Category Archives: Natural environment

Why we need to talk about GM again

6850390469_85e52637c5_b (1)Between 1990 and 2005 I was heavily embedded in the genetic modification (GM) debate, as a member of one of the key regulatory committees for ten years, and then as deputy chair of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC).  AEBC recommended a public debate on GM crops, which reached 37,000 people through a variety of routes and excited a good deal of press attention. The result? Most people are uneasy, most scientists are not, and the economists thought there was little of consequence either way for the UK at that time. The effect on policy? Almost none.

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What Heidegger and astronauts tell us about the 25 year environment plan

36662929062_9c51190591_kThis article was originally published on WWT’s website.

Here’s an idea (which I’ve borrowed from the German philosopher, Heidegger): nature challenges us. History shows us that we humans have devised, over the centuries, more and more ingenious technologies, which have enabled us to live longer, more interesting lives. In doing so, we have challenged nature, transforming it to meet our own ends. But this process has challenged humans all the more, because, being the ones who reorder nature, we are responsible for it, changing its very existence. In changing nature, we change ourselves.

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Three things you should know about the Natural Capital Committee’s advice on the 25 year plan for the environment

View of farm gate.The government has not lacked advice as to what should go in its long promised 25 year plan for the environment. Most of it has ended up as white noise but, finally, and with surprisingly little fanfare, we have something of significance: the official advice to government of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC).

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How Michael Gove can unleash a new wave of farming entrepreneurs

English Longhorn cattle on Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, in winter

For farmers, change is a way of life. Weather is unpredictable. Consumer appetites change. Prices go up and down. Managing uncertainty and volatility goes with the job.

But the ability of farmers to keep bouncing back will soon be tested to its limits, and possibly beyond. Brexit will bring change of a scale and at a speed that will dwarf anything seen by the current generation of farmers. This could include changes to the availability and cost of labour, the size and terms of subsidy payments, the potential imposition of new import and export tariffs and, should certain trade deals be struck, increased competition from low cost food imports. Not all farmers will cope. Many are likely to fail. Read more

Why we need to look beyond subsidies to save UK farming

field agriculture farm crops england ukUK farming is in crisis. Forty per cent of farms make no profit. Farm debt is soaring. Farmers are taking home an ever decreasing share of what we spend on food and, over the long term, food prices have been dropping.

Many farmers are stuck in a cycle of working the land ever harder just to break even. This is taking a heavy toll on the asset that farming relies on most of all – nature –  as regular reports from the State of Nature partnership and the Natural Capital Committee make clear.

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A border won’t be enough to control fish – only co-operation can

6926612069_923fe1576c_bThis post is by Griffin Carpenter, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation.

Michael Gove has purportedly shown us what ‘taking back control’ really means, by drawing a 12-mile line around the UK for exclusive fishing access for British vessels. Now he has his sights set on an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 miles (or the median line). On a map, this looks like a win for British influence in the world, reminiscent of times past and conquering new territory. But the nature of influence and the transboundary movements of those pesky fish mean that this drive to etch battle lines has the notion of control completely backwards. Real control requires co-operation and shared management. Unfortunately, the idea of control offered by the most buccaneering Brexiteers does not seem to involve much co-operation at all. Read more

Will Brexit break down or expand the new approaches that have been improving our rivers?

4725930223_ff9367f2fa_b - CopyThis post is by Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at WWT.

Every stretch of river has its own character. Here are a few of the personalities I’ve got to know over the years:

  • Beverley Brook – small, beautiful, prone to outbursts; a Richmond river with a film star name
  • Byron’s Pool – tranquil, romantic, deep and surrounded by wildlife (but no bears)
  • Thames at Lechlade – the first point where Old Father Thames gives a hint of his power
  • The Severn Estuary – the last point of the UK’s longest river; a famous bore

Each has its own charms and needs. It’s this diversity that can help to inspire communities to love and protect their rivers and it’s the reason why every portion of every river needs to be given its own care. The attention that will calm the bursting banks of Beverley Brook might be a drop in the ocean elsewhere.

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Agricultural subsidy should shift towards public benefits

K Pic 2This post is by Marcus Gilleard, senior external affairs adviser, National Trust. It is a version of an article first published on National Trust’s NT Places blog.

Nearly a year ago, the National Trust’s Director-General Helen Ghosh set out the basic principles on which we believed a post-Brexit system of support for UK farming should be developed. Since then, we’ve fleshed out our thinking and joined forces with other charities, as part of Greener UK, to help the UK and devolved governments develop their proposals. A core focus of our work remains the concept that public money should pay for the delivery of public goods. Read more

How to improve the balance between UK nature conservation and food production

Eurasian skylark. Skylark seated in a rape field.This post is by Claire Feniuk, land use policy officer at the RSPB.

If Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that people don’t like compromise, they really much prefer to have their cake and eat it. This week, I was invited to join a panel discussion at a Defra Evidence event hosted by the Royal Society, to give my thoughts on the trade-offs between nature conservation and food production. Read more

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