Government unveils environmental plan

Farmers and green groups must overcome their differences and work together to improve the environment while boosting food production, the government has warned.

Proposals contained in the government’s long-awaited Natural Environment White Paper were finally unveiled on Tuesday (7 June).

Potential tensions between environmental and agricultural needs exist but must be overcome, says the document. This requires all interested parties to work together, it adds.

“We will bring together government, industry and environmental partners to reconcile how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production,” pledges the White Paper. The government will publish its conclusions within the next 12 months, it says.

Other measures contained in the document include:

● A review of incentives for farmers to deliver better environmental results

● Reform of the water abstraction regime to cope with climate change

● An increase in Entry Level options to tackle diffuse pollution

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman said the White Paper would create a radical shift in how people viewed natural assets. It would incorporate the natural environment into economic planning and ensure opportunities for businesses that were good for nature and the economy.

“In the past we have undervalued what our natural environment gives us,” said Mrs Spelman. “This White Paper changes that, because we cannot afford to make the same mistakes again.

A review of advice and incentives for farmers will aim to create a more integrated approach that yields better environmental results. Meanwhile, Entry Level options under environmental stewardship scheme will be extended to tackle diffuse pollution problems. This will involve the Environment Agency and Natural England working with farmers to increase scheme options and locations.

The White Paper also promises reform of the water abstraction regime to cope with the impact of climate change and a growing population. Dry spells that lead to low river levels can have an impact both on farmers who need to irrigate their crops and on the environment, it says.

“The new regime will provide clearer signals to abstractors to make the necessary investments to meet water needs and protect ecosystem functions.”

The government claims the White Paper will help ensure that the environment is better protected, restored and improved.

“We will put in place a clearer and more integrated framework to support farmers to achieve multiple benefits from their land,” it says. “We need a flourishing natural environment and a competitive, resilient farming and food industry to contribute to global food security.”