Farm minister George Eustice reveals more of his vision for post-Brexit farm subsidies

Farmers Guardian asked five experts from farming and the environment what they would like to see farm subsidies supporting in 2020, whether the UK stays in the EU or not. Well I say experts, two of them were current or former farm ministers (both farmers) so whether they qualify as experts or not is in the eye of the beholder. Abi Burns from RSPB gave the most sensible response, as you would expect.

George Eustice gave a little more away over and above what we already know.

Eustice confirmed the obvious, that if he had his way a new post-Brexit farm subsidy system would be written by the NFU, stating

“A UK agricultural policy will not be dumped on everyone from on high like the CAP. We will work with farming organisations to develop good policy.”

He continued to peddle the highly dubious claim that farmers would get as much – perhaps more subsidy after Brexit than now, as farmers in Switzerland and Norway do:

“The UK government will continue to give farmers and the environment as much support – or perhaps even more – as they get now.”

Let’s just look at whether a comparison with Switzerland and Norway is appropriate here. The average Swiss farm is 23ha in area (average UK farm 84ha in 2010) and each farm receives an annual subsidy of 65000 swiss francs, or £45000 a year. This works out at £2000 a hectare! This is ten times as  much as farmers in the UK receive from the EU.

Is Eustice really suggesting farmers would receive anything like their Swiss counterparts?

Even wealthy Switzerland is now planning to reduce these gargantuan subsidies – though the last time they tried it, subsidies went up.

What about Norway? While Switzerland’s farmers receive the second highest level of subsidy in the world, Norway’s receive the highest level in the world.

Moving swiftly on…

Eustice argues that outside of the EU the UK Government, and devolved governments, would have far more control over how the money was spent. This is indubitably true – blindingly obvious really. Though we would still be bound by the same WTO rules as the rest of the EU, and that means state aid rules. State aid rules are designed to prevent one country giving its farmers unfair economic advantage over another, by means of unfair subsidies.

Creating an entirely new set of rules to govern how subsidies are spent in the UK may not be a bad idea, it all depends on who sets the rules, how they are administered and whether they are enforced.

Eustice’s vision for UK farm subsidies is that they are spent on

1) Promoting profitable food production eg through the introduction of GM crops and removing regulations which are designed to protect the environment and human health.

2) “Safeguarding the environment while promoting habitats”.

Given Eustice has been in Defra for a few years now, you might think that he would have learnt something about things like the environment and wildlife habitats. So who actually wrote this phrase? The use of the word “while” is particularly odd.

A couple of examples of “while” come to mind:

“I drank a cup of coffee while catching up on my emails”; the two things happened at the same time, but there was no direct causal relationship.

“We must protect jobs in the steel industry while continuing to ensure businesses can make a profit in these difficult time” might have been something Sajid Javid had said had he really cared about the steelworkers of South Wales. This use of the word implies that two things can in theory happen, there may be a causal relationship, but there are challenges that make the likelihood of them happening more difficult.

Eustice’s proposal suggests that safeguarding the environment will make promoting habitats less likely, or that they happen at the same time, but are unrelated. Either way it makes little sense. As for “promoting habitats” this is a piece of meaningless jargon – it doesn’t mean that a PR campaign is being launched to tell consumers how wonderful peat bogs are, but rather “promote” means being seen to be encouraging without actually doing anything.

3) improving animal welfare.

Eustice has repeatedly stated that he wants farmers to be paid extra for higher animal welfare standards. But the UK is rightly proud of its relatively high animal welfare standards (at least compared to much of the EU). So this remains a proposal without any detail.

On area payments, Eustice is now talking about making part of the payment conditional on farmers signing up to an independent farm accreditation scheme, to deliver “environmentally sensitive farming”. This looks like it is equivalent to privatising the current, much derided, greening element of the basic payment. Interestingly he name-checks The Rivers Trust, alongside LEAF – as possible administrators of such a scheme.

I wasn’t able to find anything from The Rivers Trust in relation to them proposing a farm accreditation scheme – can anyone else enlighten me on this?

