RSPBNI has partnered with a range of environmental NGOs as part of the NI Nature Matters campaign, which is working together for a nature friendly Brexit in Northern Ireland. Recently, as part of this coalition we responded to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster regarding the opportunities and challenges facing the agricultural industry here as we prepare to leave the EU. Without a working government for Northern Ireland, this has provided one of the best opportunities to date to advocate to decision makers on the need for a sustainable farming and land management policy for Northern Ireland.
Health and Harmony: an example to follow
Within our response we have emphasised the need for Northern Ireland to adopt a similar approach to England’s in regards to the development of NI specific farming policy. We welcome Defra’s ambition to radically transform agricultural policy in England, to move away from the current area based payments system of the CAP towards the concept of public money being provided to farmers for the delivery of environmental public goods. However, we recognise that there are differences between the all of the four countries of the UK, in terms of legislation, environment and each country’s agricultural industry. Each nation will have to develop its own agricultural policy to reflect this. That said, it is essential that countries within the UK work together to develop a common framework to avoid a regulatory race to the bottom.
Yellowhammer - one species reliant on nature-friendly farming in Northern Ireland. Image: www.rspb-images.com
The need for public support for agriculture in NI
We have made the case that there is a clear need for public support for farming in Northern Ireland to continue. Without this support the majority of farming activities here would be uneconomic and would face massive uncertainty as we leave the EU. We believe that the best way to secure public spending on agriculture in the future is to reallocate funding towards achieving environmental outcomes. We have called for all agricultural spending to be maintained in NI for an initial 10 year period, with spending reallocated towards the provision of environmental public goods.
Trade and the border
We maintain that any future trade deals must ensure that importers are required to meet the same high standards as domestic producers. This will avoid Northern Irish farmers being undercut by cheap imported produce, at the expense of the environment in other nations. There must also be close cooperation with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit as effective environmental management across the island of Ireland will continue to depend upon it.
Farmland landscape in Co, Fermanagh, near Border with Eire. Image: Andy Hay www.rspb-images.com
Finally, we have stated our preference for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be restored as soon as possible. As time goes on, the risk of NI being left behind other parts of the UK increases. Soon we will be required to bring forward our own agricultural policy and legislation. We need a working government to do this.