Environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, last week told the Oxford Farming Conference the Agriculture Bill will return to Parliament this month, and will be accompanied by an updated policy statement “on what we expect from our reformed system, based on public money for public goods”.
She explained: “Put simply, our aim is a managed and fair transition to a system tailored to our needs in this country … based on the principle of public money for public goods. These include those highlighted in our 25-year plan for this to be the first generation to that hands back the natural environment in a better state than it was bequeathed to us – clean air, plentiful water, and a nature recovery network supporting thriving plants and wildlife and mitigating flood impact…
“We want our reforms to play a pivotal role in meeting the legally-binding commitments on air, on water, and nature which will be set out in our landmark Environment Bill … due to be reintroduced very soon.”
Villiers (pictured) insisted farmers and land managers will be fully involved in shaping the new support scheme and that there would be a range of options not a one-size-fits-all policy. She welcomed the fact that DEFRA had received over 300 proposals to be part of the co-design process for creating that system of public money for public goods, and said there are now 38 tests and trials are up and running, with over 30 more to follow. A national pilot is scheduled for 2021.
In her speech, the environment secretary also reaffirmed her party’s commitment to wider environmental progress: “This government, as you know, has just been re-elected with a substantial majority, but that is on the basis of a manifesto with more far-reaching commitments on the environment than any predecessor government…Our new approach to farm support is going to play a central role in achieving those crucial twin goals of protecting climate and protecting nature.”
She applauded the NFU for setting a target for agriculture to meet net zero by 2040, and confirmed the government would launch its English Tree Strategy consultation in spring to overhaul its approach to tree planing.