Report calls for rethink of farming and fishing


A far-reaching assessment of Britain's natural landscape will recommend revolutionary changes to the way the countryside is managed, including the idea that loss-making farmers should be paid to look after recreational woodlands for holidaymakers to enjoy.

The report, to be published this week, suggests farmers and fishermen who presently receive sizeable government subsidies should be encouraged to take up other livelihoods that do not degrade the environment.

It will also suggest that there should be new regulations that govern what is done with the countryside and seas around Britain so that their true value to the wider economy is recognised.

The report's authors want the Government to take account of the economic benefits of the natural "ecosystem services" that, for instance, provide clean water or pollinate crops at no apparent cost to the consumer.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who led the National Ecosystem Assessment, said it is a way of placing a value on the hidden services provided by the natural environment, which are often taken for granted because they come free.

"We've increased food production quite significantly but largely at the expense of some of the other regulating services, such as climate control or air-quality control. Some things have got worse after the Second World War and some things have got better," he said. "You can't buy and sell water quality control or pollination services. The things that haven't got market value have tended to degrade."

One of the assessment's most controversial proposals is likely to be the call for an overhaul of European policies on agriculture and fishing. One of the lead authors of the report, Professor Ian Bateman of the University of East Anglia, said farmers and fishermen who receive hefty government subsidies should switch to other jobs.

He said the idea is about "rewarding activities which generate large values for society" and redirecting payment for those that do not. "It is not about having a go at farmers, because they are only doing what we are paying them to do. It is about paying them in more intelligent ways, so that they ultimately deliver more that we enjoy. This might mean that farmers outside the big cities like Cardiff, Wrexham or Liverpool are paid more to give up farming and put their land into recreational woodland, to reflect the real value created. It is about giving them a choice – they can carry on raising sheep as they did before or they can get into multi-purpose woodland and be paid more," Professor Bateman said.

More than 700 scientists and economists have contributed to the report in the past two years. It looks at six future scenarios for the environment.

"One of the messages of this assessment is we need smarter policy and tighter regulations where appropriate," said Professor Kerry Turner of the University of East Anglia, who also worked on the assessment.