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Applying a new approach to English agricultural policy post Brexit

Wednesday 10th January 2018

View over Kirkby Malham, North Yorkshire. Credit Steve GreerView over Kirkby Malham, North Yorkshire. Credit Steve Greer

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is taking the lead in igniting high level political interest in an immensely important debate – one that is ultimately fundamental to the quality of life of us all. The debate centres on the development of English agricultural policy after the UK leaves the European Union (Brexit) and thus the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - the existing agricultural policy of the EU.

Download the case study: Public Payments for Public Goods – an example of how it might work in the River Aire Catchment

Why the need for reform?

The current policy is not working for the either the environment or for the agricultural industry and Brexit provides an opportunity for reform. Any decision made will directly impact on everyone in the UK; agriculture is by far the most dominant land use in the UK – occupying about 80% of England’s land surface.


Wildlife is in severe decline because of a range of issues of which the most important is intensive agriculture. Such intensification is in part the result of European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – now a remarkably expensive subsidy system consuming 40% of the EU budget and dispensing about £3 billion to land managers and farmers across the UK, primarily of benefit to the few.

Agriculture has declined as a proportion of the British Economy - now accounting for 0.37% of GDP, employing just 1% of the British workforce. On marginal and wetter soils – uplands-agriculture is already in crisis with pastoral farms losing money despite subsidy.

Departure from the EU and thus the Common Agricultural Policy offers Government an opportunity to develop public policy and public fiscal intervention to resolve some of the current issues; a far more effective agricultural policy could emerge from the Brexit process.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Proposal

Looking to ensure all are able to benefit from any reform, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has presented MPs a radical new approach for consideration, primarily within Future Land Management Policy (The Wildlife Trusts England, August 2017).

The proposal centres on demonstrating how current investment can be allocated in a new way to deliver better results; showing what else land can deliver over and above food. The overarching principle is that public money should secure public benefit; flooding, water quality, access, carbon storage, biodiversity.

The approach uses the following principles:

  • Farmers bid for contracts to manage land to deliver a full range of public goods and services associated with the agricultural landscape.
  • Taxpayers pay for these contracts in return for things the market is not set up to pay for but which are valued and needed – flood prevention, carbon storage (climate change), access (Health and wellbeing purposes) and wildlife conservation.
  • Farmers are paid in relation to the public benefit that they deliver – it’s an output/ results based payment system.
  • Locally based commissioning bodies determine where money is spent. Overseen by Defra
  • Geographically targeted

Importantly, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust offers evidence of how the approach could work in practice by way of a case study: Public Payments for Public Goods – an example of how it might work in the River Aire Catchment

The River Aire Catchment was selected for the case study as it has wide variety of habitats and agricultural soils. The Aire Valley is currently in receipt of around £16million a year from the current subsidy system. This figure was used as the budget to be reallocated under Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s new approach.

Three case studies of farms in different areas within the River Aire Catchment – urban fringe, upper catchment, mid-catchment were used to demonstrate how the proposals would work and what payments the farm would be eligible for.


The report concludes that a move away from subsidy to direct public contracts for identified public goods would be dramatically effective in securing environmental, quality of life and economic benefit.

The approach also frees agriculture to adapt to market based food production, without the hindrance of subsidy. Refining farm businesses to make the most of opportunities from food production, tourism and public benefits could see farm income rising and attract younger farmers back revitalising farming.

Under this scheme the UK would finally arrest the decline of biodiversity meeting its commitments under the UN Biodiversity Convention as well as meeting targets in air quality, water quality, flood storage and health and wellbeing.

Watch this space to read more about response to the proposal!


FilenameFile size
171121_river_aire_agri_policy_web.pdf2.06 MB