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Environment Environment

Help Natural England to expand their provision of technical expertise to farmers.

Last updated: 11:49am 15 January 2019

Our countryside and rural communities have been moulded by generations of farmers. We will help Natural England to expand their provision of technical expertise to farmers to deliver environmental improvements on a landscape scale, from enriching soil fertility to planting hedgerows and building dry stone walls.
Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.26

Our verdict

Natural England is a non-departmental public body that serves as “the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England”, operating at arm’s length from the government.

In order for this policy to be marked as ‘in progress’, we would expect to see an announcement from the government about a plan to increase Natural England’s ability to assist farmers. This might be through offering extra funding, training, or providing strategic support.

And there has been an announcement. In January 2019, the government launched its Clean Air Strategy “to clean up our air and save lives”. A significant portion of the strategy concerns “action to reduce air pollution from agriculture”. Those actions include offering “new support for farmers to tackle air pollution caused by ammonia gas emissions”.

Natural England are an important part of delivering the Clean Air Strategy. Their chief executive said:

“Natural England has a team of experts poised to support farmers…”

In spite of these positive developments, it’s worth noting that the House of Lords Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 determined in March 2018 that “Natural England’s status has been diluted and weakened over recent years” owing to funding cuts. The government response to the Committee confirmed this, noting that “Natural England has a significantly lower budget now than in 2010“.

The Clean Air Strategy should significantly expand Natural England’s role in offering “technical expertise to farmers to deliver environmental improvements”. However, the strategy is at a very early stage so we’re calling this ‘in progress’ for now. Also, to move this to ‘done’ we’d need to see the strategy accompanied by large increases in funding for Natural England to overcome the “significantly lower budget” mentioned above.  Stay tuned to see what happens!

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