Calls for farm subsidies to be geared towards the environment ramped up a gear this week
High ranking Conservative MPs have written to Prime Minister Theresa May asking her to ’take advantage of the repatriation of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP)’ and shift farming subsidies towards protecting the environment.
The letter suggests subsidies should be redirected ’in favour of paying farmers for delivering services to the environment and public good’.
Out of 330, 36 Conservative MPs have signed the letter, circulated by the Conservative Environment Network.
These included former Defra Secretaries Caroline Spelman and Richard Benyon, the current chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee and farmer, Neil Parish, and former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith.
It is just the latest attack on farming payments from the environmental lobby.
It comes after a YouGov poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth found 57 per cent of the public wanted British farming subsidies to put more or the same emphasis on environmental protection than the current EU subsidies.
Only 7 per cent said subsidies should put less emphasis on protecting the environment.
This week, as the Efra committee continued to consult on better ways to manage the UK's environment post-Brexit, a Rewilding Britain report concluded rewilding swathes of Britain could help protect the country against flooding.
Calling on the Government to adopt a policy which let 'nature take centre stage', it said rewilding would also create 'vibrant natural landscapes which stimulate tourism', while also soaking up greater quantities of CO2.
Director of the Conservative Environment Network Sam Barker said he believed Brexit provided a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to direct 'taxpayers' money where taxpayers want it to go' and reshaping subsidies would create new income streams for farmers.
Mr Goldsmith said Brexit was a 'massive opportunity' for the environment.
"But more than that, Brexit allows us to repatriate and reform the environmentally disastrous Common Agriculture Policy to make sure farm subsidies are there to pay for environmental and public services," he said.
The NFU hit back, highlighting the industry and voluntary-led approaches such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and Wildlife and Countryside Link, whose farmer members have shown they 'can be trusted to deliver to protect the environment and may be more appropriate than a regulatory approach'.
The union's chief environment adviser Dr Diane Mitchell said: "Food security should be considered to be a legitimate political goal and public good alongside the environment.
"It is important we develop an ambitious agricultural policy which will stimulate a productive, competitive and profitable farming sector.
"Farmers and growers have been working extremely hard, and will continue to protect and enhance millions of hectares of British countryside, protecting watercourses and managing wildlife habitats alongside productive agriculture."