Thursday, 10 May 2018

Health and Harmony … and Heather

This Tuesday was the deadline for responses to DEFRA’s Health and Harmony Consultation on the future of farming and rural support post-CAP.  Although we are not a lobbying organisation, so important is farming and rural development policy to the UK’s moorlands and uplands we put in a response and we also contributed to the Uplands Alliance response as well.  

We focussed our answers on the questions relevant to our areas of interest and expertise, so the agricultural transition, public money for public goods and resilience in the uplands.

The consultation document specifically recognised that the UK’s uplands and other remote rural areas have specific challenges around fragility and are less resilient economically, but that they are places rich in natural and cultural heritage and have a character of “wildness” that is loved.  

It is clear DEFRA understand that they need to think carefully about the impact of policy changes on the uplands since these areas will find it more difficult to adapt, but they also know they need a deeper understanding of why this is the case.  The Heather Trust were, just last week, down in London as part of a group of uplands interests that met DEFRA officials to provide that insight.

The main points we were able to communicate at the meeting and in our response were -

  •  A welcoming of the desire to create a more rational approach to agricultural and environmental support;
  • Concern with the premise that Direct Payments for agricultural activity should reduce to enable transition to environment payments - because, in upland and moorland areas, it is often the farming activity itself that provides environmental and cultural public goods;
  • Acknowledgement that more can be done to deliver for the environment in upland and moorland areas, but that the activity that will deliver these outcomes will be different in the uplands compared to the lowlands and approaches must be tailored to reflect this;
  • A desire to see government push on with trials and pilots so that the many questions about how change might affect the uplands can start to be answered;
  • ... and trials and pilots should come before direct payment reductions, not least because farmers and land managers are coming together to propose pilots, and that impetus must not be lost over worry about potential temporary funding shortfalls;
  • An outline for the new approach which sees strategic objectives for public goods set by national government, but with delivery prioritised regionally and deliver plans agreed with individuals and collaborative groups – top-down strategy, but bottom-up design and delivery;
  • The importance of much longer-term agreements but with regular reviews, so that farmers and land managers can agree variations to delivery where they see a better outcome is possible.
  • Support for a focus on outcomes, airing a note of caution that payment by results needs to take account of the factors that might impact results, but which are not within the control of the farmer or land manager.
  • Highlighting the need for facilitation and “the honest broker” role to assist collaboration where this is needed.

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