ROSS CLARK: Food security must take precedence over rewilding our fields.
THE IMAGES OF A “rewilded” Britain, alive with mammals, birds, and plants that haven’t been seen in our countryside in decades, if not centuries, are incredibly appealing.
Every morning, I get a taste of it because I live on the outskirts of one of the largest rewilding projects in the world, in the Cambridgeshire fens.
It has become a haven for wading birds over the last 20 years.
Long, straight ditches and a patch of daffodils that sprout every spring, seeded from the last crop grown there in 1999, are the only reminders that this was once farmland.
But I’m afraid I can only give two cheers for the government’s agricultural subsidy reforms, particularly its plan to rewild 300,000 hectares of English farmland, which is more than 3% of all farmland in the country.
It’s great to promote nature, but not if it leaves no room for agriculture.
To be fair, anything that improves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would be a good thing.
It rewarded farmers for ripping out hedgerows and wringing every last drop of moisture from the soil for decades, even when there was no market for the produce.
Wine lakes and butter mountains arose, as well as prairies devoid of life other than the crop being grown.
However, the EU “reformed” the CAP 20 years ago and came up with something even worse.
Rather than being compensated for producing food, farmers – or landowners – were compensated for owning land and maintaining it in “agricultural condition,” which included any type of pasture.
Millionaire country house owners claiming payments for their children’s pony paddocks was an absurd sight.
Brexit provided an opportunity for proper reform – and for taxpayers to save some of the £3 billion paid annually to extremely wealthy landowners in many cases.
However, spending the same amount as before and losing a significant portion of our agricultural sector will be a poor outcome.
The primary justification for agricultural subsidies should undoubtedly be to increase national food security.
Indeed, even before joining the Common Market, we were paying farmers public money because we never wanted to be in the situation we were in during WWII, when an enemy power tried to hold us to ransom by attacking ships carrying food.
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