Much of the character and beauty of the English countryside comes from thousands of years of cultivation and grazing by livestock. The countryside and communities across rural England depend on the success of farming. Farming can and must play a key role in creating a living, diverse and beautiful countryside with prosperous healthy communities.
CPRE and farming
Farming is special, not only because it produces 60% of the essential food we need, supports the economy of rural areas and raw materials for food production, the country’s largest industry. It also manages some 70% of the land surface of England and is central to numerous benefits of the countryside including:
- A beautiful, patchwork landscape to inspire us and support recreation and escape
- Storing and filtering water to reduce the risk of flooding and replenish supplies of groundwater
- Locking up ten billion tonnes of carbon in the soil, equivalent to 50 years of UK carbon emissions
- Supporting our wildlife
During the past 50 years many of these benefits have been compromised by more intensive and industrialised farming. Key wildlife habitats have been lost, including more than 185,000 miles of hedgerows and 97% of wildlife-rich lowland meadows. Species decline, soil degradation and water pollution continue at unacceptable levels alongside newer threats such as:
- The rise of megafarms, with dairy cows outdoors on pasture replaced by vast sheds designed to house cattle indoors permanently
- Damage to soils and watercourses from cultivation of maize to feed anaerobic digesters
- Massive loss of farms with average farm size getting bigger and bigger
- High quality farmland damaged by flooding, or built on and lost forever
Protecting the landscape has been a core aim for CPRE since its foundation. For more than 50 years we have campaigned to influence the policies and programmes which, through food and farming, affect how the countryside is managed and may alter its character, landscapes, natural habitats, natural resources and economy.
We want to see the Government:
- Promote farming which regenerates farmland and helps to restore nature within a generation
- Put in place strategic plans for nature and food and farming which are coordinated and ambitious enough to address the scale of the problems
- Make the Common Agricultural Policy work for a sustainable farming system by subsidising green farming schemes, and so contributing to soil health, wildlife, water, heritage and landscape
- Strengthen planning policies and guidance to stop the best farmland being lost to development and protect it as a strategic asset
- Support short, transparent and local food supply chains to pay farmers fairly, to rebuild diversity in the food chain from field to fork, with the public understanding and valuing the people and places producing their food
The first paper in CPRE's new Food and Farming Foresight series suggests that, following the EU referendum decision, there is an opportunity for major policy change to develop a new vision and policies that will establish a sound future for farming.
Presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to decide how to shape farming policy and influence the nature of the English landscape over the coming decades, we reflect on the future of agricultural policy in the wake of our recent roundtable event.
Graeme Willis, the author of our new report 'New Model Farming: Resilience through diversity', gives insight into how Brexit has the opportunity to take farming away from industrialisation and instead encourage more diversity and environmental protection.
The word soil has many connotations. Unfortunately, quite a few are bad. It might be one reason why we consistently fail to appreciate how precious and extraordinary soil is. As a consequence, we give poor protection to this fundamental natural asset.
Farming is shaped by policies, markets and technological change. It has been for centuries. Farming now faces multiple challenges to meet the rising demand for food while restoring lost and damaged nature.
For more than 50 years CPRE has campaigned to prevent damage to the countryside from the intensive and industrialised farming that threatens to alter its character and features irrevocably.