Among its myriad effects, Brexit threatens a radical shakeup of UK agriculture with the withdrawal of billions of pounds of EU subsidies. There is considerable anxiety in the agricultural community as most farmers rely on some form of income support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Without a policy of smooth transition, the transformation of agriculture will lead to a radical shift in land values as many farmers lose their holdings to the international market.
The fall of the CAP opens up the ominous possibility of the corporate countryside, the brave new world of high intensity agribusiness, accelerated road building, suburban residential and retail commercial developments, airports and tourist facilities. In an era of cheap land and perhaps negative interest rates – not to mention the housing crisis – development will proceed apace as the integrity of the countryside is forever altered.
Contrary to this nightmare scenario, the current CAP policy favoured stability, and in recent decades, environmental criteria and objectives, linked through cross-compliance to farming subsidies. Activities such as crop diversification, pesticide control, wildlife corridors have been central to the Pillar I requirements for EU subsidies. Such activities are still in place across the UK and indicate an alternative path for the British countryside, other than the corporate takeover of rural Britain.
It is ironic that British scholars and scientists have been central to the articulation of EU environmental law and policy, the most developed body of such law in the world. Indeed, given the high level of public education in the UK on environmental issues, especially of such issues as climate change, it would be difficult, and in fact, counter-productive, to walk away from such a longstanding commitment to the environment.
Confronted however by the forced choice between economic development and the environment, many may tolerate the incremental destruction of the rural landscape. But, we must be clear that this is a false choice and that a better approach to the countryside is possible than a passive drift toward the wasteland. To get a glimpse of the nightmare scenario, we need only consider the American (formerly rural) landscape of suburbs, retail malls, theme parks, landfills and industrial farms.
Nevertheless, Britain differs from the Americans since they have already created their wasteland. The UK still stands at the crossroads, not having taken the plunge toward overdevelopment and corporate agriculture. Indeed, while the UK will leave the EU, there is no good reason to simply surrender the countryside to the vast corporate monolith. Yet, such surrender will occur in the absence of political clarity, imagination and investment.
To read the rest of the article, please visit “After Brexit – New British Landscapes”.