Eustice’s idea of farm accreditation was that farmers, having bought into an accreditation scheme (the cheapest one?) would be “automatically rewarded” without any forms being filled in or farm inspections. What sort of accreditation scheme is that? At the very least, the taxpayer (who is funding all this) might expect some monitoring of outcomes – that habitats had been promoted, for example.

While arguing for the abandonment of the two pillar CAP system, Eustice wants to retain a separate pot of money for “stewardship”, “To promote improved wildlife habitats and higher animal welfare standards.”

back to promotion again. Isn’t this just another way of splitting the budget into two strands in the same way that the CAP is split? Eustice wants a simpler broader scheme which also pays for improved animal welfare. That means less money going to the very best quality habitats (promoted or otherwise) and back to the money for old rope approach of the Entry Level Scheme.

On animal welfare Eustice claims that

“We are reaching the limits of what can be achieved for animal welfare through regulation in a competitive global market. However, we can reward farmers for adopting animal welfare systems of production.”

Is he really suggesting that market forces are preventing higher animal welfare standards from being developed in the UK, and that we should pay subsidy if we want to improve them? Surely this would be contravening those State Aid rules I mentioned earlier. In any case it’s a craven submission to the market. Animal welfare and environmental protection have developed in the UK in spite of the market, global or otherwise.

Eustice finishes his thoughts by suggesting that regulations governing farm subsidies  would be simplified   – and goes further.

“We would establish a clear distinction between regulatory requirements which should be a matter for the courts and payments to farmers for the environmental and other benefits they provide. There would be no more automatic fines. In future, agencies like the RPA or Environment Agency would have to take farmers to court and bring a prosecution for serious breaches and there would be far greater use of warnings and improvement notices.”

There we have it. Under a post-brexit farm subsidy system, landowners who break the rules, by for example repeatedly polluting rivers with effluent, or ploughing up old grassland, or leaving maize stubbles overwinter to exacerbate flooding, would not risk having their subsidies cut, but would have to be taken through the courts.

Eustice has pulled back the curtain a little further to reveal his vision for farm subsidies, if the UK votes to leave the EU in less than 4 weeks time.

It’s a vision that anyone who cares for the environment and for low intensity farming, or who wants to see higher animal welfare achieved, should be alarmed by.

Posted in Brexit, EU referendum, George Eustice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Shared from Ruth Davis’ blog nature and the common good : Five things I’ve learnt during the referendum campaign.

I enjoyed reading this piece from Ruth Davis, formerly of Plantlife, RSPB and Greenpeace, now at E3G. Ruth writes at Nature and the Common Good.  I thought I would share it with you:

1) Project fear is really Project Common Sense. And it will probably work. I have run out of patience with pro-Europeans complaining that the ‘in’ campaign doesn’t ‘make the visionary case for Europe’. I am someone who would indeed respond to passionately pro-European messages. But I am also one of the vanishingly tiny number […]

via Five things I’ve learnt during the referendum campaign. — Nature and the common good

Posted in EU referendum, Europe, ruth davis, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Paper recommendation: power relations in ecosystem services work

The issue of power relationships was touched upon in the Earthwatch Natural Capital Debate, which you can see here http://eu.earthwatch.org/events/2016/02/09/earthwatch-debate-does-nature-come-with-a-price-tag-

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to recommend the following paper:

Berbés-Blázquez M, González JA, Pascual U. 2016. Towards an ecosystem services approach that addresses social power relations. Curr Opin Environ Sustainability 2016 Apr; 19:134-43. DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2016.02.003

With the new IPBES framework and its focus on institutions, a shift towards governance-related issues is already underway in ecosystem services research. The paper recommended here adds an important new dimension, namely that of power relationships. These have, until recently, been largely ignored in ecosystem services research. The present paper makes three tangible suggestions for how power relationships should be more routinely examined in ecosystem service assessments:

1. by analysing how power shapes institutions, and how this in turn, creates winners and losers in terms of the well-being benefits generated by ecosystem services;

2. by investigating more carefully how ecosystem services are co-produced by people. Ecosystem services (especially provisioning services) are generated by combining human labour inputs…

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Guest Blog by Gavin Saunders: ECOS Review – Challenging Nature Conservation

Long long ago (well from about 2000-2004) I was on BANC Council, and I still write pieces for their journal, ECOS, from time to time (this was the most recent). So it gives me pleasure to have BANC Chair and Neroche Woodlander Gavin Saunders, to write a guest blog.

