Today sees the long-awaited publication of a landmark Agriculture Bill in parliament.
This may not sound terribly exciting, but it is a crucial piece of legislation which will have profound implications for the butterflies, moths, wildlife and wider environment of England.
The reason this legislation is so fundamentally important is it sets out a transformational approach to the way public money in the form of grants and subsidies for farming will be used. This is a welcome step forward, with the introduction of the principle of ‘public money for public goods’. An eye-watering £3bn is currently spent on subsidies and grants for farmers, the majority of which delivers no environmental benefits. There is now a wonderful opportunity to redeploy this huge sum of money so farmers are paid to manage their land to benefit wildlife and the environment.
Along with our Wildlife and Countryside Link partners we are now calling on the Government to do three things:
1. Complete the progression of the Agriculture Bill through Parliament, retaining the all-important principle of ‘Public Money for Public Goods’ and starting the next stage of transition to the new system.
2. Guarantee funding of at least £3bn p.a. for the next 10 years to ensure farmers can plan with certainty. This scale of investment is needed to meet the enormity of the climate, wildlife and environment challenges.
3. Ensure that future trade deals and legislation maintain and do not undermine environmental standards.
The Agriculture Bill is not the answer to all our current environmental ills. However, it does provide the vital legislative framework which can be a springboard for truly transformational change. However, the scale of the opportunity and subsequent success will be dependent on effective implementation. This is where Butterfly Conservation can play a key role.
We have recently published guidance on how to manage land for butterflies based on our extensive evidence and experience of working on the ground alongside many excellent farmers and landowners. We will continue to focus our efforts on agriculture so that the needs of butterflies and moths are an integral part of future plans for grants and farm support.
This could be a once in a generation opportunity to transform the way farming can benefit wildlife. We aim to help shape the detailed content of the farming support and grant schemes so that future generations can enjoy flourishing populations of butterflies and moths in the English countryside. Of course, this is only the start of the journey – we hope to be part of similarly ambitious and transformational changes in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales too so that the benefits can apply right across the UK
Although this is a piece of Westminster legislation, the complexities of devolution mean that it is to all intents and purposes English legislation. For more technical details on the Bill including how it relates to the different UK countries see here.
Chris Corrigan - Policy Co-ordinator
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Photos: Common Blue by Ivan Lynas and Small Copper by Simon Willis