Ross Murray: Our green and pleasant land is post-Brexit asset

The CLA has launched a Countryside Matters campaign.
The CLA has launched a Countryside Matters campaign.
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THE Country Land and Business Association launched a new campaign yesterday at the Devon County Show – the first major event in our agricultural show season. It is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of everybody who loves the countryside and will explain the vital importance of investing in the countryside in post-Brexit Britain.

Our message is simple – the countryside matters, and its success matters to everyone. It provides us with a large proportion our food and water; it cleans the air we breathe; makes the landscape we love and sustains a rich diversity of wildlife.

These features bring benefits to every person who lives in, works in, or enjoys visiting the countryside but this work requires investment. Post-Brexit, it will be imperative that the Government treats farming, the rural economy and our landscapes as a spending priority.

I don’t believe that any candidate or party seeking election next month would want to cut off funding that ensures our land and our landscape is managed in the best interests of future generations, or ensures we have safe, secure, high quality and affordable food.

But for the countryside to succeed, it requires investment and strong leadership – and Brexit brings us to a fork in the road.

For the last 43 years most of the oversight, regulation and support for the countryside has come not from our own government but via the European Union. The Common Agricultural Policy has been just that: common to a diverse range of countries, peoples and climates. The CAP has been the master of so many, but insensitive at times to national and local needs.

The Prime Minister will understand all of this – after all she is a geographer – and given she has called a General Election and launched her manifesto in Halifax, there is no better time to ask her, and all candidates standing for election, how they intend supporting the countryside in the years ahead.

I am optimistic that the next Government, of whatever colour, will continue to invest in the countryside – but I am not complacent about this.

There are a range of competing demands on the public purse. We have to make the positive case; we have to show that a public and private co-investment in our countryside is a shared priority. We have to do this, not just during the election but throughout the months ahead. A countryside policy will emerge in various forms throughout the UK and we need to shape it.

Here in Yorkshire we understand better than most that a strong farming and tourism industry is the heartbeat of a successful countryside. Given the right conditions and investment, and Government leadership, it can thrive.

We must inspire a new generation of farmers and entrepreneurs to seize the challenge to improve their industry in every respect – its profitability, output, levels of investment, skill sets, as well as the natural environment in which it sits. We must help them to work together and in new ways, for the better performance of their own businesses and the wider economy.

Above all, we need long term confidence to invest, to carry out greater diversification – but without, in any way, spoiling this great treasure because we must never forget our mutual interest in preserving its quality, its natural state and our ability to share the experience with those who live in towns and cities.

A step change in conservation can be based on a new contract between the farmer and the state – a true partnership that sets out clear goals, rewards and penalties for both parties. A contract that pays a fair return for the services provided such as managing the land to store and clean water, to create and maintain wildlife habitats and by meeting the right standards in production of food.

Meeting these objectives is what the CLA’s ‘the Countryside Matters’ campaign is all about. It is about giving everyone a chance to show that they believe the countryside should be a priority, that it is a worthy public investment, and that the 
return on that investment benefits us all.

Throughout 2017 the CLA will be out making this positive case by mobilising those who live and work in the countryside to ensure their voice is heard, and above all, we will be reaching out to those people in our towns and cities – whose love for our countryside is no less than ours – helping them to understand why investment is needed.

Please support our campaign by signing up online at www.thecountrysidematters.org or come and visit us at the Great Yorkshire Show in July.

Together, we can leave our political leaders in no doubt that the countryside matters, that supporting it is the right thing to do, and that a living and working countryside benefits us all.

Ross Murray is president of the Country Land and Business Association.