Land for Livelihoods
- A definitive map of landscape features of local importance, monitored by members of the public, to protect archaeological remains, landscape beauty and wildlife habitats from continued erosion by agriculture.
At present, only Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves and Scheduled Ancient Monuments are legally protected from destruction by agricultural activities. Even on these sites (which comprise a tiny proportion of the countryside), protection is inadequate. The law is full of loopholes, and monitoring and enforcement are left to understaffed and underfunded bureaucracies.
In every county there are hundreds of ancient features which are important to local people, but not of sufficient national significance to be raised to the status of an SSSI, NNR or SAM. At present most of these have no legal protection whatsoever. As a result we have suffered huge losses this century of such features as archaeological remains, chalk downland, heath, moorland and water meadow.
Protection of these features is not impossible, however. The definitive map of footpaths in Britain has succeeded in protecting 120,000 miles of path. This has been made possible by public involvement in monitoring breaches of the law. A definitive map of landscape features, with a requirement for farmers to apply for the equivalent of a diversion or extinguishment order before altering one, could allow the public a similar role. It would introduce accountability into decision making on farmland.
- Re-negotiation of the General Development Order to prote ct landscapes from excessive intrusion by farm buildings.
The General Development Order permits the erection of any agricultural building without even informing a local authority, let alone applying for planning permission, provided that each unit is within 465 square metres and twelve metres tall. While even small modifications to human housing are rigorously assessed, you can cover your farm with concrete without notification, as long as you build at two year intervals. Battery pig, chicken or mink units within the size limit may need an environmental assessment because of the waste they generate, but, provided they are 400 metres away from human houses, do not require any process which canvasses public opinion. As silos and concrete barns blot the most pristine horizons – National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designations notwithstanding – and the production priorities which led to the GDO no longer apply, the exemption from planning control granted by the Order becomes ever more anomalous.
- Farm subsidies to be re-oriented towards low impact, high employment uses of the land, such as smallholder organic agriculture.
The farm economy is distorted all over the world. This is something we may regret – especially in view of the pr ofligacy of the Common Agricultural Policy – but that, for the time being, we have to live with. The trick is to ensure that the distortion delivers social goods rather than social ills. This it manifestly fails to do. Subsidies have accelerated the shedding of labour. They have encouraged the neglect and destruction of landscape quality, archaeology and wildlife which, for most people in Britain, make the countryside a place to be valued.
There are now few people who would dispute that farm subsidies need to stop favouring land uses which have a high environmental impact yet employ next to no one, and start assisting low impact, high employment practices. Yet, while £71 million is spent each year in Britain on Environmentally Sensitive Area, Nitrate Sensitive Area, Habitat, Countryside Stewardship, Moorland and Organic Aid schemes, over £2 billion is spent on policies which achieve the opposite. No subsidy of any kind reflects the number of people employed on the land. Were this misspent money to be redirected towards treating all of our farmland as an environmentally- and employment-sensitive area, subsidies would rapidly deliver the social goods we have cause to expect of them.