Skip to main content

CAP should be replaced by a sustainable land-use policy

Wheat harvest by Jim Choate
Whatever your thoughts about Brexit, one thing most agree on is that it offers an opportunity to rethink how we in the UK look after our agricultural land.  The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has long been a source of resentment. It accounts for 40% of the EU budget yet has systematically failed to address, in some cases even exacerbated, the biggest concerns in European agriculture. Unlike most transnational sectoral market correction schemes, even much of the general public are aware of its shortcomings.

CAP is formed of 2 pillars. Pillar 1, which accounts for the 70% money spent, is simply a payment for land owned. The more land you own, the more money you get. This promotes large-scale mono-cropping, and acts as a rigid barrier to entry for young would-be farmers. Pillar 2 makes up the rest of CAP’s budget and consists of agri-environment schemes. Whilst well intentioned, Pillar 2 promotes an agricultural divide, where some land is responsibly stewarded while other land is intensively farmed. It is not the most efficient or effective means of improving the state of our land.

Public money for public goods


Michael Gove made a lot of enemies whilst at the Department for Education. However, since being appointed Minister for the Environment, he appears to have bucked the trend of expert-bashing. The government’s 25 Year Green Plan talks a very good talk – it’s a re-affirmation of the government’s laudable aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it, following on from the Lawton principles – but fails to walk the walk. There is much rhetoric, but very little explanation as to how goals will be met.

One consistent theme is that of spending public money on public goods. What this means is that tax-payers money should only be used to pay for the goods and services which are ‘consumed’ but for which there is currently not market. It is a way of addressing the tragedy of the commons argument, whereby, in pursuit of personal gain, individuals neglect that which they rely on for that gain, to the detriment of all.
Lake District by Les Haines
The Lake District as we know it has been shaped by generations of upland sheep farming. This practise offers extremely marginal returns, but many would agree there is a huge (but hard to quantify) value to the landscape of the Lake District. Public money should be spent to support such farmers.

In a post-Brexit landscape, there will be many competing demands on the public purse. The challenge, then, is to find alternative sources with which to finance the provision of these services provided by natural ecosystems.

Payments for Ecosystem Services


It is exceptionally difficult to put a value on nature. A market is needed through which farmers can ‘sell’ the services the land they own is able to provide, and beneficiaries of these services can purchase them. In many cases, one service may be provided by many land-owners, a single piece of land may provide many services, and there may be many consumers of each of these services. Clearly, this represents a complicated market structure.

But we can’t shy away from the task. The West of England Nature Partnership, as well as Green Alliance and the National Trust, have conceptualised a system through which such transactions can take place. Functioning as a sort of Green Investment Bank, an institution will package the suggested provision of a consortium of land-owners (for instance, the planting of woodland) for sale to a consortium of buyers. This might include water companies who benefit from cleaner water, Wildlife Trusts with a remit of improving the local access to nature, and developers with a requirement to offset/mitigate the impacts of their development.

In a similar light, Wessex Water have an online platform via which farmers can bid for money in return for adopting more sustainable farming practices. This system directly reduces the cost of water purification for the Water Company, acts as an incentive for good practice to the landowner, and provides landscape and wildlife benefits for the local population – a win-win-win.
Clearly its easier to pay farmers per hectare of land owner. But with the growing demands placed on our environment, and an increasing understanding of our reliance on it, such a system as described here could radically alter the terminal decline of Britain’s natural capital.

------------------------
This blog was written by Matthew Whitney who is currently studying an MSc in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of Bristol. 
Matthew Whitney

Popular posts from this blog

Powering the economy through the engine of Smart Local Energy Systems

How can the Government best retain key skills and re-skill and up-skill the UK workforce to support the recovery and sustainable growth? This summer the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) requested submission of inputs on Post-Pandemic Economic Growth. The below thoughts were submitted to the BEIS inquiry as part of input under the EnergyREV project . However, there are points raised here that, in the editing and summing up process of the submission, were cut out, hence, this blog on how the UK could power economic recovery through Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES). 1. Introduction: Factors, principles, and implications In order to transition to a sustainable and flourishing economy from our (post-)COVID reality, we must acknowledge and address the factors that shape the current economic conditions. I suggest to state the impact of such factors through a set of driving principles for the UK’s post-COVID strategy. These factors are briefly explained belo

Farming in the Páramos of Boyacá: industrialisation and delimitation in Aquitania

Labourers harvest ‘cebolla larga’ onion in Aquitania. Image credit: Lauren Blake. In October and November 2019 Caboteer  Dr Lauren Blake  spent time in Boyacá, Colombia, on a six-week fieldtrip to find out about key socio-environmental conflicts and the impacts on the inhabitants of the páramos, as part of the historical and cultural component of her research project, POR EL Páramo . Background information about the research can be found in the earlier blog on the project website . Descending down the hill in the bus from El Crucero, the pungent smell of cebolla larga onion begins to invade my nose. The surrounding land transforms into plots of uniform rows of onion tops at various stages of growth, some mostly brown soil with shoots poking out along the ridges, others long, bushy and green. Sandwiched between the cloud settled atop the mountainous páramos and the vast, dark blue-green Lake Tota, all I can see and all I can smell is onion production. Sprinklers are scattered around, dr

IncrEdible! How to save money and reduce waste

The new academic year is a chance to get to grips with managing your student loan and kitchen cupboards. Over lockdown the UK wasted a third less food than we usually would. This is brilliant, as normally over 4.5 million tonnes of edible food is wasted from UK homes every year. For students, it’s even higher. The average cost of food waste per student per week is approximately £5.25 - that's about £273 per year !  It’s not just our bank accounts that are affected by food waste – it’s our planet too. The process of growing, making, distributing, storing and cooking our food uses masses of energy, fuel and water. It generates 30% of the world’s CO₂ greenhouse gas emissions. The same amount of CO₂ as 4.6 million return flights from London to Perth, Australia! So it makes sense to keep as much food out of the bin as possible, start wasting less and saving more.  Start the new term with some food waste busting, budget cutting, environment loving habits! Here’s five easy ways to reduce