… it might just save the British countryside by destroying our farming industry.
The European Union pays out €50bn of public money in farm subsidies; to qualify, the land must be kept bare. Consequently, hectare upon hectare of native forests and wildlife has been cleared to claim the funds.
George Monbiot suggests here that the area devoted to sheep grazing in the UK roughly equates to the amount of land used to produce all of our crops, yet lamb and mutton provide 1.2% of our diet. This production is clearly not worth the destruction it causes – and grazing sheep radically alters and erodes the landscape.
Nearly half of the average farmer’s income comes from EU subsidies, so it’s quite reasonable to believe small to medium farmers when they say they will go under without the subsidies. But why should public money fund such a destructive and unproductive industry?*
Monbiot suggests an alternative: we pay our farmers to be conservationists instead.
The only fair way of resolving this incipient crisis is to continue to provide public money, but only for the delivery of public goods – such as restoring ecosystems, preventing flooding downstream, and bringing children and adults back into contact with the living world. This should be accompanied by rules strong enough to ensure that farmers can no longer pollute our rivers, strip the soil from the land, wipe out pollinators and other wildlife, and destroy the features of the countryside with impunity.
*I’m talking in general terms – I know there are huge differences in types of farming in terms of productiveness, and sheep grazing is probably the most extreme example. Overall, it is just my opinion that mostly it does much more harm to wildlife than good.