 

Thank you Miles for giving me this guest slot….

ECOS

This is a piece about ECOS, the little journal which, consciously and unconsciously, acknowledged and unacknowledged, has been flowing around the soup of the nature conservation sector as a catalyst for a rather long time. I think it’s great – and I’m very biased. And I also think, in my biased way, that anyone who enjoys the refreshing straightforwardness of Miles’s blog would also think ECOS is great. So this is, I admit, a selling job – but hopefully an interesting one!

 

When I started on the masters degree course in Conservation at UCL back in 1989 (where I first met the youthful Mr King, incidentally (I still had hair then – Ed)), we were introduced to a little journal called ECOS. In its diminutive A5 pages lurked a wonderful spectrum of articles about all aspects of nature and the battles to recognise, protect and connect with it, many of which were refreshingly left-field, irreverent and challenging, and which together seemed to leapfrog across boundaries between science and social policy, head and heart. All this was peppered with the whimsical but cutting cartoons of Neil Bennett. I subscribed to ECOS then, and have been a subscriber ever since.

 

Since that time, and especially in more recent years, ECOS has not been the only source of independent commentary on conservation issues – Miles’ own blog here, is an excellent example, and its popularity is a sign of how much we need this sort of free-thinking, unapologetic, unconstrained writing. Mark Avery’s blog is another, and there are more. But there are few places to turn for sources of truly independent thought in conservation. So much of what we hear from the conservation ‘side’ comes through the filters of big NGOs and the messages they choose to send out.

 

There’s an irony here: we all strive, as conservationists, to bring nature and its interests into the mainstream. Yet conservation isn’t a comfortable mainstream subject. It’s often at its best when it’s radical, questioning, even anti-establishment. That sort of position is often most easily represented by the individual, maverick ‘outsider’, but it can have a ‘home’ in a collective publication too.

 

ECOS was and is produced by BANC, the British Association of Nature Conservationists, which is a rather stuffy title for what has always been a very minimalist and non-establishment little charity. It was conceived and established by students on the UCL Conservation course, a few years before I did the course myself. Its founders and early supporters included people who became well known in the sector – Chris Rose, Sue Everett, Adrian Colston, Paul Evans, Heather Corrie, Bill Adams, Peter Shirley, Rob Jarman – and it received high profile support from the likes of Derek Ratcliffe and Marion Shoard. Rick Minter became editor early on and has remained in the role.

 

The founders saw the need for an independent source of challenge to mainstream conservation, which (even then) they saw as risking becoming smug and stuck in its own received wisdom. In the two decades which followed, ECOS quickly flowered into an influential source of critical commentary, inspiration and thoughtful rumination on all aspects of the conservation scene, read by everyone from students to chief execs who wanted a handle on what people were thinking amongst the rank and file. Amongst many topics where ECOS was a catalyst for the development of new thinking was rewilding (the discussion of which really took root through articles in ECOS), the ‘extinction of experience’ (the lack of nature contact amongst the young), alien species and our attitudes to them, and the various tribulations of the conservation agencies of England, Scotland and Wales. The BANC website now provides an archive of much of this back catalogue of material, and it makes fascinating reading.

 

Nearly thirty years later, I find myself chair of BANC. I joined its Council of trustees (who run the organisation as volunteers, with just a paid editor and development officer) a few years ago when it was clear that BANC was struggling, losing profile, and losing members. On the one hand, the printed journal was still popular amongst its core readership, though circulated and re-circulated copies meant readership didn’t translate into subscription income to support production and editorial costs. On the other hand, a potential new generation of readers were not very interested in a printed journal, which seemed quaintly old fashioned in an age of fast online news and opinion, so they were passing it by.

 

Something had to be done, and we took the decision to move ECOS online. As a result, the same quality and depth of writing which ECOS has always contained, is now available by annual subscription through www.banc.org.uk. We’re really excited by what it offers – but we need to bring it (back) to the attention of today’s crop of conservation professionals and practitioners.

