Environment minister Zac Goldsmith appeared to back his under-fire brother yesterday as he said the Government was ‘committed’ to rewilding.
The Tory peer said farmers should be ‘rewarded’ for allowing their land to return to its natural state, letting native plants and animals come back.
His public backing for the policy comes as the police are investigating his younger brother Ben Goldsmith, a Department for Environment board member, over claims by neighbours that he released red deer and wild boar from his land in breach of rules.
Millionaire farmer Mr Goldsmith told the Mail last night that the issue was ‘a bit of a Vicar of Dibley-style local ding-dong’ and said he believed it was due to two neighbours who had ‘philosophical’ differences with him over his rewilding stance.
Yesterday Lord Goldsmith said in a speech to Tory think-tank Bright Blue: ‘I’m committed to ensuring that as we invest our Nature for Climate fund, we place a lot of importance on rewilding.’
He added that he wanted to see a ‘much greater uptake of rewilding’.
Lord Goldsmith also hailed the end of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which will become the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM) after the Brexit transition period. The Mail revealed yesterday that his brother had claimed EU CAP subsidies of £25,000 for his farm last year.
The payments were under the CAP scheme that ministers have vowed to reform post-Brexit.
Lord Goldsmith said: ‘Our shift from CAP to the ELM is huge, and this is going to turn the whole subsidy system on its head, and within ELM I want there to be a recognition of the value of rewilding.
So if I want to go and plant ten hectares of land with trees I can be paid to do so and I can be paid reasonably well. If I want to leave that land to actually regenerate because that’s the best solution for that piece of land, it won’t be recognised and that’s something that we need to address.
‘So there is lots of work to be done… but I’m absolutely convinced that we need to get the incentives right to reward, and incentivise, much greater uptake of rewilding.’
Mr Goldsmith is under pressure to step down from his role on a Defra board. He faces allegations – revealed by the Daily Mail at the weekend – that he breached rules by releasing red deer and wild boar on his land in Somerset.
At first Mr Goldsmith, 39, claimed that he had attempted to round up almost all of the deer but later accepted it was a ‘lie’ and apologised.
While he admits the deer escaped over fencing on his land, he insists the boar, which he admitted feeding, were already in the area.
As well as the police probe, Mr Goldsmith is also facing the threat of a second investigation by the local district council.
Defra continued to stand by Mr Goldsmith and insisted he will remain in position.
Yesterday he said he might get a ‘slap on the wrist’ but expected the police to close the case. ‘I think a couple of the neighbours are a bit upset with this wilding approach to farming, and they lost their s*** over these deer,’ he added.
Yesterday, the National Farming Union said: ‘Red deer roaming from private land could cause problems for neighbouring farmers, while wild boar are a known biosecurity threat when it comes to the spread of African swine fever.’
Releasing wild boar could result in a maximum of two years’ jail.