policy, and implementing that change, is akin to stopping an oil tanker.

    Internationally, the problem is compounded by the uncertainties of climate change affecting world production. In the UK, the enthusiasm to embrace environmental issues, whilst ignoring food production, has resulted in a policy/Government structure where there is no consideration given to production, or those who can achieve it.

    There is a danger that rising food prices and the prophets of doom, could result in a policy panic attack, with surpluses and environmental degradation again being the result. The trick must be to formulate a policy designed to provide food security and environmental security, whilst also taking on board the other land use issues. This can only be achieved through funding to deliver the non-market public goods, whilst ensuring long term production. In this era of change and uncertainty, with more outputs expected from our land than ever before, it would be foolhardy for any Government to advocate the scrapping of CAP without a fit-for-purpose replacement.

  27. Charlie Clutterbuck Says:

    We in the UK are nowhere near either protecting the environment enough, nor producing enough food.
    The discussion so far seems to equate “environment” with “conservation”, whereas most people now consider the environment takes in climate change, resource use etc. In which case, the ‘ecological footprint’ for UK food is 6X larger than the UK land surface area (based on NW Stats – http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/sei/IS/North_West.pdf). It takes that amount of land (lots abroad) to produce the food and fuel to make the food, plus the land needed to absorb the pollutants.

    What are we going to do about that? We are going to have produce a lot more food locally – particularly fruit and vegetables. CAP subsidies could be aimed in that direction especially if it could be linked to improved health. Pillar 2 could be geared to encourage many more environmentally protective techniques – eg for carbon saving techniques (witness CALM calculator announced this week by CLA). The point is that it isn’t a matter of “food or environment” but how to produce more “environmental/sustainable food”. More money must be spent, but hopefully that will result in a more vigorous countryside – not one made for city dwellers & to feed industry.

    The price of farmland is already going up rapidly (Savills Spring Report says 30% last year) as the demands for food, feed, fuel & fibre increase. The trouble is that any conflicts over use of land will not be sorted out democratically, because of the nature of land ownership….

  28. June Holder Says:

    To those who have any concern for humanity and the planet – I am constantly informing people that the pollution by animal farming is far greater than that of all transport put together. What is imperative is that we use Stockfree agriculture. We can then be:

    self-sufficient in this country on a vegan diet,

    stop importing from starving people to feed our animals!

    stop the appalling suffering involved in the rearing and slaughter of animals,

    free ourselves of many ailments caused by the consumption of animal products,

    and I could go on.

    How frustrating is it to hear that the biggest item on the English National Health bill is for statins (with its side effects) to reduce cholesterol, when vegan food is virtually cholesterol-free? The population is certainly being misled.

    My ‘eatoutveganwales’ group (which can be found on the web) have given many free vegan tastings all around Glamorgan, impressing people with the variety and tastiness of the food on offer.

    Meanwhile, I am sickened by the constant flow of dead animals and their derivatives being presented on TV, with barely a non-animal dish to be seen. As a nearly eighty-year old who has been vegan for 17 years and vegetarian for 24 – how misguided are these people who stick with vegetarianism? – I can only commend it without reservation.

    Yours very sincerely,

    June Holder.

  29. David Harvey Says:

    “Have we got the balance right between protecting the environment and producing food?”

    I presume that ‘we’ means Society – which puts our collective decision making systems and governance structures at the heart of this debate. Is the market right, or do we have to civilise the market by government regulation and intervention? Clearly the market is not always right – it does not price the environment, or the damage we do it, properly, so we need governments to intervene and regulate. Which immediately creates quarrels between those who really care, one way or another, and generates vested interests and power struggles. So, we need more accountability and flexibility in the ways in which our governments behave and regulate.

    Governments make as many mistakes as does the market – witness the stupidity of biofuel subsidies, which effectively encourage carbon emissions through their effects on land use and cropping decisions round the world, while doing nothing to wean us off our carbon dependencies and far too much to raise the cost of food – especially to the very poor. Markets work better than this – but they need to be properly informed and constrained by social costs and benefits, and not simply driven by private costs and benefits. If we haven’t got the balance right, it is because we haven’t got the prices right.

    But markets balance competing and conflicting interests on the basis of money votes – the rich get a greater weight in the balance than the poor (except that there are more poor than rich) – so governments need to take account of the distribution of the benefits and costs between the rich and poor, the more developed versus the less developed when adjusting market prices to reflect social costs and benefits. But how do we make these political decisions? On the apparent basis of one person, one vote – but we all know that this is only the principle, not the practice of democracy. In practice, bureaucracies are hunted by special interest groups, and frequently captured – what other explanation of the biofuels fiasco is there – simple stupidity?

    So, how do we marry the participation and flexibility of the market with the social (collective) civilisation of government? It is not one or the other – both have got to be right. And how will we tell when we’ve got it right?

    Oops – we won’t be able to without referring to the processes through which these collective decisions are made. The PROCESSES are critical – the outcomes are secondary, albeit that we apparently live and die, earn our livings and have our lives as a consequence of the outcomes. But, if we complain that the outcomes are wrong – then we need to identify why the PROCESSES of democratic control and management of the market are producing the wrong prices (signals, incentives, constraints and regulations). Much of the present debate seems to premised on the assumption that it is either simple ignorance or deliberate mendacity which is the cause of our bad governance – too much planning and regulation (or too little); too much weight to food, or to the environment, or too little; not enough attention to local circumstances and opinions, or too much. What about the processes we use to balance these competing claims? This debate is not going to change the processes, however successful it is within its own terms of getting people to exchange views.

    In order to investigate the issue of malfunctioning processes, we need some clarification of the character and culture of these processes, and some frameworks for developing and imagining (and experimenting with) alternative processes – which may mean getting rid of (for instance) national governments and relying, instead, on regional and local governments, and on global governance (for the price of carbon, for instance). So, why doesn’t this happen? Again, the reason is that our present processes of democracy and bureaucracy cannot deliver such change or evolution in our collective decision making systems.