 

And God knows we all need it more than ever! We need intellectual strength of purpose combined with heart-felt and spiritual confidence in the spark which excites us about nature. There’s a lot of dark, pretty malignant feeling ‘out there’ towards conservation, and it’s becoming politically acceptable in the devil-take-the-hindmost post-austerity world created by recent governments. Working in conservation is about more than having the qualifications and the licences and the CV. It demands the courage to stand up to the sneering, and the wisdom to see how nature infuses all aspects of human society. ECOS has always been a place to find little nuggets of that wisdom, but to continue to gather them, it needs people to subscribe.

 

To help bring ECOS content to that wider audience, we’re offering free downloadable access to a recent issue of ECOS, to encourage people to see what the online journal has to offer. So rather than take my word for it, please take a look here https://www.banc.org.uk/open-access-articles/.

 

An annual subscription to BANC is exceedingly good value at just £25 a year! To join, just follow this link https://www.banc.org.uk/join-banc/.

 

 

Posted in BANC, ECOS, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Biodiversity Day

 

Dryas octopetala

some biodiversity

Apparently it’s biodiversity day.

Or, to be more technically correct, it’s International Day for Biological Diversity.

The United Nations proclaimed this day as biodiversity day in 1993, shortly after the Rio Summit of 1992. The aim was to “increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues”.

It’s fair to say that the rest of biodiversity has not been treated well by that other singular species, us, Homo Sapiens, in the intervening 23 years.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

We don’t see ourselves as part of biodiversity, though we obviously are. Indeed though we may think of ourselves as individuals, members of families, communities, societies even citizens of states, we don’t think too much about ourselves as animals.

Or even symbionts.

While earlier estimates that bacteria outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 are now regarded with some scepticism, recent estimates still reckon we are as much made up of bacteria, viruses and fungi as we are of human cells. We are, each one of us, a mini ecosystem.

If the aim is to increase understanding and awareness, is biodiversity even the right word to use? I don’t think so. It’s a technical word with a specific meaning, and that meaning is known to a small coterie of activists, scientists and interested people. It’s a useful word for technical scientific use, but useless or worse actively unhelpful for communicating to a wide audience about nature.

Using the word Biodiversity creates a frame, a way of thinking about nature, which influences our attitudes and actions. While the original concept was noble, the consequence is that the word has become associated with a particular view of nature, leading to ecosystem services, natural capital and biodiversity offsetting. This was the subject of a talk I gave last year to the Chartered Institute of Ecologists and Environmental  Managers and I wrote up part of it here. I think it’s fair to say the audience was split, with some wondering what on earth I was talking about. You can see the slides here.

Having been a fully paid up, card carrying member of the biodiversity vanguard, I now prefer to use the word nature. Nature might mean different things to different people, but there is a core of understanding that most people will agree on. And the word nature, unlike biodiversity, creates an emotional response, an emotional connection, from humanity to the rest of non-human life.

So, forgive me, but I won’t be celebrating biodiversity day.

Does that mean I don’t care about nature? I’ll leave that for you to come to your own conclusions.

 

Posted in biodiversity, framing, language, Nature | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Summer: An anthology for the changing seasons

It’s a beautiful late Spring day here in Dorset. The temptation to leave the desk and computer and head off for a walk along the coast is almost overwhelming and I may well succumb shortly.

But first I’d just like to draw your attention to a wonderful book which is published today.

summer

“Summer: an anthology for the changing seasons” has been compiled and edited by the multi-talented Melissa Harrison and is the second of four books being published this year by Elliott and Thompson, in aid of the Wildlife Trusts. Buy it from NHBS or from your local bookshop.

I am immensely proud to say that I have written one of the contributions – and it’s sandwiched between one from the great Philip Larkin and one from another great, nature poet and writer (amongst many other things) Paul Evans. Other contributors range from George Eliot to Mike McCarthy, Gilbert White to Jo Cartmell, Richard Adams to Megan Shersby.

I’ve written about a particularly memorable summer of nature in my life, a long time ago. I will publish the piece on here, but not yet.

I hope you will all go and buy the book and enjoy dipping into its many treasures.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Chris Packham mental health abuse update. Hunters blame Packham for inciting the abuse they gave him

This is just a quick follow-up post, to update you on things since yesterday’s about Chris Packham’s mental health problems and Asperger’s syndrome being used to attack him by the hunting fraternity.

