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The Economic and Political Background for Agriculture and Wildlife Management

Strategy and Action on behalf of Rural Employment - April 2002.
The Economic and Political Background for Agriculture and Wildlife Management

British agriculture has been short changed by at least £40 billion over 10 years due to the failure of successive governments to provide the level playing field with competitors, in the trading conditions that a healthy core industry requires.

Having been hugely disadvantaged, agriculture and the many interdependent industries, including the wildlife management industry, all reliant on highly specialised skills, now face a bleak future in a deflationary and unfair trading environment, because they are unprofitable and in debt. Richard North in his book The Death of British Agriculture has not overstated the basic problem.

These problems have been compounded, and are impacting on the wider rural full time and part time labour force by the disruption of the foot and mouth restrictions. The failure thus far to obtain compensation from Government for at least £ 10 billion of losses incurred through no fault of those involved, particularly in the tourist industry, has added to the crisis. The circumstantial evidence for the cause and blame for this disaster lies, yet again, fair and square with government.

The principal overall cause of the economic disaster lies with successive governments who have failed to recover legitimate compensation for exchange rate losses relative to movements in other European currencies. This situation has been made worse by holding interest rates, and in consequence the pound, at excessively high levels, whilst world commodity prices were falling.

It is not an advantage to have the lowest inflation rate in Europe in a deflationary trading environment. The damaging effects of deflation can only be mitigated against by reducing interest rates and by spending saved capital.

The obsessive worries about retail price inflation and confidence in, or dependence on, the service industries, at this stage in the long wave cycle, have been misplaced to the detriment, or destruction, of the supply side of the economy. The inevitability and consequences of uncontrolled deflation has been ignored by the Bank of England and the Chancellor.

In addition, discretionary payments made to farmers in Europe have not been matched on anything like the same scale in Britain, leaving our industry languishing at the bottom of the profitability league table.

Blame has been wrongly placed on exchange rates and the common agricultural policy, yet it is now clear that successive governments did have adequate powers to ensure that the discretionary payment system was fully utilised so that agriculture was fairly compensated to maintain profitability and tax revenue.

This point was clarified and confirmed by Hans Fischler at the 2002 NFU AGM. Other European governments aware of the importance of their agricultural sector and a secure food supply have taken positive action in fully utilising discretionary payments.

Banking costs in Britain have been as much as 2.5 times that of our competitors in Europe. In addition there has been a total neglect of state funding and financial support for a whole range of services and complimentary facilities, which in the past has allowed our agricultural industry and linked activities to prosper in world markets.

The knock on effect of being hugely disadvantaged financially over at least ten years, and being exposed to the compulsory dumping of interior cheap food, now leaves our farmers with no resources to survive deflation and the extended agricultural depression which seems inevitable.

In addition there has been a deliberately orchestrated campaign of spin and misinformation from government and a range of corrupt protest movements, including animal rights activists. They have both undermined and exploited the credibility of the food production industry in Britain, and key wildlife management practices. For example some 500,000 bull calves are being shot at birth as forn1er markets for this resource have been destroyed. Two years ago this figure reached 700,000.

The vital export trade of young stock, store animals and breeding stock to Europe, today faces new problems. Professor Broom at Cambridge is wrongly applying physiological measurements instead of psychological assessments in setting prohibitive standards for live animal transport. He is using the same discredited methods applied by Professor Bateson to hunted deer welfare.

A significant part of this de-stabilising process has been driven by unregulated and unscrupulous foreign commercial interests, who have exploited and profited from the BSE, swine fever and foot and mouth problems. They have been allowed to build up key stakes in the food processing and distribution industries to the detriment of the food production industries.

Since 1973, overall productivity in agriculture has increased by 40%. Labour productivity has trebled. There is of course a wide range in the level of costs between large and well run specialist producers and the smaller farms who tend to avoid monoculture and maintain mixed rotations. It is totally unrealistic to write off so called inefficient food production on economic grounds alone without providing a realistic environmental valuation for the overall efforts of these producers, particularly those in less favoured or marginal farming areas.