    At bottom, this debate, and virtually all others about our present human condition and future prospects, is about how we choose to govern ourselves. Until or unless social science can begin to make serious progress in our understandings of these processes and their interactions, we are condemned to try and improve our lot through unguided and heavily biased real life experiments (like the Soviet system). Even then, without recognising that the real issue is governance systems, we fail to learn the appropriate lessons and fail to apply intelligence to re-designing and improving our condition.

    As a result, much of the present debate is completely beside the point – it is about outcomes and not about processes. The questions themselves betray the irrelevance of the debate, since they admit of no general answer other than “it all depends”. Until or unless we get to the heart of the dependency cultures themselves, we make no progress other than to go round in circles.

  30. John Lewis Says:

    One of the strengths of the RELU programme seems to be that it is telling us a great deal about HOW to do research, HOW to involve diverse publics in land use decisions, and HOW to translate better understanding of the world around us and what everyone wants from land use into better policies.

    So the programme seems to be telling us:
    1. That we have to cut across the great research funding silos of ESRC/NERC etc, and exploit the synergy between social, economic, political and natural scientists etc in confronting challenges which of course in reality bundle up all these aspects.

    2. That we need to involve a far wider range of voices in understanding and commenting on how land use works and how it should change. Hence we need to talk to those affected by flooding and build their local knowledge and observations about how floods happen into our scientific models. We ignore that local knowledge at our peril. Yes, they may well know better than a consultant where water overflows and which way it runs down the street.

    3. That if public bodies want to win public support for their policies they need to engage the public at an early stage. It’s no good deciding that ‘we’re going to have a flood risk management strategy, let’s get the consultants to model the catchment, let’s identify the three options we are willing to consider, and then let’s tell the public what sound science means for their properties and livelihoods’. We instead need to involve the public in designing the hydrological models, and contributing their knowledge. We need to discuss different costed options with them. We need to share the dilemmas and seek their advice. They may not all like the outcome, but they are more likely to accept it.

    Can we hear from some RELU researchers on these critical process issues?

    Incidentally, it’s surprising that hardly anyone seems to have mentioned the RELU programme itself – this is a substantial (£25 million) public sector intervention in the market for knowledge and policy development!

  31. Ian Soane Says:

    The question should not be about food versus environment or upland versus lowland re flood control but how should land be managed to produce these goods and services? This inevitably introduces the environmental limits to sustainability and society’s modes of governance into the equation. It may be appropriate to link these issues since it is possible to set rules by which the boundaries to ecosystems, their services and the society benefiting from these services can be categorised and defined. The degree or lack of convergence will depend very much on the issues identified and the categories that fall inside or outside the socio-ecological box but there is a strong case for looking at whether a socio-ecological approach as advocated by the resilience alliance http://www.resalliance.org/1.php could inform community based land management planning. Community planning on the basis of locally relevant data could be people and environment centred, be capable of tackling adapting to climate change and an energy crisis, could allow localism to be investigated and can be organised within existing governance structures. This suggestion is based on a Workshop that comprises our first steps in exploring this direction http://www.theuplandcentre.org.uk/Reference/Climate/CC%20WS%20REPORT%20%20Final.pdf. We plan to stimulate more debate on this issue.

  32. Barbara Marshall Says:

    In order to get the balance right between protecting the environment and producing food the country must accept that:-
    1.oil is running out so artificial fertilisers will not be able to be made.
    2.the rearing of animals for human consumption is very inefficent: we cannot continue to feed, water and shelter three times as many animals as there are humans. Instead grow grains and pulses that can be eaten directly by humans.
    3. stockfree organic farming is green and cruelty free and enables people, wild animals and flowers and trees to live in a harmonious balance.
    4.stockfree organic agriculture requires much less water – as water is becoming increasingly short this is a big consideration for the future.
    5. land should not be used to produce biofuels: we will all have to get used to using public transport instead of relying on cars.
    6. alternative work for farmers will be created with stockfree organic farming, in managing the land, growing trees with edible fruits/nuts and growing many more trees.

  33. Bob Harris Says:

    If our economy is to continue to develop, albeit more sustainably, and in the face of the uncertainties brought on by a changing climate, then we need more integrated approaches to environmental resource management, applied across wider areas. European Directives set the ideologies, priorities, timescales, and reporting requirements for the management of our environment and the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the primary legislative driver for developing a more integrated or holistic approach to land, water and ecosystem management. Through its River Basin Planning process it will provide a strategic framework for both rural and urban land management and, in some areas, the land use change that will be necessary in some areas over wide areas. It is the first environmental directive to be risk-based and with an “ecosystem centred” approach.

    Although there is current pre-occupation with implementing the WFD through River Basin Plans under “best endeavours” principles (i.e. minimal impact), for subsequent rounds of RBPs measures across whole catchments will have wider socio-economic consequences as diffuse pressures will have to be seriously addressed. More radical (integrated and risk-based) approaches will have to considered and adopted if we are to recognise that the “countryside”, the land and water system and the ecosystems that live there, provides a variety of “goods and services” that we will need in the future.

    We need to develop thinking and policies that are based on the best available science, evidence and knowledge. Knowledge-based approaches may also be termed “risk-based” since they allow us to determine the risk of not achieving environmental goals. The adoption of knowledge or risk-based approaches for land and water management means that the pressures to be managed and the receptors to be protected have to be clearly defined. The whole system has to be understood sufficiently well so that the pathways by which pressures are promulgated through a catchment to affect receptors (aquatic ecosystems and their goods and services) are clear.

    The “logical process” that will need to be adopted for knowledge or risk-based and ecosystem-centred approaches should be a “bottom up” one – i.e. 1) what are the problems we face based on the evidence; 2) what are the technical solutions; 3) which of these are cost effective; 4) which of these are socially acceptable and finally 5) which are politically acceptable. However, the reality is different. In most cultures political processes drive the system and it becomes (at least in the UK) a top-down process. For example government decided for political reasons to build 150,000 new houses in the Thames estuary without much consideration of the environmental resource aspects – e.g. the flood risk, availability of water supply, energy demands, let alone to the environment in general. Technological solutions to these problems are now being retrofitted, but would have been much more cost-effective if they had been considered at a much earlier stage.

