Ethics in Agriculture
We are gradually recognising that ‘natural capital’ is as vital to current and future prosperity as economic and social capital. As American Senator Gaylord Nelson so aptly put it: “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” The continual erosion of natural capital is a stark warning that we are living unsustainably. A world without space for nature would be a mean, unhealthy, impoverished world.
Does the government in general really think it a long-term wise move to build on what is left of the UK’s good quality agricultural land? Viable agricultural land of an area large enough to support the production of good should never be developed for the following reasons.
World Poverty: Most of the world is in extreme food poverty which will only worsen with climate change. Yet currently the UK only grows 2 % of the fruit and vegetables it consumes relying on imports for the rest. With pressure on world food and short-term supply with Brexit and trade uncertainty, logistically and morally high grade agricultural land is more valuable to the UK than development.
Food security /Agriculture Land is such as issue here in the UK that it now has a section in the Agriculture Bill shortly to become an Act in the next months as it is recognised as being a significant concern both now and for future generations. The weather extremes in the hugely difficult 2019-20 cropping season. This year saw some of the wettest winter conditions ever encountered, to one of the driest and sunniest spring months on record, resulting in one of the worst harvests since 1980. Climate change is making weather more extreme and the way we have to deal with this is shorter supply chains with produce being produced closer to use. This reduces emissions, keeps nutrients and increases the health of the nation.
Housing allocation should first and foremost be relocated to commercial retail space, failing highstreets, empty care homes not on good quality hectares of best and most versatile land that should be kept for the production of food.
Covid-19 The government must reassess the use of retail and commercial space in the light of Covid. As the Economist states 5th September 2020 “ Britain has undergone a Once in a lifetime re-evaluation of housing requirements”
Protection of Biodiversity:
Prime agricultural sites adjacent to areas of special protection areas for the enhancement of wildlife and protected species must be a number one priority to protect. Light and noise pollution to Special protection areas is not given sufficient weight in planning applications. Our biodiversity continues to shrink with recent surveys suggesting we have lost 70 % of wildbirds. Developments with domestic cats and dogs next to wildlife reserves are not viable however the developers to seek dress this up and offer “alternative natural space”. These areas never recreate the natural habitat for protected species. An ecological network comprises a suite of high-quality sites which collectively contain the diversity and area of habitat that are needed to support species and which have ecological connections between them that enable species to move. Too often these sites are compromised for developers and local borough councils fail to understand their strategic significance in the fight to reduce biodiversity loss.
The erosion of land into the green belt around cities is a deep concern, these areas are of strategic importance to maintain biodiversity and nature around urban areas particularly around the M25 which ringfences London preventing wildlife entering and exiting the capital. This is particular problem in high value areas such as Guildford where the Borough Council has used up 46 % of the country's allocation of reduction of green belt land.
Food miles. Food loses one third of its nutrients within one day. Large agricultural sites that could be kept for the production of organic food which could feed inner London and other cities.
Prime agricultural land near cities should be kept for the production of food.
To take an example: Guildford Borough Council is currently allocating 170 Hectares of agricultural land at Wisley to development on a site adjacent to the M25, and adjacent to wildlife areas are of strategic importance., Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, Ockham and Wisley Common site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) , Site of Nature Conservation Importance and on prime best and most versatile agricultural land. No wise thinking government would allow this allocation for housing. This type of site with its good quality agricultural land which is viable agricultural enterprise just outside London should be kept for the production of food and enhancement of wildlife so near the Capital city.
Nature Recovery Networks, ELMS, Conservation Covenants
The government talks a good talk about restoring and creating a network of wildlife rich places that improve and connect these nature conservation areas. This must come through in some high view nationwide check on where developers are destroying wildlife-rich sites. We have to safeguard existing sites as a matter of national importance.
More high-level strategic thinking has to go into looking at sites of a certain size which should be kept for the production of food/ biodiversity. This cannot be left to local level particularly in areas where land values are high and influence for foreign investors to make money out the UK natural capital are strong. These sites need to be looked for their strategic importance for the long-term food security by a body independent of local pressure.
“We will not achieve a step-change in nature conservation in England without society accepting that it is necessary, desirable, and achievable. This will require strong leadership from government and a much better collaboration between local authorities, local communities”. Lawton report
Local Borough Councils should not mark their own homework. There has to a higher overview and accountability for developments that eat into our ever-dwindling natural capital. We hear much government rhetoric of recognising the key role the agriculture has in addressing the challenges of reversing the decline in biodiversity, climate change, and supporting the green recovery from COVID-19, but we need any new planning policy to oversea this.