The Government have just finished their consultation on the future reform of the Common Agriculture Policy entitled : Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit

There is much to welcome in the consultation, for example the proposal that farmers and land managers will be paid for producing public benefits, such as access, water, landscape and so on.

This is a complex consultation with a wide range of questions from what are the key things we would like to see in future agricultural support systems, through to questions about how to increase knowledge sharing, and issues about trade.

Read / download a shortened version of our response to the consultation here (pdf)

Our top asks include:

  • Landscape as the number one priority
  • Focus on the uplands and common land
  • Don’t forget about tranquillity, and health and wellbeing
  • Supporting an outcomes approach
  • A national framework with local flexibility and delivery

Landscape as the number one priority

Landscape (quality and character) should be viewed as an essential public good as it incorporates everything else. This means landscapes everywhere are of value. Landscape is the setting we all live in, the surroundings that we see, touch, feel, smell, hear and enjoy. It is more than just a view. We depend on landscape for food, water and clean air and many other necessities It is our life support system and without it we could not exist. Healthy landscapes include many other public benefits e.g. wildlife, clean water, access and so on but the provision of these other benefits does not necessarily give us quality landscapes. Landscape should therefore be at the heart of any new policy as the number one priority, underneath which others sit.

Focus on the uplands and common land

Common land is a proxy for so many other public benefits. It is both a unique type of landscape and land management situation. It is complex, with many different interests having legal rights over land owned by another. Common land provides us with amazing landscapes, and delivers proportionately more public benefit that any other type of land (e.g. 3% of England’s land produces 39% of open access land, 11% of scheduled monuments, 21% of all SSSIs and 82% of commons are in designated landscapes). It is not something that can be satisfactorily dealt with by general schemes, it needs options and recognition, with tailored policies in its own right.

We welcome a clear vision for the uplands and remote rural areas as it will set out a clear way forward based on the special circumstances of upland areas which include their natural and structural disadvantages such as climate, remoteness and difficult terrain and also access to key infrastructure and markets for farm produce.

The uplands need our support because they give us, stunning landscapes, food, drinking water, open access, wildlife and valuable habitats, open spaces for our health and wellbeing, carbon storage, a rich cultural heritage, common land and other benefits.

The uplands are major contributors to the nation's well-being despite only comprising 12% of England’s land area. 53% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in the uplands and 86% of England's open access land. All this is managed by about 10,000 farm holdings, many vulnerable to economic threats in the next few years.

We believe that current descriptions of upland areas as “disadvantaged “ or “severely disadvantaged” are dangerously misleading. They may reflect production potential and threats of depopulation, but fail to recognise their high value contributions to environmental and public good benefits. The new policy is an opportunity to establish a new language about our upland areas, leaving behind the language of ‘Less Favoured’ and ‘Severely Disadvantaged’ areas and instead re-classing them as areas providing high levels of public goods and services essential for the welfare of everyone.

Don’t forget about tranquillity, and health and wellbeing

CPRE have accurate and countrywide maps of both tranquillity and dark skies. They are different things, but tranquillity embraces dark skies as well as other wider factors and elements. Our dark skies are under threat with increasing urbanisation and light pollution. The effect is bad for our wildlife, increases our energy use, and contributes to climate change. In a world of ever increasing busyness, stress and less connection with what is around us, we all need tranquillity, but it is one of the many forgotten public benefits.We need to embrace and recognise the benefits that our countryside can still provide that for us.

The benefits the countryside provides for health and wellbeing (physical and mental) – it is well documented that accessing the countryside, either actively or passively (looking at the view) has positive impacts on our physical and mental health. The NHS is ever increasingly stretched and under resourced so the opportunities to complement it with ‘natural in terms of preventative medicine treatment impacts have a significant monetary value.

Supporting an outcomes approach

We fully support an outcome based approach, based on local evidence and monitoring, but as part of a wider spatial unit, such as landscape character types or national character areas. This would enable local flexibility and responses to local need, but within a wider spatial strategic framework, whereby farmers have the flexibility to determine how their land can contribute to a national framework of objectives and outcomes. This gives greater ownership of solutions to farmers and land managers. We need a return to a more positive and helpful relationship between farmer and adviser, with mutual respect and negotiation.

A national framework with local flexibility and delivery

Friends of the Lake District support an outcome based approach, based on local evidence and monitoring, but sitting within a wider spatial unit, such as landscape character types or national character areas, and within overall an national framework. Such units are already defined and landscape character assessments such as National Character Areas also define statements of environmental opportunity that identify potential enhancements. Such an approach based on landscape character enables local flexibility and responses to local need, but within a wider spatial strategic framework. This can apply to all types of landscape, as all landscapes have value.