    One reason for the top-down process dominating is that policy and decision-makers cannot wait to understand everything before they act. However, land use and water managers, will need to know what the uncertainties are in achieving their goals. At present we do not have the tools to allow such judgements to be made and the research community needs to become much more engaged if these are to be provided in time.

    An ultimate goal should be to develop environmental land zoning into land use planning extending approaches, which exist in many countries – for example in relation to groundwater source protection zones. We should be extending this approach to match land use to the vulnerability or resilience of the system (soil, geology, water and ecosystem combined). The land use should be matched to its “best use” rather than letting market forces rule. We should be questioning whether certain parts of the country where water resources are scarce (and will become scarcer) are suitable for growing crops that need a lot of irrigation; should we be placing large numbers of outdoor pigs on the thinnest soils above vulnerable aquifers used for water supply; is 80% land coverage with intensive arable crops that require large amounts of additional fertilisers in areas of low rainfall a sensible use of the land. We need to develop a different approach to land management, which considers the integrated nature of environmental systems must more effectively than at present.

    Bob Harris
    Professor of Catchment Science
    Catchment Science Centre
    University of Sheffield
    http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/csc

  34. Nick Holdsworth Says:

    Along with some others, I don’t understand why agricultural production is set in opposition to environmentally sensitive land management. Is it historically (overly)intensive agricultural production driven by government policies, unintentionally perverse incentives and supermarket retailers preferences for large scale agribusinesses that has in fact done the damage? Is there not a way of constructing stable economic support from the farm field right through the farm gate to small local food retailers, to establish local economic networks of food production and consumption. the fact that it can be done is shown by voluntary networks of small holders, farmers markets, farm shops and even allotment holders. The problem seems to be that these networks don’t reach that critical mass so as to establish a real presence in the market place against the competition of the large retailers (and associated larger agribusinesses). Smaller businesses (production and retail) are characteristically more sensitive to change and more responsive to incentives than larger businesses; hence also less damaging to the environment and deform the general economy less.

  35. John Lytton Says:

    No, because it was not the correct balancing act to be considering in the first place and neither farm policies nor the environmental agenda had their roots in economic reality. In the UK we are at present faced with some of our most important environmental assets having virtually no economic underpinning at all but endangered by public sector cutbacks and unviability of available land uses.

  36. Tim Benton Says:

    Looking in the medium to long term (up to 2050), we need to produce >50% more food from crops to feed the growing global population. Climate change means that, in many parts of the world, yields will decrease. The lack of fossil fuels means that biofuel crops, rather than food crops, will also be produced. Putting all this together means that one can see a time when almost all available land is used for agriculture in one sense or another, and almost all biodiversity is tied up with agricultural management. Food (and water) security are surely going to be one of the major issues for this coming century.

    In addition, moving increasingly to low carbon economies, means that we need to de-intensify agriculture as high-input agriculture will become too costly, and transport costs will also mean that regional specialisation is likely to decline in favour of more diverse local produce. We also need to ensure environmental sustainability, as ecosystem function will be important for maximising yield in low-input farming systems. However, extensive agriculture, as currently practiced, is, almost by definition, low yield. Low yield, in turn, requires more land to produce the same unit volume of food, and when “more land” is increasingly unavailable (globally or locally), what is the solution?

    The solution may rely on plant biotechnology. Increasingly, molecular biology is providing the tools to allow (at least potentially) development of crop strains that are higher yielding (e.g. there was a recent Science article about drought tolerant genes allowing crops still to exist in conditions of severe water stress).

    However, in the UK at least, it is almost heresy to mention GM and extensive agriculture in the same breath, as the organic movement is antithetical to GM technology. However, and I know this is a strange position for a conservation biologist to be in, I can see that GM technology can potentially increase yields and thereby reduce some of the pressure on converting more land to farmland – not specifically in the UK – but globally. So, I think we need to open up the debate about landuse and production and how we are going to feed the world in the future. Clearly, we, in the UK, can afford to keep GM at bay if we want to but in the future most of the rest of the world won’t be able to afford this luxury. Should we, therefore, try and ensure that GM technology is developed for the social good, and for environmental benefit?

    GM, like any new technology, requires slow and cautious development. Ten years ago, mobile phones were rarer, and in part because people were scared about frying their brains. Ten years on, the precautionary principle re phones has been allayed because of more research. At the moment, GM research is stifled because we are too frightened of it, and it has been hijacked too much in peoples’ minds as capitalistic exploitation by agri-business. However, it can be developed for the social good (as “freeware”) and it is a potentially important tool to allow sustainability. Isn’t it now time to think the unthinkable (with care)?

    Tim Benton
    Professor of Population Ecology & Research Dean, University of Leeds

  37. Hetty Selwyn Says:

    The ‘unthinkable’ is not recourse to gm technology or using more land to grow food but to radically challenge land ownership, to release thousands of acres used relatively unproductively for the benefit of the few and enable many more people the opportunity to grow their own food in practical sustainable and small scale ways. Urban farming (making use of widespread poorly used areas in towns and cities) has been demonstrated in various countries as a viable means to better food security, particularly for poorer sectors.
    As for biodiversity it is highly compatible with enterprises that grow wider varieties of crops rather than the monocultures that dominate our supposedly efficient ‘modern’ systems. Gm technology is an enormous untested threat and while the bees are already under extreme risk (from disease) it is an extremely risky strategy to release another potential hazard, perhaps further jeopardising the species on which we all rely.
    It really is time to return to working ‘with’ nature, not to return to some not so halsean past but to develop proactively towards increasing knowledge of the importance of our fundamental resources on which we all depend.
    Evidence from around the world has demonstrated how much more can be produced with lower input technologies (fewer chemicals and less fuel) but this presents a basic challenge to the current social paradigms of economic priority and hierarchical principle.

