Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The environmental impact of ending set aside

Idling land resources through set aside never made a lot of economic sense and was largely a way of dealing with over production encouraged by the old style CAP. However, many environmentalists felt that set aside encouraged biodiversity.

This was particularly the case for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) which with over a million members, largely urban gardeners whose bird identification skills are sketchy, is a very influential conservationist group in the UK. Defra policy is strongly influenced by the RSPB which has framed the agenda in terms of, for example, using farmland bird populations as an indicator of environmental stress, although they may not the best measure.

The RSPB view, as expressed by head of conservation Sue Armstrong Brown, is that 'One of the strengths of set-aside was simply that there was lots of it. It made the whole countryside more varied and wildlife loves variety.' The NFU, in contrast, argues that it is a blunt policy instrument and that only a small part of set aside ever had great environmental value.

Defra secretary Hilary Benn has stepped in to warn farmers to look after habitats and bird numbers after set aside has gone, or face new regulations to compel them to do so. He announced an immediate programme of environmental monitoring of farmland.

In fact, as Don Curry has pointed out, this is an English policy manifestation of a mich wider debate. As commodity prices have risen, global tensions between the use of land for food, fuel and the creation of environmental benefits have increased. There are no easy answers, but a debate is needed.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Bauer said...

Dear Sir,
it would be of interest what you mean by "a more modern agriculture in Britain". Some 50 years ago that was getting rid of hedges, some 30 years ago that was invest into beef production and use as much pesticides as possible, some 10 years ago the current trend (ongoing) was local and organic food.
So what would you think is now your "modern" agriculture for the future?
Yours sincerly
H.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Wyn Grant said...

A competitive agriculture that can compete on international markets without subsidies (other than for providing public goods). Grubbing up hedges and all the other policies you mention were a product of substantial government intervention in farming. If organic production is profitable (and it isn't always) farmers will produce more organic food and sell more into local markets (as many are doing to their benefit).

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Bauer said...

Dear Sir,
that leads to the question: What is a public good? I think there are a lot of different definitions, ranging from environmental goods, defence, inner security and the court system (not to mention Adam Smith with his opinion that palaces for kings and queens are one). E.g. Potter has mentioned that in France farmers are understood as a public good.
What is your opinion?
yours sincerely
H.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Wyn Grant said...

I would tend to adhere to a strict economic definition, otherwise anything that people assert is a public good (benefit) becomes one which is not what the concept means. People are often referring to merit goods which are something different. There are public goods aspects to farming, cherished landscapes being the most obvious example.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous Bauer said...

Dear Sir,
in that case I do understand your use of the word "cherish" as an indication of a landscape being more or less a merit good. Probably in distinction to the pure public goods defense, police and courts.
Anyway I guess Musgrave in my understanding went away a little bit from his concept some years ago.
yours sincerely
H.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Wyn Grant said...

A landscape is non-rivalrous and non-excludable (or at least it is very difficult to exclude, although one might argue about national parks in the States). How much people would really be prepared to pay to maintain the landscape of, say, rural Devon is an interesting question.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Bauer said...

Dear Sir,
its quite true that the WTP for Devons landscape is an interesting and challenging question. You might better know than I do that with benefit transfer you could easily solve that question.
I am not quite sure about the excludability condition insofar we are talking about landscapes. It is true if e.g. I am standing at a view point, nobody can exclude me from the view. But I can be and am excluded to access an SSSI by fences etc. So landscapes regarding access to them makes them a club good in my understanding.
Yours sincerely
H.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Wyn Grant said...

One has to take account of 'right to roam' legislation in the UK which has considerably opened access and in some cases had a considerable impact on the ability of farmers to farm.

1:55 AM  

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