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13/11/2017

Must Brexit be bad for rural Britain?

Brexit provides the chance for Britain to re-evaluate its agricultural system. This could create a greater emphasis on sustainable rural commmunities, says Kimberley Airey

Brexit. Some of us rejoiced, some of us had a little cry, some of us stamped our feet in political tantrums. That’s democracy. For good or for bad, it’s happening, and at the end of it all we are still one Britain – one island nation heading into the great unknown, post-Brexit Britain.

The first steps in delivering Brexit to a divided nation have begun and the threat of change is lingering over rural affairs. Rural economies face an uncertain future without European subsidies and project funding. 

Rural people have already undergone an economic shift with the need to diversify traditional activities to ensure an income they can live on. Environmental charity People Need Nature has reported that the consumer demand for low-cost produce has forced some farmers to accept only 9 per cent of their produce value, prompting the transformation of farms into B&Bs.

This consumption-driven shift in land use from production to leisure has been exacerbated by our reliance on cheaper imports. But with this, we ignore the contribution that rural economies can make to local and national sustainability and self-sufficiency.

"Brexit could see changes to our rural landscape. But it is not just the economy and landscape that are threatened"

In the village of Borth in mid-Wales people have relied heavily on EU project funding. Tensions between farmers interested in draining Cors Fochno peat bog to preserve agricultural land and conservationists insisting on protecting the ecological integrity of the UNESCO peat bog dominate discussion about the landscape.

It is EU-funded intervention that has defused these tensions. A water management project to mediate the effect of the peat bog on agricultural land has been commissioned with EU funding. Without this, the farmers’ productivity and income would suffer.

And, as a water mitigation strategy, farmers plant trees in the uplands; again, EU funding supports this land management and provides a sustainable income source.

Brexit could see changes to our rural landscape. But it is not just the economy and landscape that are threatened. Loss of funding for tree planting increases the flood threat.

About 75 per cent of Britain’s land is used for agriculture, which has a big role to play in underpinning sustainable rural communities. Yet we import 60 per cent of our produce. With the removal of EU policy and funding, it is once again up to the British government to support British rural affairs.

Brexit provides us with the chance to re-evaluate our agricultural system and start looking at the ability of our land to provide for the nation in a way that would sustain rural communities, and give our farmers a fair income in competitive local and national markets. Britain.

Kimberley Airey is an environmental and planning student at the University of Liverpool

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