Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Yet another Minister of the Environment to get to know!

The countryside has many complex issues and needs long term strategies in place, not quick fixes
Oh Dear, Oh Dear, Oh Dear! Yet another Environment Secretary!
It seems like only a few months ago (because it is!) that Owen Paterson was put into post, taking over from Caroline Spelman, and now he has gone too. I was saddened when Richard Benyon was moved aside as Parliamentary under-secretary at DEFRA – as you can see from my previous blog – a minister who really understood the countryside. Jim Paice came from a farming background so while he held office in the department there was a great deal of sense spoken - but he too has suffered from the axe.  

When will Government realize that managing the environment – agriculture, environment, wildlife, soil, water, alongside and including the people who live there, is a hugely complex task, requiring long term strategies and not quick fix political gains for whichever party happens to be in power. Especially now, with so many changes taking place with CAP reform and the launch before too long of the new Stewardship Scheme, which underpins so much of the conservation work we do.

The GWCT had, in the last fortnight, shown Owen Paterson around our farm in Leicestershire, up-dating him on the wide range of research work that we are carrying out there and clearly stating how we see things moving forward. This “getting to know each other” takes organisation and effort on both sides and can only really produces results once a proper relationship has been built. This obviously takes time.

Of course, I'm sure that the myriad of organisations who want to have their say about how the countryside should be run – the GWCT included - will eagerly want to get to know and work closely with the new minister, Elizabeth Truss, and I personally wish her all good fortune. She certainly comes from a lovely part of the world – West Norfolk – an area that I know well as I lived in her home town of Downham Market (and played rugby for the town!) for a number of years. The area has a wealth of good farmers, plenty of wildlife and is excellent shooting country to boot! 
This is a section from her website: “Farming is a vital industry in the constituency and Elizabeth is working hard to get the best deal for Norfolk’s farmers.  Concerns are being raised regarding changes in the implementation of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As a result of this Elizabeth led a delegation of local farmers to meet Farming Minister George Eustice MP.

Elizabeth has a number of concerns about the use of agricultural land for solar or biomass plants and the subsidies for these operations. She does not want to see the UK’s food security jeopardised; food and farming is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK and she is keen to see that the importance of this sector is recognised.

Elizabeth has also raised with the DEFRA Secretary of State her concerns in relation to flooding in her constituency. She has long argued that the £1:£8 cost benefit ratio formula provided by the Environment Agency for the funding of flood prevention schemes do not value farmland high enough”.

I do have one plea to make, for the future well being of the countryside, that Minister Truss does not quickly follow the book title chosen by her namesake – the author Lynne Truss and “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”!

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