Packham was asked for his views on the matter by the Huffington Post and in typical fashion responded in a sober, mature way.

 “It’s very disappointing to see such comments retweeted by an MP. People with Aspergers are not ‘nut jobs’ they are simply different.”

“And if associated depression qualifies them for such categorisation then I hope he manages to engage with some of the important messages from Mental Health Week.”

Meanwhile the origin of the story appears to be John Connor, the partner of the Nurse who runs the company Hunting Solutions. Connor realised he had hit paydirt for the pro-hunting anti-Packham campaign, as soon as Soames had retweeted the offending message. Here he is on Facebook:

connor

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting Solutions is now been trolled by equally offensive vegans and animals rights activists. This is par for the course – I have also been trolled on twitter by vegan animal rights people.

Someone insightfully suggested yesterday that hunt supporters and vegan animal rights activists feed off their mutual hatred – in a mutual dance of death. It’s an unedifying sight and will not solve anything.

Hunting Solutions, far from recognising the offence they have given to a large proportion of the population, sought to defend their actions by claiming that because Packham called fox hunters psychopaths, he was, literally, “fair game” and called him a “nutter”.

nutter

This claim refers back to the interview Packham gave when the Countryside Alliance were attempting to have him sacked from the BBC on trumped up charges. What Packham actually said was (of Foxhunting)

“I don’t understand it, I suppose. That’s the bottom line. To me, it has to have a psychopathic element, if you’re taking pleasure from killing things, just for that pleasure. If you’re going to eat it, if you’re culling an animal that is otherwise damaging the environment because it’s too abundant, I have no problem with killing animals. But if you have no reason but pleasure, then that surely is psychopathic.”

Now whether you agree with him or not, it is a reasoned argument, and he’s not calling Foxhunters psychopaths, but calling Foxhunting psychopathic – there is a big difference. A difference that will fly high over the heads of people like Connor.

While the Countryside Alliance’s famously spiky Chief Exec Tim Bonner declined to get involved, their head of shooting Liam Stokes dropped a comment in to the twitter conversation yesterday.

stokes

The petitioners relates to Packhams support for Mark Avery’s “ban driven grouse shooting” petition, which has now gained 36,669 signatures – that’s about 5000 added since yesterday – mostly I would imagine thanks to their own attack on Packham.

Stokes also appears to think attacking Packham for his Aspergers and Depression is the “petitioners” fault for having dared to suggest that driven grouse shooting was wrong. If a shooter had shot Packham dead would Stokes have nodded and sagely pointed out that if he hadn’t supported the petition in the first place, he would still have been alive?

Some commentators, who I respect, suggest the answer is to find the common ground and work with local communities, regardless of what their impact on nature is.This is undoubtedly an important approach to adopt, and the impact of farming on nature is a good example where this approach can help. But I’m not at all convinced it can apply to something like driven Grouse Shooting, which has as much to do with the politics of land ownership and property rights, as it does to do with the custom and practice of rural communities.

Would the Suffragettes have successfully gained Votes for Women by seeking to find common ground with men who would do anything to prevent their gaining suffrage? Would the Slavery abolitionists have succeeded if they had agreed to sit down and agree a common-ground approach to abolition? Clearly not. Common-ground approaches have their place, of course, but not every issue can be resolved this way.

Posted in Chris Packham, hunting, Mark Avery, mental health | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Is it ok to call someone a nutjob because you disagree with their politics?

Chris_Packham

Chris Packham has been in the news recently, not least for the fact that he has Asperger’s Syndrome and suffered from depression which led to two suicide attempts. As someone who has also suffered from depression, I can understand to an extent what he has been through.

Chris is also a leading light in the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, along with Mark Avery and others. I support this campaign, and if you haven’t signed the petition, please consider doing so.

Mark wrote yesterday on his excellent blog about the fact that some one from a hunting business called Hunting Solutions had called Chris Packham a “self-confessed nutjob” on twitter.

hunting solutions

 

In my experience being abused on twitter by people in the hunting industry is an occupational hazard of engaging with them. The use of the phrase “self confessed nutjob” on the other hand could be considered to be going beyond normal abuse. But this kind of language could be construed as being normal “banter” among the hunting fraternity.

