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Boris Johnson ‘to scale back plans to rewild the countryside’

Change of policy direction from green agenda towards food production angers conservation groups

Joe Middleton
Sunday 12 June 2022 02:36 BST
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The prime minister is set to announce his ‘grow for Britain’ strategy on Monday
The prime minister is set to announce his ‘grow for Britain’ strategy on Monday (PA)

Boris Johnson has reportedly scaled back ambitious plans to rewild the countryside as he switches the government’s focus to food production.

Last year ministers announced that farmers would be paid £800m per year through the Landscape Recovery scheme to alter agricultural land into woodlands, wetlands and forests.

However the fund has been cut to £50m over three years, with the focus now on food production due to shortages caused by the conflict in Ukraine, government insiders told The Sunday Times.

The shift in strategy will be seen as a victory for farmers’ unions, which claimed the government’s focus on rewilding could lead to even more reliance on food imports and a lack of self-sufficiency.

There are concerns from Whitehall insiders that Mr Johnson’s earlier enthusiastic embrace of environmentalism is beginning to falter amid pressure from backbench MPs in his party to deal with the cost of living crisis.

It comes as the prime minister is set to announce his “grow for Britain” strategy on Monday which will tell farmers that they need to produce more fruits and vegetables.

The report will outline a number of changes to planning rules and is also expected to deal with the severe migrant worker shortages in the sector by offering seasonal visas to poultry workers and replacing fruit pickers with robots.

A section of the new document, seen by The Telegraph, said: “The strategy comes at a time of significant increases in food prices, largely as a result of energy prices and exacerbated by events in Ukraine, which is very challenging for people across the country.

“We are engaging closely with the food industry to understand price impacts and any mitigating measures.”

However, the government’s change of policy direction from the green environmental agenda towards food production has angered conservation groups.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “It would be a complete and utter disgrace if the government broke the promise that it has made time and time again to restore nature across large areas as part of the post-Brexit agricultural transition. There is no such thing as food security if nature is in decline.”

A No 10 spokesperson told The Sunday Times: “The government remains completely committed to cutting carbon emissions, boosting green technology and protecting nature and biodiversity.”

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