A week long nationwide online debate (7-14 March) has been launched around the question: Have we got the balance right between protecting the environment and producing food?

The Great Land Use Debate is being hosted by the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme during the Festival of Social Science/National Science and Engineering Week. 

It will air opinions from key thinkers and there is an invitation for everyone with an interest in land use to contribute.

One of the opening shots has come from Lincs grower Mark Tinsley, who said that farmers and land managers in the UK are getting a raw deal because the emphasis on environmental protection has gone too far.

“We don’t have a coherent strategy for land use in the UK,” said Mr Tinsley, who grows vegetables and cereal crops in Lincolnshire. 

“Policy is ad hoc and designed to achieve short term political gain; it is reactive rather than proactive and the balance between environmental, social and commercial considerations is heavily weighted in favour of the environment. We need to decide rural policy based on a more balanced perspective.”

But Mark Avery, director of conservation for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds takes the opposite view. 

“Agriculture policy is moving out of the dark days of scant environmental awareness, but we’re far from a positive environmental footprint,” he said.  And he added that to focus solely on agricultural production would be folly.

“We must include conserving and enhancing wildlife, mitigating and adapting to climate change, managing water resources and quality and providing outdoor space for people’s exercise and spiritual enrichment as equal objectives, alongside production, in our land management policies.” 

Read what others have to say on the official Land Use Debate site. Or discuss the issue in the FWiSpace discussion forums.