Thirty-six Conservative MPs have written to prime minister Theresa May, urging her to shift farm subsidies post-Brexit towards protecting the environment.
In the letter, the MPs urge the prime minister to reaffirm her party’s commitment to environmental policy, calling for “bold and exciting action” in the coming years.
In particular, they urge Mrs May to take advantage of the repatriation of the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), worth about £3bn to UK farmers, and redirect funds “in favour of paying farmers for delivering services for the environment and public good”.
In August, the National Trust, which manages over 250,000ha of farmland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and has about 2,000 tenant farmers, demanded an end to direct subsidies post-Brexit.
It said farmers should not be rewarded with public funds for owning land, but for taking out practices on farms that help to improve the environment and reverse the “steep decline” in wildlife, which it blamed largely on intensive agriculture.
But the NFU has voiced strong opposition to the proposals, arguing that farmers and landowners were already heavily involved in agri-environment schemes and food production could be compromised.
In July, a group of more than 80 non-governmental wildlife and nature organisations wrote to Mrs May demanding that farming subsidies with with strong environmental protections “must be the bedrock principle” of any EU subsidy agreement for the UK.
According to a YouGov opinion poll for Friends of the Earth, published in July, 57% said farm subsidies should put either more (25%) or the same (32%) emphasis on environmental protection. Only 7% said farm subsidies should put less emphasis on the environment.
The Conservative MPs’ letter lists measures taken by previous Conservative governments to protect the environment, including the Clean Air Act 1956 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The signatories include Neil Parish, the head of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee, former environment ministers Caroline Spelman and Richard Benyon, Anne Main, an outspoken critic of the badger cull, and Zac Goldsmtih, member of the environmental audit select committee.
Mr Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, said: “Brexit allows us to repatriate and reform the environmentally disastrous common agricultural policy to make sure farm subsidies are there to pay for environmental and public services.”
London-based think tank Conservative Environment Network (CEN), an independent organisation which champions right-wing approaches to environmental stewardship, co-ordinated the letter.