National Trust fears farmers may put short-term profits ahead of sustainability

The uncertainty surrounding the future of post-Brexit subsidies could see farmers risk rural landscapes by putting profit first, according to the National Trust.

Speaking at Countryfile Live in Oxfordshire, the Trust’s Director General, Dame Helen Ghosh, said that a small group of farmers appeared to be reverting to more intensive methods in order to make short-term profits.

The trust is concerned that such methods might harm the environment and surrounding wildlife in the process.

“We have already seen examples of short-term decision-making, where farmers, in response to uncertainty about the future and income, have ploughed up pasture which was created with support from EU environmental money. It’s very understandable, but heart-breaking,” she said.

She is calling on the Government to maintain the same level of funding as the EU offering farmers a £3 billion-a-year support package with clear incentives for nature-friendly farming.

“The longer we wait, the more we risk losing all the gains we have made over the last decade,” added Dame Helen Ghosh.

“We are within touching distance of a vision for the future of farming that sees thriving businesses successfully meeting the needs of the nation into the 21st century and beyond.

The current level of overall subsidies will be maintained until 2022, under the Government’s proposal, but environment secretary Michael Gove has said that the money would have to be earned through environmentally-friendly agriculture.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Leaving the EU provides us with a golden opportunity to set up new frameworks for supporting our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.

“We have committed to match the £3 billion agricultural support until 2022 and the Environment Secretary has said that support for our farmers will continue for many years to come where the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.

“As we develop this new approach to food and farming outside the EU we will not compromise on our high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.”