  38. Robert Milne Says:

    I would suggest that the three quesions cannot be answered separately. The balance of environment v. food production is part of land management that will affect flooding and both comprise what land is for.
    Professor Oldham hits the nail on the head by contrasting our wants with needs. Others have mentioned the pressures of climate change resulting in reduced food production at the same time as increasing demand for food, fibres, fuel, timber and minerals for industry from an increasing population, esp. growing economies of China and India. There are two solutions: reduce wants nearer to needs, implied by Prof. Oldham and change mechanisms of land ownership/use as advocated by Hetty Selwyn.
    Humans are just one species in the ecosystem. The natural carrying capacity for an animal of our size is a small fraction of our present numbers. So, we have to recognize that the balance of ‘environment’ and ‘food’ is already skewed in our favour but no one is advocating culling people. We could, however, achieve the same effect by reducing our wants, which all have an environmental impact. In brief:
    1) Limit meat production to grass-based systems: no concentrates fed to cattle and sheep; some grain for egg production but mostly, poultry and pigs to be kept extensively as an integrated part of mixed farming. These changes would reduce supply and increase prices (assuming no imports to substitute!). Producer incomes could be maintained but consumption would be much lower, which would be healthier. The product would be better quality, too. At present around 80% of arable land is growing animal feed. Some of this could be used for more grassland, preferably long term/permanent and species-rich, which would also be good for fauna biodiversity. Some could be for crops for human consumption to substitute for current imports, including vegetables fruits and nuts. Some land could be for more mixed native woodland, much of which would have economic value – timber and coppice. The non arable uses would improve flood control. The land would be more like a sponge (provided grassland is not over-stocked) and also be a carbon sink.
    2) Phase out cats, dogs and horses, except working dogs and horses. (Shock horror!) Someone should calculate the land area needed to support a cat or dog. How much grass and arable is needed to produce the meat? In an interconnected world you can say that keeping a cat or dog means someone in Africa going hungry or some part of a hectare of the Matto Grosso being cleared of natural forest to grow soya beans to feed Chinese livestock because of their above-nutritional ‘want’ for meat. Other results: clean pavements, no more discusting deposits in vegetable gardens, more song birds, more rodents for owls, etc.
    3) Phase out (all right, reduce) alcoholic drinks. Their ingredients all require land that could otherwise grow food or be left as natural habitat. I’ve calculated that 0.1 square metre is needed to grow the barley for one pint of beer.
    There are other desirable ‘phase-outs’ but they are more international in their effects.
    Land ownership is determined by inheritance or money. Inheritance is fine, if the land is being well used. Who should decide what is good use? Money is the bigger problem. Demand for rural property is high, making the price such that urban incomes are needed. The owners, then, have neither the time, nor usually the skills or inclination to make good use of the land. I’ve seen too many rurual sites – two, three, four acres – growing rough pasture for a horse or just thitles, docks and brambles where attempts at food growing have been abandoned. An acre of intensively and organically cultivated good land should produce all the vegetables and fruit for 25-30 people.
    Hetty Selwyn speaks of young people obliged to do non creative jobs merely supporting pointless consumerism. I have worked with junior age children on school vegetable gardening projects. They take to it like ducks to water AND it has a beneficial effect on classwork. Most children are being denied the opportunity of learning the life-enhancing and enjoyabe skills of food gardening.
    What is the real, hidden, demand for land? I suggest a national land register: anyone who would like land should apply and have to submit intended use. Surely it is not beyond the collective skill of communities and experts in the field (sorry!) to decide who’s proposals are deserving of access to land. Would anyone decide that thistles and docks or a pony paddock are preferable to an organic market garden, orchard or willows for basket making? At present money does decide that. Every other species has access to territory to supply its needs. Only humans contrive to deny this to the majority.

  39. Professor E R orskov Macaulay Institute Says:

    I agree with Peter Lundgren that the the use of arable land for the production of biofuel is going be a huge problem globally in the future. Another product competing for arable land.
    I fear that big cars in the US and other countries will be running on fuel produced from land that should have been used to produce food in poor developing countries as they can pay more for fuel than the poor can pay for food. It could lead to lot of starvation and instability the world. It needs to be watched carefully by UN DFID and other international organizations if not western greed will cause many more problems.
    Can genetically modified crops help which was mentioned by another writer.Well from my experience in rural development work in many developing countries the present types of GM crops will not they have caused more harm than good. It is based on greed by some GM companies no need to name names but their salespoint is often wrapped up in support to prevent world hunger while it is really a support for greedy shareholders. Only value they know is money.. They have caused more poverty than alleviation of poverty and they try to control the seed the poor can use. And the whole system of course is based on monocropping.. In many parts of Asia complementary monocropping is used a lot by small farmers. This often means growing leguminous crops along with non leguminous crops. Often 3 crops of groundnut in a year can be grown along with a yearly crop of cassava. Maize can be grown with beans. Cannot be harvested by combine harvesters but labour is not a problem so labour saving devices is not a solution. It is good for the soil good for the plants and good for the people. While parts of the plants which are very indigestible for animals may be used for gasification in the future to produce hydrogen and co on a small scale Plants must in the future also be multipurpose for food feed and fuel. Gasification an small scale can be seen in Cambodia..
    There are other methods where food can be produced. I was involved recently in trials in Vietnam where instead of herbicides and pesticides ducks were allowed in the paddy fields to do weeding and since ducks were also fed at night they fertilized also the water so plankton was grown for fish so there were rice fish and ducks with an increase in rice yield and due to duck and fish production the income to the farmers were increased by twenty fold. Yet round up resistant rice was recommended!!
    How will increased cost or restriction of fossil fuel or expensive biofuel influence future agriculture. Already grain prices have doubled. Well it is clear that Western agriculture in the last 50 years has been driven by cheap fossil fuel as a substitute for labour. Will this in the future lead to a migration back from urban to rural?
    It is interesting perhaps to see what has happened to Cuba where until 15 years ago cheap fossil fuel and concentrate for cattle was delivered by the Sovjet Union in exchange for sugar. When the Sovjet Union broke down no more cheap fossil fuel and trade with Cuba was interfered with. Having been involved with rural development in Cuba it is interesting to follow what has happened . . Many tractors are rusting and cattle are out cultivating the fields. There is an increase in labour involved in agriculture little or no herbicides or pesticides used. More community work in Agriculture and some migration from Urban to Rural. Dairy cattle now consist of well adapted Zebu cattle with little or no concentrate before mainly Holstein. but of course their milk yeild is lower The education system in Cuba is no doubt the best in Latin America. Life expectancy higher than US and in spite of their difficulties quite a happy country. They have problems too but most countries have>

  40. Eric Jones Says:

    It is not clear to me why there should be a strategy for land use at any level of detail, as opposed to permitting individual choice through the market. If some people thereby seem to exert excessive influence because of their wealth, the legal and tax systems are the places to go in for corrective social engineering – an additional layer of policy may be superfluous. If, however, we are, as a society, to alter the balance between agriculture (food and biofuel production) and biodiversity, my preference would be for more genuine attention to be paid to the latter – I see little evidence of it in rural areas throughout southern England: arable desert would be a kind term for much of the landscape. Many palliative measures like unplouhged field margins chiefly conduce to the shooting interest, which is where the rub comes. Access to land is restricted and the quality of the countryside is heavily dominated by the concerns of pheasant shooting (and similarly those of angling for trout). A few nature reserves are no answer to these major and expanding influences.

  41. Smallholder Says:

    When most people consider food production they do not think about gravel extraction. It is an industry which like no other has the capability of cumulatively and permanently affecting our environment. There were some 64,000 hectares of land under permission to quarry in 2005. The case I highlight is that of the Swale/Ure catchment in North Yorkshire, an area between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales – the new ‘Garden of England’ – an area which English Heritage describes as ‘the most important prehistoric landscape between Stonehenge and the Orkneys’. The mineral here underlies high grade agricultural land.

    The minerals industry is principally controlled through Mineral Policy Statements (MPS) numbers 1 (Planning and Minerals), and MPS 2 (Controlling and Mitigating the Environmental Effects of Minerals Extraction in England). Much of today’s policy on biodiversity and land-use emanates from Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit, following which our government produced the national Biodiversity Action Plan based on chapter 15 (Conservation of Biological Diversity). Chapter 14 (Promoting Sustainable Agriculture And Rural Development), advocates policies to ensure food security and the necessity of feeding an expanding world population from existing high grade agricultural land, thus avoiding damage to eco-systems by producing food on marginal lands. Accordingly in 1996 the Government issued Mineral Planning Guideline 7 (MPG7), (Reclamation of Mineral Workings) which repeated the advice on high grade land by advising clearly that where minerals underlie the best and most versatile agricultural land then the site should be restored to at least a potential for agricultural production at least as good as before.

    Strong, sound, clear advice on quarry restorations or ‘after-use strategies’ is apparently still needed where minerals underlie productive land. Mark Avery is right, we can’t take agriculture in isolation, but if agriculture is responsible for much environmental degradation (largely due to policy), then that industry should have the capability of improving the environment. There is much talk of biodiversity which in many conjures pictures of endangered and rare species, but if that picture continues to gain currency then we are in danger of making mistakes. Biodiversity is every living thing including humans and the crops they grow – look after the common species and the rare ones will find a niche. Studies conducted over many years demonstrate that well-managed organic, mixed and purely arable farming can result in yields as high as conventional farming, with no nutrient runoff, can meet BAP targets and be a net sink of CO2. Not only that, but restored quarry sites could be an ideal opportunity to provide for food security, local employment and retention of skills; it safeguards landscape, and reduces food miles etc.

    Further research and events demonstrate the aptness of Agenda 21’s advice on sustainable land-use and biodiversity, but we have a problem in Planning Policy Statement7, (Sustainable Development in Rural Areas), which says that it’s up to the Planning Authority, after taking ‘competent’ advice, to decide whether or not higher grade land can be taken, but, in the case of mineral extraction here, the competent advice (which would even have embarrassed Sir Humphrey) was as follows: ‘You asked why I referred to Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 7 rather than to Mineral Planning Guidance (MPG) 7 in my response to the local planning authority (LPA) on behalf of Defra. The reason is because PPS 7 sets out Government policy on the protection of “best and most versatile” (BMV) agricultural land, whilst MPG 7 provides guidance on the restoration of mineral workings. As the majority of the land subject to the above planning application is BMV and is not to be returned to agriculture, it is appropriate to consider the proposals against PPS 7 paragraphs 28 and 29. The comments set out in my response on behalf of Defra also address the issues relating to the restoration of the land and
    sustainable use of soil resources’.

    I asked when last Defra had objected to the loss of BMV land and on 23 July 2007 they responded ‘Although Defra is a statutory consultee on planning applications relating to developments affecting more than 20 hectares of ‘best and most versatile’ (BMV) agricultural land , such cases are dealt with on our behalf by the regional Government Offices. In the light of your enquiry we have consulted colleagues, at each of these. The last objection to a planning application because of the loss of BMV land was made by the Government Office for the South West in November 2005. The application was for residential development on a site not identified in the local Plan’.

    This forum is supposed to be a public consultation, the RSPB and the CPRE are deemed important in this debate, but regarding Mineral extraction nationally, the RSPB has clearly made up its mind that agricultural land is not a consideration. Since the mid 90’s strategies and policies are being worked up and being put in place advising that quarry restoration, for the benefit of nature conservation – to meet Biodiversity Action Plan targets – is a more beneficial after-use than a restoration to food production or at least a potential for it and Planners are taken in by the short-sightedness of the policy. In its recent publication ‘Nature After Minerals’ where it refers to the Earth Summits advice on biodiversity – the advice shown above – it fails to take into account the advice on higher grade land and the increasingly alarming synergistic effects of taking it permanently out of production. It says that since Mineral Planning Guidance 7, was published in 1996 that ‘knowledge, techniques and demands for different land-uses have changed, and much of the document is no longer fit for purpose’.

