Brexit presents a “once in a generation” opportunity to help farmers restore British wildlife, boost soil quality and tackle climate change, a group of farmers has said.
The Nature Friendly Farming Network has been launched at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, a group of more than 100 farmers which aims to give a political voice to landowners who are committed to managing the countryside to support wildlife.
They have welcomed moves announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to shift the subsidies system away from payments for the amount of land owned to funding the delivery of public goods such as environmental protection after Brexit.
The network said post-Brexit agricultural policy should help all farmers produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping soils, landscapes, rivers and wildlife recover and flourish.
Farming payments should be redirected to put nature friendly farming into the mainstream across the UK, and recognise the shift is not just good for wildlife but is key to the long-term survival and success of British farming, the group said.
Chairman Martin Lines, who runs an arable farm in Cambridgeshire, said: “Brexit presents a once in a generation opportunity to create a new farming policy that will help farms evolve and thrive, at the same time as restoring and protecting our natural heritage.
“We can use this opportunity to create a long-term, stable policy framework that will drive a mainstream shift towards a sustainable, productive, nature-friendly future for British farming as well as protecting the landscape across the UK.”
The network said there were already 4,000 farmers across the UK committed to nature friendly farming, and the creation of the organisation has been welcomed by groups including the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and Woodland Trust.
Tony Davies, a sheep farmer from mid-Wales said he hoped the post-Brexit agriculture policy would give farmers “freedom” to put in place measures such as rewilding land or storing carbon without being penalised by losing their basic payments for land farmed.
Marian Spain, chief executive of wildlife charity Plantlife, which is backing the creation of the network, said: “All too often, farmers and conservationists are pitched against each other, apparently irreconcilable adversaries.
“This ‘farming versus environment’ narrative is holding wildlife-friendly back at a critical moment. As post-Brexit agricultural policy develops, we have the chance of a lifetime to reclaim the common ground – with a shared language and shared expertise.
“Through ever closer co-operation, we can deliver a bright future for farming that is truly sustainable – environmentally, economically and socially.”