What came next is more interesting;

soames nutjob retweet

 

 

 

The Right Honorable Nick Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, retweeted Hunting Solutions tweeet calling Mark a “truth avoider” ie a liar, and Packham “a self-confessed nutjob”.

I find this interesting, especially in light of the way that the right wing website Guido Fawkes revealed Naz Shah to have “liked” on facebook a post that was widely considered as anti-semitic; and led to the now infamous “Hitler was a Zionist” spat between Ken Livingstone and John Mann.  Readers may recall that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn launched an inquiry into anti-semitism in the Labour party, in light of these incidents.

Earlier this year, David Cameron publicly stated “we need to end the stigma of mental health”.  Cameron also has form though – calling David Miliband “nuts” and then quipping “I don’t want to get into an argument with the Mental Health lobby”,  as if that was the only problem with his use of language. Eric Pickles also talked about a child abuse survivor needing to “adjust her medication” and the aforementioned Ken Livingstone made a similar remark about a shadow minister needing “psychiatric help”, which was particularly crass as the minister had suffered from depression.

As we know, there is no right not to be offended in general, but clearly being offensive in a way that focusses on someone’s gender, race, religion, sexuality or indeed mental health or place on the autistic spectrum, is not only immoral and repugnant, but arguably illegal.

To use someone’s own mental health problems to undermine their well-reasoned arguments is disgraceful and should not be tolerated.

The Conservative party were lightning quick to jump on the bandwagon that Guido Fawkes started rolling, when it came to Labour’s problems with anti-semitism. When will they start to look at their own problems with other forms of prejudice and bigotry?

I put this to Nick Soames on twitter this morning  – his response? He blocked me.

Posted in Chris Packham, hunting, mental health | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Three Years of a New Nature Blog

wishing tree

wishing tree and well, Burren.

Today I’m celebrating three years of writing this blog. It’s become quite an important part of my life, and I’m hoping to continue it for the foreseeable future.

I will also be writing blogs on People Need Nature‘s website, and at the moment am attempting to juggle my own twitter feed, the PNN twitter feed; and now facebook for PNN too.

This is becoming quite time consuming!

At some point something is going to have to give. I am hoping to raise enough funds to pay for a part- time social media person to take on the People Need Nature social media work.

If anyone has any bright ideas about how to fund that, please let me know.

The most popular post continues to be The strange case of Dr Earth and the UKIP environmental policies, which has been at the top of the table since September 2014. Hard on its heels now is The Flood, the Environment Agency and the Grouse Moor,  and I expect this one to make it to the top spot sometime this year. In third place (way behind the first two) is The Countryside Alliance, its charitable foundation and the Tory party.

Its pretty clear to me from these top stories, that what my readership wants is investigations into the murky area where politics and environmental issues meet. While I enjoy writing these pieces, they do take up a lot of time, which is being squeezed, as People Need Nature gets going. Expect to see more shorter pieces (have I said that before?) in the future.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and especially those who leave comments.

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Iain Duncan Smith “may have done ok from the EU”

Iain-Duncan-Smith

Iain Duncan Smith has come out fighting today, insulting the Germans, deriding the Prime Minister as a push-over, but most importantly appealing to the British people’s better nature, arguing that the EU is “a force for social injustice”.

He apparently appealed to “those who may have done ok from the EU” to “think about people who haven’t”, targeting people who have benefited from cheap nannies, baristas and low paid East European labourers.

Perhaps IDS should follow his own advice, as someone who has benefited greatly from the EU.

Smith lives rent-free in a £2m (2013 prices) home on the capacious rural estate owned by his wife’s parents, Lord and Lady Cottesloe at Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire. Although relatively small for a country seat (only 1300 acres) The farm brings in £150,000 (in round figures) a year from farm subsidies.

Farm subsidies paid for by the – yes, you guessed it, European Union.

It’s easy for IDS to point the finger at people, because it helps divert attention away from the really big winners of EU largesse. Winners like himself.

Posted in Common Agricultural Policy, EU referendum, Europe, Iain Duncan Smith | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment