The “post-Brexit” agricultural policy of Boris Johnson’s government is causing growing concern among British parliamentarians and in agricultural circles, faced with the greatest upheaval in their sector in fifty years. On January 6, the Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture, Defra (for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), finally clarified its “Climate and environmental ambitions” for the system of subsidies supposed to replace the common agricultural policy (CAP) very gradually from 2022 (but definitively from 2024).
This system consists of three aid schemes: “Reconstitution of local natural spaces”, to replant trees on a massive scale, restore wetlands and peatlands; help with “Landscape restoration” to support farmers and landowners ready for large-scale ecosystem restoration actions; finally, help to “Sustainable agriculture” must support farms reducing the use of pesticides, improving biodiversity or sequestering their carbon dioxide emissions.
The objective is to put an end to direct subsidies from the CAP, indexed on the cultivated areas and accused of promoting intensive agriculture. From now on, public funds (around £ 2.3 billion annually) will go only to the maintenance and improvement of “public goods” (rivers, forest areas, hedges, etc.) . “Agriculture in England will move away from the area-based system and bureaucracy that characterized EU membership. Make way for schemes finally recognizing the efforts of operators, the true guardians of our environment ”, insists Defra.
Shift towards a completely green subsidy system
By 2024, the ministry wants to fund ” at least ” ten landscape restoration projects, covering at least 20,000 hectares. By 2030, 60% of agricultural land will need to be used sustainably. And by 2050, peatland surfaces (very effective in trapping CO2) are expected to occupy 200,000 hectares in England. This shift towards a completely green subsidy system is not at all unfounded. “One in four bird species in the UK is on the Red List of Threatened Species, 26% of mammals are at risk of extinction. Only 14% of rivers are clean, mainly because of agricultural pollution ”, recalls the NGO Green Alliance. The forest area has certainly tripled since the 1900s, to stand at 13% of the national territory, but “Half of the plantations are not sufficiently diversified”, deplores the charity Woodland Trust.
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Agriculture: UK to reserve subsidies for farms that protect the environment