Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Guest Blog by Paul Cottington | My life with farming, wildlife, the environment and the EU

The countryside and England mean everything to me and I am blessed that most of my working life has been in and for them. Whether on the downs in Kent and Sussex or the uplands in the SW I have been working with the environment and farmers to try and meet numerous goals for just under a couple of decades (and sneaking in a couple of Masters in the Environment including Environmental Law). 

Farmers and landowners are the key to our country and, I think, in many ways the heart of the EU referendum. The Common Agricultural Policy takes a large amount of the money we put into the EU. This money directly supports farmers and also supports our wildlife and environment. In addition it helps pay for rural projects such as tourism or small rural business grants and advice. It also keeps your food price down.

What have I noticed on farming and rural and environment? There is less and less funding to help them and what is there is now is almost solely from the EU. At the same time we need more money and not less. In the last few years the treasury has taken chunks of 30%+ from the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs budgets as part of our national austerity drive.

We are now decreasing areas of land under an environment and wildlife schemes (how funding is given for these goods and services). Without the support of the EU we would have a very different British countryside.

Point 1 – we rely on EU funds for farming, wildlife and rural areas.

Are the funds from the EU easy to access? Of course not. I once put together an EU programme for rural areas and farming. These monies rightly have to have rules and some bureaucracy. Our nation wants our tax monies to be accounted for and not just given away. However, it is down to the country to make things work. The UK notoriously makes things hard and habitually messes up things like IT systems. EU regs tend to be small in page numbers and left to members states to work out. We, UK Plc, work them out to be complicated all by ourselves. However, they are there and are crucial to modernising farming and also helping with all our flora and fauna.

Point 2 – left to our own UK devices we will not make things easier in terms of regulations and bureaucracy. It is not our way. Things will become more complicated rather than less. 

Delivery in rural areas and for the environment and farming is complicated. It will always be so because this land is needed to do everything for us. It is called environmental limits. You can add money to the economy but you cant add land to our island. Our food, our tourism and our birds and bees are the obvious things our island provides. It has capacity to do more. But taking it all for granted is not an option. Nor is focusing on single issues such as population the answer. We have to do things better and that means making the most of what we have but allowing for development and growth. That means we need to care for and fund the countryside. We need to focus on quality.

Point 3 – we all need to get involved in valuing the countryside and farming and the environment. The EU funding is the only way we do this at the moment and there is no alternative model out there. 

Regulations and policy are what I do for my day job. We are obscurely supported in protecting property rights through things like the Human Rights Act. We need laws to protect both our private assets and our public assets. Without them we are left with nothing and don’t know how to act and be acted upon. As my old economics tutor said years ago, “the reason why we are great is because we are a lump of coal surrounded by fish”. How poignant is that? We need rules to look after our resources.

Point 4 – regulations are there to protect us from ourselves. They might not always be perfect and will always need to be reviewed in the light of what we value. Getting rid of them only shows we value nothing. Not helping people work with them only is our national failing. So lets value helping people help us as a society.

I genuinely see nothing in leaving the EU which will protect and grow what I cherish deeply and have worked towards all my working life. I see nothing in the Out campaign about valuing our environment and our island that makes us great. 

We, the electorate, are being asked to put a value on our membership of the EU and yet it is being framed on areas that for many of us it’ll make very little difference or we have no real understanding of. The value we place on our environment, food, and wildlife is something we can all understand. So make a stand for that if nothing else. Outside of the EU they are left to the whims of a market or a budget slashing government. In the EU we might have something left for our children. We can push for the top rather than race to the bottom.

Conclusion – when you vote then vote on what you value. We love this country because of its countryside and what that means for OUR heritage and our future. So let’s value that and protect it and make it better. And as it stands that can only be done in the EU. So vote Remain.