    I wrote to the RSPB Minerals Unit and after outlining my concerns that the destruction of BMV land necessarily defeats the RSPB’s objectives, I asked ‘what is the RSPB’s view on the permanent destruction of BMV land?’ I received the ambiguous reply that ‘As a nature conservation organisation, our priority is to defend land that is of high biodiversity value (irrespective of whether it is BMV land), and to encourage (quarry) restoration that maximises biodiversity gains’.
    After pointing out that my question had been sidestepped I received the comment that ‘Just to clarify that the Nature After Minerals Programme is a partnership between the RSPB and Natural England. Your letter posed the questions to the RSPB, and so the answers are from that organisation only’.

    In the Swale /Ure catchment the CPRE is advocating ‘Taking as an example the Norfolk Broads we can see how a totally man made quarried landscape can be at least as attractive as the one that preceded it. We should seek to ensure that the landscape we are creating should be at valuable as the one we are destroying’. They promote nature reserves at least 240 hectares with reed beds, sailing and getting rid of roads and buildings that are in the way, yet completely disregarding invaluable BMV land and a unique historic landscape of international significance.

    The current debate on bio-fuels highlights the effect of taking land out of production, thus bringing bio-diverse marginal land, including rain forest, into food production, with a concomitant rise in CO2, but (certainly in North Yorkshire) planners and developers use the pretext of bio-diversity gains to justify the destruction of farmland habitat and archaeology; the landscapes character – to do exactly what they have done for years – dig out the mineral leaving behind pit lakes, hide them behind dense linear planting – and call it nature conservation.

    Joined up thinking on opencast quarrying is required, unfettered by such considerations as cronyism, unnaturally close relationships between planners and vested interests, and pre-determining policies and decisions by cherry-picking from diverse policies and strategies to ensure the desired result.

  42. William Houstoun Says:

    At least in the hills and uplands it is a question of level of production as well as balance, in many areas numbers of breeding sheep and cattle are declining so even if the balance is right the amount of land under active management is decreasing. This ‘rewilding’ by abandonment has unknown social, environmental and economic consequences.

  43. owainjonesccri Says:

    As Neil Ward (and others) have pointed out “this as not a simple equation – protecting the environment versus producing food”.

    The glorious panoply of countryside and habitat types across the UK, and the biodiversities within them, were shaped, if not made, by food production and other land uses over many centuries. It is really important to remember that the nature/environment produced was not done so intentionally. It was the outcome of farmers and land managers applying then current technologies/techniques in pursuit of profit. It is only in the last half century or so that this highly fortunate and beneficial process has gone into reverse, with production systems unraveling what previous systems produced.

    Historically this can be a short blip. We now need to enter a new era , or ‘paradigm’, where we seek to deliberately co-produce food and environment (and all the other needs that others point to – socio-economic benefits, energy etc. etc), set of course in global and regional contexts. Surely we are smart enough to do that if it has already happened before by happy accident! As Neil Ward again says, we need to be imaginative. Some food producers and some nature conservation bodies are showing signs of just that – setting up systems which produce food, profit and biodiversity all at once. How about that!!! And there is some evidence that the food produced has some valuable characteristics in comparison to food produced in more ‘conventional’ systems. This was the thrust of the RELU ‘Eating Biodiversity …’ project led by professor Henry Buller where social scientists, ecologists and food scientists looked at what we termed ‘win, win, win’ innovative best practice in the co-production of food, nature and socio-economic value for producers and consumers. There is much to be done in scientific and policy terms to usher in the new era of planned co-production. Let’s get on with it.

  44. Marcus Sangster Says:

    I am sympathetic to David Harvey’s view. Historically the countryside has reflected the very diverse efforts of landowners to manage their land to meet local market needs, constrained by local geomorphology, local markets and so on. Many thousands of people making decisions to suit their particular circumstances.

    No matter how clever we are we will never design a bureaucratic system that delivers such complexity or matches local circumstances and local land management. For example, the countryside soon will turn yelow as the winter rape comes into flower. The scale of planting is driven not by local imperatives but a grant scheme that incentivises the same behaviour across wide tracts of countryside.

    As a result we create for ourselves a treadmill of criteria, indicators and targets with endless reporting. Despite this effort we seem constantly to be swinging from one perverse, unpredicted outcome to another.

    Where I differ with David is that I suspect that the huge scale of global markets might encourage exactly the same behaviour, so some kind of checks and balances is needed, and outcomes as well as process do need to be considered. I think that one of the problems has been that not only have we been outcome-focused, we have also been too prescriptive about how outcomes should be achieved.

    However, all this is based on a mindset that sees agricultural production and farming as the basis of economic land use. There are other economic uses of land, some prouction-based and some service based that should be a greater part of the mix.

    Again, society has appropriated a lot of the non-agricultural outputs from land. Water in particular is a valuable product produced by landowners for which they get no compensation and thus have little incentive to manage for quality or quantity of water. The right to roam is an appropriation of a landowner’s right to charge for access – I think it is fine but let’s acknowledge what we have done. High-quality designated landscapes are maintained by constraining land use; the economic beneficiaries are not the landownrs but the shops, hotels and so on. Little of the money flows back into the land-based sector. So landowners are backed into a corner where the only cash-raising option open to them is a fairly narrow range of production-based activities. This applies equally to forestry, my profession, as to agriculture. It is impossible for a forest owner to capture as cash the social value that he or she generates through habitat creation, access, landscape quality and public engagement. In many cases these are real overheads that have to be borne in order to generate a very small amount of cash that can be spent on management and reinvestment.

    So actually there isn’t a true market option, because most of the choices that this would imply are unavailable to a landowner. But we do need to widen the choices available because our current practice is really damaging the diversity, beauty and inherent value of our rural land.

