Roll out the Environmental Land Management scheme so that farmers are paid to improve water quality and reduce flooding
Reward farming activities which significantly reduce the volume of chemicals like nitrogen and phosphate entering our waterways
Prioritise wetland and riparian woodland creation in nutrient neutrality zones to remove chemicals from the watercourses
Ensure the different Environmental Land Management schemes have sufficient funding to achieve the legally binding Environment Act targets for water and wildlife
Farmers are environmental stewards and deserve financial reward from the government that best reflects the work they can do to tackle water pollution and flooding. The area-based payment system under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) paid farmers for how much agricultural land they managed, rather than for the public goods they delivered like cleaner rivers. This did not lead to greater food security or a healthy natural environment, which ought to go hand in hand.
We recognise that runoff from agriculture is the biggest single polluter of rivers, responsible for 40 per cent of damage to waterways. This is not due to farmers’ disregard for the environment, but because of decades of falling farm gate prices and the perverse incentives of the CAP pushing farmers to intensify their practices.
Outside the EU, we have the opportunity to put this right and deliver cleaner rivers than we ever had as a member state. The farm budget should reward sustainable farming activities which significantly reduce the volume of chemicals like nitrogen and phosphate entering our waterways. This includes creating buffer strips near watercourses to catch pollutants, encouraging natural pest management to reduce pesticide use, helping farmers improve their slurry storage, and planting cover crops during winter to prevent the runoff of soils from fields.
The budget should also prioritise wetland and riparian woodland creation on lower value agricultural land in nutrient neutrality zones to remove chemicals from the watercourses. This would also improve water security and reduce flood risk by storing more water further up the catchment, as well as unlocking planning permission for more homes. These measures should be delivered through the successor to the popular stewardship schemes, which currently have agreements with about 40% of farmers covering around half of England’s farmed landscape.
The government should ensure the different Environmental Land Management schemes have sufficient funding to achieve the legally binding Environment Act targets for water and wildlife. These interventions would also deliver other public goods like carbon sequestration and biodiversity improvement. These public payments should be open to developer contributions through nutrient trading schemes to boost farmers’ income and finance more ambitious projects.