by Glyn Roberts, FUW president
Anyone who takes a walk around our beautiful countryside and takes in the breathtaking views, clean air and rejoices in the patchwork of green fields up and down the country, surely recognises the important role farmers already play in combating air pollution and climate change.
Recent Glastir figures back that up – in fact our farmers have created and restored over 2000km of hedgerows, created or maintained 524km of streamside corridors, created 19,537m2 of new ponds, looked after 6715 ha of hay meadows and 120,562 ha are under sustainable upland management regimes.
So I am baffled by the Clean Air Strategy recently published by the environment Secretary Michael Gove, which points its finger straight at the agricultural industry. The FUW will of course be responding to the consultation.
The intentions to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up through new primary legislation, may sound honourable at a glance but the suggested way of going about things raises pertinent questions for our sector.
Air pollution DeFRA say is the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, obesity and heart disease and the new government strategy sets out how they will go further and faster than the eU in reducing human exposure to particulate matter pollution.
These proposals are in addition to the government’s £3.5 billion plan to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles, set out in July last year.
It is estimated that the action set out will reduce the costs of air pollution to society by an estimated £1 billion every year by 2020, rising to £2.5 billion every year from 2030.
So what are the sticking points here? Let’s take a look at some of the proposal:
UK government will:
• Introduce new primary legislation, which will give local government new powers to improve air quality.
• Legislate to ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels will be available for sale, preventing 8,000 tonnes of harmful particulate matter from entering the atmosphere each year.
• Provide a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public, particularly those who are vulnerable to air pollution, about the air quality forecast, providing clearer information on air pollution episodes and accessible health advice.
• Work with international partners to research and develop new standards for tyres and brakes to enable us to address toxic non- exhaust emissions of micro-plastics from vehicles which can pollute air and water.
• Put new investment into scientific research and innovation strengthening the UK’s position as a world leader in clean technology and secure further emissions reductions.
And for the first time the government will:
• Take concerted action to tackle ammonia from farming by requiring farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. english farmers will be supported to achieve this through a system of public money for public goods.
It is clear that the main contributor to the air quality crisis is road transport, which is, at its core, an urban problem – notwithstanding the crowded motorways which criss-cross the UK.
The plan also seems to be putting further pressure on local governments, rather than looking for solutions via coherent and well structured frameworks.
While agriculture is often singled out for criticism in terms of environmental impacts, the reality is that all industries have some form of adverse effects, and agriculture is one of the few which also has huge positive effects – for example in terms of carbon storage, preserving biodiversity and water management.
As with all other industries, we have a duty to improve our performance in order to preserve the planet for future generations. Doing so is a challenge the industry can rise to, provided governments and others properly understand the need for proportionate approaches which avoid food production being shifted to other countries with far lower environmental standards.