Single minded economists with no knowledge of the real environmental issues have misled government into believing that the smaller family farn1s have no important roles to play within the industry. Maintaining multi-disciplinary countryside and wildlife management skills, and fully utilising those skills found in those smaller units, has to be the governments main rural priority.

In reality farmers cropping patterns have changed little over the past 50 years. Hedge removal has been replaced by hedges being planted, with much of the past loss of habitat being recovered in a number of more wildlife friendly and more economic ways. Such as increases in other forms of habitat, wildlife cover crops and better access to water.

80% of our countryside is in private ownership arid the real progress on efficient food production working alongside sound environmental management is being delivered on our best traditional sporting estates.

The biggest change for the benefit in the production of healthy food and the provision of wildlife is in the current use of highly selective pesticides and herbicides which are biodegradable. They allow more species to survive and have greatly reduced the risk of toxicity accumulating in the food chain.

This type of technological refinement and other new management techniques are improving our ability to run commercial farming and intensive wildlife management side by side. Active management is the key word. However these successes are being ignored by the more vocal and growing band of extremists.

The reality of the current crisis, caused by nothing other than government neglect, has now resulted in the fact that few within the best 25% of our farmers are now able to make a profit. During the similar conditions of the 1930's, the farming survivors were those who stopped farming and held on to their working capital until prices had recovered.

Anger amongst farmers is being compounded by government measures to remove subsidies paid for food production and switch these payments to unworkable and inefficient conservation schemes. Termed modulation, this all enveloping hand of socialist planning, red tape and bureaucracy will assist in driving both farmers and wildlife out of business. Modulation in the EU may become compulsory. These pipe dreams will probably and fortunately remain unfunded or un-fundable.

Such concepts are being promoted, by the same people who ignore the food production facts, and believe that organic food provides benefits to health and conservation, and justifies a hefty premium. Whilst there are some limited benefits and advantages, particularly in marginal and upland areas, the concept is driven by corrupt protest movements and paid for by frghtened consumers. A select committee in Parliament held that the benefits of organic food were a myth. Yet in Brussels MEP's seek to convert the EU to 35% organic food production.

The overall impacts on rural communities and wildlife, particularly in the less favoured, and marginal farming areas of Britain is already catastrophic. The reality of this deplorable situation is not being faced up to or being acted upon. Too much irreparable structural damage is being inflicted. Uplands wrongly thought to be seriously suffering from over grazing now face the de-habilitation of under grazing on a grand scale, with the attendant loss of wildlife.

Very few tenant farmers, who farm 40% of Britain, will survive. Vital land and wildlife management skills are being permanently lost. 830,000 ha have returned to un-managed scrub in the past 12 months, at a time when the government has announced an expansion of the farm stewardship scheme by 500,000 ha over 7 years.

Both the government and the RSPB are misleading the British public on the merits of this unworkable and un-sustainable stewardship conservation project, which in reality currently only covers some 300,000 ha, some 2% of England. All commercial grouse moors are now threatened by closure in areas where the associated active management provides rich biologically diverse habitats.

In reality politicians and armchair conservationists are putting Britain and wildlife out of business.

A simplistic analysis of this disastrous situation might suggest that Labour politicians are obsessed with the concept that farming in Britain should not be subsidised. However all sensible countries through a fundamental duty of care, support core industries and business to ensure that, at the very least, tax revenue on profitability is maintained.

It is evident that over the past 20 years organisations, who are supposed to advise government on these serious matters have totally lost their way. They still hope things will get better. In failing to understand the issues, thereby being unable to communicate, and also being keen not to upset their political masters, they have made a bad situation worse. They have therefore betrayed their membership, or quango status, and failed to assist government in solving a whole range of key problems.

Under current circumstances with revenues falling and expenditure rising, this Government is being forced to place excessive demands through higher taxes upon the remaining taxpayers. There is no sign of the required good management, that the people must now put in place, to halt the current decline into debt, bankruptcy and chaos.

