Outdoor Focus Summer 2018 - Page 13

ntal Talk Rob Yorke finds out if the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can deliver his ambitions for the English countryside post-Brexit Photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) license. (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) provenance, so that direction of travel is both in tune with what’s good for the environment but also where the demand for food will be. But, you’re right, it’s also the case that there are technological breakthroughs where we can increase productivity through precision techniques applied to the soil, meaning inputs are less, cost to the farmer is less, but productivity overall is greater. The most progressive and best farmers can do more, yes, but in the remote uplands it’s harder to do that. There’s a particular fragility to farming in the uplands and obviously there are very thoughtful people who’ve argued that when it comes to the uplands we should go for a sort of full-scale rewilding. My view is that there may be parts of the uplands that are suitable for rewilding. But it’s also the case that there are other parts where we need to support traditional farming and I think it would be wrong for anyone who’s responsible for our countryside to allow that type of farming to be threatened. I took issue when you said in a previous interview: “there are no tensions between productive farming and care for the natural world” with on e obvious tension being the use of agro-chemicals. Yes, that’s a fair point. If agro-chemicals such as neonics are banned, as you’ve suggested, what’s the balance, in the face of increasing crop disease, between regulation, innovation, investment in research and development? We should be guided by the science. The science initially indicated that perhaps the EU were going too far on neonics – now we’ve got better scientific evidence, we need to go further. So far the science indicates that glyphosate does not have the harmful effects that some attribute to it, and it is a valuable tool in minimal or no-till cultivation, so I’m behind its continued use. But in the future we may find different ways of developing crop protection, such as through advances in genetics. A more scientifically effective and precise approach towards chemicals should be encouraged within innovation aiming, ultimately, to enhance soil health. ...they’re decisions about making our country a more attractive place from every point of view We get very emotional about animal welfare whereas wildlife conservation is a completely separate issue. Should the Government take a stronger role in framing complex narratives, rather than leaving it to campaigners, charities, trade unions, NGOs and media? Yes, I think so. These issues, quite understandably, always excite strong feelings. People are passionate about animal welfare, people care about our wildlife, so you’re always going to have individuals and organisations who will articulate the case for action. But I do think Government’s role should be to say these are assets that we value. We should take pride, as the Scottish Government has in fostering the reintroduction of the golden eagle, in encouraging the return of the beaver to British shores because they’re not economic decisions, they’re decisions about making our country a more attractive place from every point of view. The Government exists in order to make nations better places for their citizens, for the next generation. The Hen Harrier Action Plan has recently involved Natural England issuing a trial licence for brood management. It’s a complex subject for many people. Could the Government help frame this contentious issue? Yes. I think that there is a role for Government but also more broadly the DEFRA family. We’re very lucky in this department to have people who have chosen to work here because the issues the department deals with are issues summer 2018 | Outdoor focus 13