  45. Alex Bourke Says:

    80% of farm land in the UK is used for growing animal feed or grazing, and on top of that we import lots more feed from poor countries. We cut down most of our trees for this, and now we tell south America and Asia not to cut down theirs without first putting our own house in order. Are there floods in Bangladesh because of global warming, or because some wally cut down the trees in the Himalayas for cows and goats so they aren’t there to absorb heavy rain? Mudslides in south America bury a village because another wally cut down the trees on the side of the mountain for goats.
    The only way to end this is to put trees back, which requires everyone to eat less meat and dairy products. If we animal farming subsidies and help farmers switch some or all of their land to growing trees and food crops instead of importing things that could be grown here, then we have real food security. Without overproduction in the animal and dairy sector as a result of over-subsidy in a sector where demand is falling, prices will rise which is good for farmers and good for health so people don’t eat so much of these high fat foods, or better yet replace them with healthier plant-based choices.

    Ending animal farming subsidies saves half the EC budget, leaving more for pensions, education and health care which are currently a black hole. Everybody wins! Especially farmers, who cannot survive on dairy and meat farming, but do well on organic fruit and veg, trees (with a subsidy till the first crop) or arable. And don’t tell me you can only grow sheep in Wales and Yorkshire when the next hill is covered with trees. As a vegan I use one fifth as much land for my diet as a meat-eater and half as much as a vegetarian, it’s easy and cheap, and everyone could at least move in that direction.

    And let’s not forget that livestock production is responsible for 18% of global warming, more than all transport combined, according to the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow, but eating less animal food is very easy and a chance for anyone to vote three times a day with your fork for a safer world. Giving up your car is hard for some. Giving up animal products is much easier than you think, but cutting down is very very easy. You cannot possibly consider yourself an environmentalist if you don’t tackle your diet too, so let’s say it. I applaud Hilary Benn for being a vegetarian agriculture minister and hope he’ll help farmers to take farming back to what it used to be, where you didn’t have farmers starving when their farm was quarantined for foot and mouth because they also had potatoes, vegetables and fruit trees on their land. Let’s end the dairy and meat monoculture and give farmers the opportunity to not have to get up at 5am too. Like I said, everybody wins.

    Alex Bourke, MSc
    Former Chair, the Vegan Society,
    Director, Vegetarian Guides Ltd

  46. Catharine Ward Thompson Says:

    I have some sympathy with Robert Milne’s comments, among others, on two counts in particular.

    Firstly, there is a complex interrelationship between arable and grassland, woodland and moorland, etc., that affects the healthy functioning of a range of systems, from hydrological and energy flows to access to the land for recreation and human wellbeing. A holistic view of these is necessary; it is not just about production vs. biodiversity. Although the scenarios described by Michael Pollan in ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ are largely North American, rather than European, they do point to the desirability of rethinking the relationship between arable production for animal feed and the use of grassland and woodland for animal and vegetable food production.

    But the land is about more than food production and it is interesting to note that The Netherlands has a designated State Landscape Architect – Dirk Sijmons – to consider such matters. He has some fascinating insights into how, in a country where some parts of the landscape are entirely man-made, a vision for the future might be developed that takes a holistic approach. He has commented on the rise and rise of “horsiculture”, now a predominant land use in many areas, as well as what radical approaches are needed if climate change scenarios and associated changes in water levels are taken seriously in projecting the future for such a watery landscape.

    Secondly, I want to underline the importance of children having the opportunity to experience growing food. There is growing research evidence of the importance of access to ‘nature’ for children’s healthy development. More than this, however, if we want future generations to understand both the challenges of food production and the relationship we all have with the environment that nurtures us, then children from an early age should have the opportunity to grow food that they can eat. This is a challenge for schools and housing developers, urban designers and city planners, and not just for farmers and conservationists, but one that we don’t take seriously at present.

  47. Amanda Baker Says:

    Our food system puts a great strain on our planet, and our islands. Food production is in the top three causes of all major ecological problems.

    Animal farming dominates that damage.

    The average British diet uses roughly three times the land, water and energy of a balanced plant-based diet. That’s because farmed animals use most of the calories from their feed to live and grow. Most intensive animal farming is actually a food destruction process.

    To make UK land use sustainable, we humans need to eat lower down the food chain.

    The Cabinet Office’s Strategy Unit Food Policy Review (due in April) should call for a major shift of funding. We urgently need to re-train our animal farmers in stock-free methods. The Government needs to help struggling stockmen break free into profitable crop farming.

    It is vital that the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit consider the whole food chain, and all environmental aspects. For real food security and sustainable land use, the UK needs to move away from eating meat and dairy products.

  48. Richard Hosking Says:

    Have we got the balance right between protecting the environment and food production?