The age old fundamentals of government facilitating for the people, freedom, justice, leisure and instruction are no longer valid. For perhaps the first time in 10,000 years, fathers are no longer passing on their essential skills to their sons or daughters

Summary.

This document was initially prepared to brief the Union of Country Sports Workers and to layout in simple language the big picture issues which threaten their livelihoods, skills, jobs and homes.

There are some 160,000 direct and indirect job units within what is better termed the Wildlife Management Industry, and in reality, they are all under some kind of threat within the current political environment. Some 100,000 new job units could be provided, if the benefits of this sector were properly addressed and not written out of the script by Labour and Labour's fellow travellers.

The hunting issue is about wildlife management and welfare. The same is true of the major problems associated with the protection of badgers, seals, cormorants and certain raptors.

The current frustrations felt by rural workers has been made worse by the lack of confidence they have in the leadership of the Countryside Alliance. I have attempted to heal the split which opened up between those directly involved over past weeks. I have presented an alternative strategy to the one currently adopted by the Countryside Alliance, and have repeatedly asked for access to the Alliance board.

However, whilst it is crucial for all connected groups to work together in challenging a Labour government on countryside issues, the political lobbying at the Countryside Alliance, which is supposed to be its main strength, has proven to be deeply flawed.

I welcome contributions from all interested parties to find better ways to lobby more effectively on behalf of all rural employment.

It is intended that this document should be re-worked, improved and extended following consultations with all friendly parties and organisations, including DEFRA staff, so that it can be a definitive statement of the issues and the solutions to the problems.

Radical and wise measures are required to highlight and address this situation and the associated problems. In reality we require a Local Agenda 21 Countryside Plan to replace the pathetic documents, which have been prepared under Labour in various guises, and which have missed most of the key points on the rural economy and good countryside management.

It may be necessary as part of an action plan over the next 12 months to include specific, targeted and well prepared demonstrations aimed to bring public sympathy for the demonstrators, when they highlight the incompetence of the organisations, who are either not doing their job, or are misleading the public.

Above all else Parliament must be allowed and encouraged to judge the issues on the knowledge available. The establishment of a statutory wildlife service is best driven from within the House of Lords. Currently the Commons believes too much, knows too little and is looking forward to punishing the class they hate.

The current coordinated activities by the Countryside Alliance need to be more target specific and more widely supported if they are to succeed. There must be a common cause and a common leadership, which will be respected by all groups. That situation does not exist at the moment.

Edmund Marriage.

22nd April 2002.

Draft prepared prior to the first meeting of the Conservative Rural Action Group.

Please contact Edmund Marriage on 01935 816944 to discuss issues.

All contributions to this debate will be gratefully received.

Target Organisations.

Charity Commissioners.

RSPCA.

RSPB.

English Nature.

Wildlife Trusts.

Forestry Commission.

Countryside Agency.

Countryside Council of Wales.

Scottish National Heritage.

Compassion in World Farming.

Mammals Society.

IFAW.

LACS.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme

From 1991 - 95 the scheme was administered by the Countryside Agency - The area for this period was reported as 90,897 ha

end 1996 - 105,457 ha
end 1997 - 118,272 ha
end 1998 - 139,868 ha
end 1999 - 191,987 ha
end 2000 - 263,197 ha = 2% England Land Area.
end 2001 - n/a

Government Curry Report target - an additional 500, 000 ha over 7 years.

Area under set-aside.

Arrived at from claims submitted under the Arable Area Payments Scheme.

1997 - 252,163 ha
1998 - 305,955 ha
1999 - 582,142 ha
2000 - 546,269 ha
2001 - 849,005 ha

National Nature Reserves - estimated at 280,.000 ha

The Wildlife Trusts Reserves - 76.270 ha

Total Land Areas in England, Scotland and Wales.

England 51,291.266 Square Miles = 13,258,845.128 ha
Scotland 30,977.590 Square Miles = 8,023,382.277 ha
Wales 8,335.106 Square Miles = 2,158,842.515 ha

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