How should the English countryside look in future?

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst

image captionThe UK government now has more control over how it spends EU farming funds

People are being asked to offer their views on how the English countryside should look.

The government has opened a consultation on the priorities for spending nearly £20bn of EU subsidies over the next seven years.

The budget has been cut overall and there is huge controversy about how it should be shared between helping farmers and protecting wildlife.

The decisions will have an impact on hedgerows, trees, wild flowers, birds, bees, water quality and the appearance of the landscape.

An EU settlement in the summer has given individual nations more discretion on how to spend funds.

Some countries want to prioritise direct help for farmers, but the UK government says farmers should have to earn their cash as much as possible by working in a way that benefits the environment.

'Significantly disadvantaged'

Ministers want to divert the maximum amount of 15% into rural development and green schemes.

They aim to help hill farmers and to create shelter for pollinators, such as bees and moths.

But this has worried big farmers, who they say they will lose out and get less direct payment than some of their European counterparts.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) president, Peter Kendall, said: "English farmers are already significantly disadvantaged in comparison with their near neighbours in the EU."

Environmentalists are not happy either. They argue the government's plans have failed to ensure that whole landscapes are farmed in a way that safeguards water quality and the environment.

Helen Perkins from the Wildlife Trusts said: "We need to see farming for nature mainstreamed - with environmental standards raised on every farm so that exemplary practices aren't restricted to pockets of the countryside."

Campaigners are perplexed that the government has given the public just 28 days to respond to the consultation on an immensely complex reform.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own processes over farm budgets.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

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