    1. The UK does not currently have a sustainable food policy. We are currently only 60% self sufficient, declining from over 80% about 20 years ago. World food shortages insist that we set an example by targeting self sufficiency. There are overwhelming strategic economic and food security reasons for reversing this trend. The process of reversal has a three to four year time lag in some livestock sectors.
    2. Keynesian analysis demonstrates that agricultural production is as close to the Perfect Market as any production system. There is therefore an inherent tendency for swings from overproduction and economically unviable price to under production and high prices. Such markets are vulnerable to oligopoly purchasing power.
    3. Mechanisms are required for agricultural commodities to equate supply and demand at economic price for both producer and consumer. The CAP relied upon intervention buying. This was intended to have a “Gasometer” leveling effect on supply. However the system was operated inefficiently as the route into intervention became one way and surpluses were offloaded onto the world market.
    4. The replacement of production linked subsidy by a Single Payment without rationale is an abdication of responsibility to both producers and consumers. Whilst we have experienced a prolonged period of overproduction and consequential break even prices for agricultural commodities, the demand for crops with energy production potential has demonstrated how quickly prices rise when demand increases against an inflexible short term supply.
    5. There is currently no agricultural policy in the CAP. We have an illogical payment system, a partly competitive environmental subsidy policy, a bureaucratic desire to regulate rather than subsidize, and much talk about diversification. The objective of a level playing field in the CAP has been eroded and with it belief in the “natural advantage” distribution of land use.
    6. There is an urgent requirement in the UK to provide market intervention to reverse the decline in self sufficiency and to iron out the fluctuations of supply, demand and price that are and will otherwise occur. There is an essential requirement to balance the percentage of production diverted from food to energy production. The UK intervention, quota and price support system prior to entry into the CAP provides a useful blueprint for an effective agricultural policy.
    7. A voluntary code to prevent the exercise of oligopoly power is ineffective as evidenced by the recent fines to purchasers in the dairy sector. Fines do not redress the inequity to producers.
    8. The beauty of the English countryside still delights and surprises quite regularly and unexpectedly. Farmland birds appear to be on the increase, their greatest threat a rapid growth in protected birds of prey. I share the concern at 100% removal of setaside without replacement with a patchwork of natural habitat particularly in predominantly arable areas. The RSPB survey advertised on the radio is not a very scientific method of determining bird populations.
    9. There is very little natural environment in the UK, most countryside being the result of generations of land management. Our current landowners and farmers should be congratulated for the Countryside we enjoy today, despite economic pressure and development. I detect a short term tendency to undervalue inherited knowledge.
    10. I note from reported cases that the principal actions for water pollution have been brought against water supply companies. Diffuse pollution does not appear to be an exact science. Nitrate levels in water have fallen significantly in the last ten years.
    11. I am surprised that genetically modified crops are considered as a food production solution. The potential environmental damage from tampering with the natural building blocks of nature is extreme. The science is in its infancy and I believe that DNA will prove to be elusively complex. I can find no justification for their use in the UK, Europe or the developed world, and the greatest risks probably lie in the developing and third world. There is possibly a case for experimental research under rigorous scientific control for energy crops. I agree that agricultural research and development should be restored following recent dissipation.
    12. The uplands and much of our Countryside is conducive only to livestock production. Landscape value and accessibility for recreation deteriorate if not grazed and managed. Meat was not sold to us by a clever advertising campaign; it is a part of our diet that has evolved naturally. Farm livestock are as much a part of our biodiversity as any other species. An agricultural system denied inorganic fertilizer will benefit from organic fertilizer produced by livestock to maintain reasonable vegetable, cereal and oil seed yields.
    13. A population of 60 million does not equate with a return to “good life” living in the UK. I agree that children benefit from an introduction to gardening. I hope Cornwood Agricultural & Horticultural Show will forgive me for revealing that they have a class for the child at their local primary school who produces the highest yield of potatoes from a supplied tub and seed potato. The children learn about various husbandry considerations in the process of growing their potato. Yes, this is a prize coupled to production, and no consolation prizes for the greatest diversity of eelworm.
    14. Sourcing cheap food from abroad conveniently ignores health & safety and welfare regulations in the UK. I am constantly surprised how a nation which insists quite correctly upon high standards of welfare for its farm animals can so readily buy products from Countries with no such restrictions.
    15. Concern for the environment appears to have taken a vacation in the proposal that the remaining 30% of our coastline currently protected from human intrusion should be opened to public access. Science requires a control to validate an experiment, and estuaries and stretches of coastline without access should be preserved on a “game reserve” principle in the interests of bio-diversity. I was obliged one Sunday afternoon to watch a terrier not on a lead terrify a swan for over an hour near its nesting site on coastal mud. The owners were incapable of intervening as the mud would not support their weight.
    16. The answer is quite emphatically no, and now is always the time to begin to redress the absence of agricultural policy.

  49. Mark Tinsley Says:

    In the contributions to the Land Use debates, as one would expect there were a wide range of views but a shared passion for rural UK. At risk of illustrating a lack of respect, I sense that relatively few of the contributors understand commerce and make their living from it !

    Farmers would prefer to work in an unsubsidised market driven “environment” but would qualify this with a requirement to be on a relatively equitable footing with their competitors. Competition is the most effective stimulus to efficient systems. We should be seeking to move to a situation in which outputs that can be traded should not be subsidised, whilst those that have intrinsic as opposed to market value will be supported by tax payers, for example habitat or flood protection.

    Farming has declined in the UK for various reasons. Firstly this has occurred because a succession of Governments have not valued it and in consequence have done less than Governments in competitive countries to be helpful in terms of issues such as regulation gold plating, cutting Research and Development expenditure and accessing EU funding. Margaret Thatcher’s rebate has resulted in the Treasury having a major disincentive when it comes to matching EU funding. Secondly until recently exchange rates have been unhelpful. Thirdly the “turf war” or more accurately the market share “war” between our major retailers, which by the way continues unabated, has been influential; these retailers are powerful enough to dictate market prices and thus override market stimuli. Single issue NGO, have had a disproportionate influence because they have been very good at promoting their relevant issue. Finally farmers have not helped themselves; they have not kept their consumers informed and have not behaved as businessmen and women. Few benchmark their enterprises accurately and few are prepared to forego their insularity and cooperate effectively with their peers.

    Of all the contributions the one that caught my eye was Professor Harvey’s, particularly his point about putting emphasis on processes rather than merely debating outcomes. However flawed it is, the market should in principle operate whenever possible. All the “players” involved in rural policy, Government, Consumers (taxpayers), Retailers, Packers/Processors, Farmers, NGO’s should consider the processes required to achieve a balance between a thriving environment, social well being and rural commerce. Our existing environmental schemes are not perfect but have much to offer; they must be maintained whilst allowing greater flexibility in different geographical areas. We need to return to the pre 1980’s situation as far as Research and Development is concerned and recognise the importance of applied research. Whilst recognising that first generation GM crops have been a mixed blessing, the technique has enormous potential, subject to any outputs being carefully scrutinised. We must value, indeed treasure, the UKs productive land and recognise that the most important legacy we can give to our children is the maintenance of productive land in good condition.

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