We may have already accepted that many of the Leave side’s, erm, lets say, ‘aspirations’ regarding post-Brexit Britain were, charitably, bluster. However, this doesn’t seem to be stopping a whole plethora of organisations from getting early letters-to-Santa into the post regarding the future of the country. In no field is this more clear than in the realm of farming subsidies – even before the referendum this was recognised as an emotive subject on all sides of the debate, with no-one happen with the current wasteful system.
The National Trust kicked off the calls for change post-Brexit in August. I covered this in a previous blog post, asking them not to forget about the role for improved countryside access. Since then there have a range of alternative ideas for reforming subsidies. These ideas, to no-one’s surprise, treat farming as the ultimate guinea-pig, a convenient test-bed for often highly ideological economic, social and political pet theories. I’m not sure, as an example, many of the farmers who voted for Brexit would be hugely impressed with Ryan Bourne of the IEA’s (a fundamentalist Free Market think-tank) proposal to simply cut all subsidies and throw farming to full global competitive forces (or, in simple terms, destroy UK farming).
In addition to Bourne’s Free Market views there have been proposals to protect smaller farms from CPRE; the predictable counter-arguments from the NFU and Country Landowner’s Association (CLA) and a new collaboration (of RSPB, WWF, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust) building on National Trust’s initial ideas with a new plan for a Green Brexit*. The partners have produced a glossy leaflet, outlining a new five point plan titled ‘A New Policy For Our Countryside‘.
Of course, my own blog on this issue was also an attempt to throw my own prime passion, countryside access, into the mix. And thankfully, as always, The Open Spaces Society have been making just that argument to government too. Their call is for the subsidy system to benefit access to the countryside, through more effective maintenance of current routes, and increased dedication of both new footpaths and Access Land. All of which is great (as usual OSS are leading from the front on this), but doesn’t really go far enough for those of us looking at a severe lack of access for our boats and bike as well as our boots.
Brexit means… working together
As already mentioned, most of the calls for change represent very narrow views, aligned closely (soley) to the organistion involved’s own work and interests. I listed some ideas for access in the last blog and I have a tonne more, But this post isn’t about simply throwing more ideas in the mix, but about encouraging organisations and campaigners to work together for change. And not just with others who are tightly aligned (as per the Green Brexit Coalition), but with others too.
If we want government to listen to any of us, we need to speak with more than just one voice. In 2013 our forests were threatened with a massive sell-off. In response the government recieved a loud, resounding chorus of criticism with just one message – over our dead bodies. I’ve no doubt that the government’s change of heart was driven, at least in part, by the huge diversity of voices telling them the sell-off was unacceptable.
Outdoor recreation, environmentalism and heritage often conflict with each other. This is senseless, and only serves to weaken each message. I’d love to see a Venn Diagram of people interested in the environment and involved in outdoor recreation** – I’ll bet you’ll see something looking more like an eclipse than two separate circles! So why do we not all work together more? Of course there are issues where interest may differ – but these are all surmountable through a cooperative approach and, even if not, still more binds us together.
So my message to all those who love our countryside – whether on foot during a challenge walk, with a passion for creating new habitats, or for protecting our rural heritage (or, as many of us will be, all three) to work together. It’s great that RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust are working together – but bring Ramblers, OSS and others with you! Together we’ll build a case government can’t ignore!
Brexit means… engaging
Leading on from this call for a coalition for the countryside is another point – both obvious and more tricky. We must also bring farmers with us too. Here I do think there is in many ways a disconnect between the different communities involved in protecting our countryside. I certainly don’t feel I know enough about farming. But we must seek to engage and understand the farming community if we are to develop a future for the countryside which genuinely does increase wildlife protection, rural heritage and access to the great outdoors. Imagine how strong our case will be if it represents not only a united from from heritage, conservation and access campaigners – but also has farmers championing our cause too!
* Good news for anyone who had that in their Brexit bingo. I got stuck with Sloppy-Brexit.
** This research document doesn’t have any Venn Diagrams, but does show that outdoor recreation and environmentalism come from very similar roots, and are very inter-twined – so why do we then go on to self-identify ourselves as one or the other?