The government has launched a 25-year plan for environment protection, which includes support for farmers to create 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species and turn fields into meadowland.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Defra secretary Michael Gove set out the key points of the 151-page document, which also includes plans to help farmers replenish depleted soils and create a new green watchdog to hold government to account on environmental standards.
Commenting on the plans, Gove said: “Our Environment Plan sets out how over the next 25 years we will radically reduce the waste that is choking oceans and rivers, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants and create new habitats for our most precious wildlife to thrive. Through this plan we will build on our reputation as a global leader in environmental protection.”
Another key aspect of the strategy is to crack down on the use of plastics by: working with retailers to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles; extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers; and removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate.
In addition, the plan restates the government’s commitment to the Courthauld Commitment 2025 to cut both greenhouse gas emissions linked to food and drink consumption and per capita food waste by a fifth by 2025.
The NFU reacted to the report by giving evidencing farmers commitment to protecting the environment. The union said “10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat” and more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted or restored by farmers in the UK, who manage 70 per cent of Britain's countryside.
NFU vice president Guy Smith also reminded government that environmental policy and food production “must go hand in hand”. Farmers’ role in protecting the environment “only remains feasible… as long as farmers run sustainable and viable businesses,” he said, adding that it is vital that a "holistic approach" is taken.
“The environment plan must go hand-in-hand with a future food policy, where measures for protecting and enhancing the environment are joined up with policies to improve productivity and manage volatility to ensure that we have profitable, productive and progressive farm businesses post-Brexit.”
The Soil Association welcomed the plan, saying it addresses important areas, such as the need to restore soil health, reduce pesticide use, deliver the highest levels of animal welfare and restore farmland biodiversity. However, it called for further detail on the practical measures needed “to turn these aspirations into reality in the near future”.
The charity urged government to “harness the full potential” of organic production in the forthcoming command paper on the Agriculture Bill, which will begin the move to a domestic farming policy.