27 September 2012
Natural England’s role in supporting rural business was at the heart of a speech given by Poul Christensen to the Country Land and Business Association in London last week.
The Chair of Natural England highlighted the vital part landowners play in tackling the big issues we now face: producing more food, finding new energy supplies, building new homes and letting rural businesses grow, while still conserving the places and wildlife that make the countryside so special.
Poul underlined the importance to businesses of the services that nature provides. The environment is the key link in many supply chains and provides the soil and water that feeds the nation. In today’s economic climate there is a growing need to develop new land-based businesses and find fresh market opportunities that allow us to continue to enjoy the natural assets – the landscapes, rivers and wildlife – on which we all depend.
Pledging Natural England’s support for rural businesses, he acknowledged that the conservation sector hadn’t always fully appreciated the vital role that private landowners and enterprise played.
“We need to harness the creativity, innovation and resourcefulness of private enterprise, not try to drive it away,” Poul said.
“There is no doubt that private businesses, operating in properly regulated markets, are vital if we are to meet the great environmental challenges that now face us.”
He cited Natural England’s experience of working with farmers and landowners through agri-environment schemes – supporting them to bring top-quality produce to market, shape some of the most beautiful countryside and protect the environment.
Poul recognised that Common Agricultural Policy reforms were creating uncertainty, and said that landowners should continue to be rewarded for the environmental goods and services they provide. Many of the recent successes in conservation have come when landowners, local people and government work together.
“I’m determined that we forge ahead with this new model of conservation – conservation by consent not coercion,” he said.
“I want to see a system of protection that is balanced and proportionate; one that places a minimal regulatory burden on those who manage the land. In the long term we’ll only safeguard natural systems in the uplands and the huge wealth of wildlife that lives there, by working with landowners, farmers, rural communities and businesses.”
Poul also welcomed the work of the Ecosystem Markets Task Force - a business-led panel set up by the Government to explore ways of developing green markets, goods and services - whose members include Natural England’s Deputy Chair David Hill.
He explained that those who love the countryside have nothing to fear from moves to streamline environmental regulations and added: “We need to make it easier for people to do the right thing for environment.
“Far from being a burden on business, there are real opportunities for businesses who market and brand themselves on their environmental credentials.”
CLA Vice President, Ross Murray, said of the event: " Poul gave us a fascinating overview of Natural England's role and remit. In return he received first hand member [concerns] over species licensing, but then challenged CLA to look beyond the hills and engage with the thinking behind natural capital, which we do with great interest and enthusiasm."
Between £350 and 400 million invested into the rural economy every year through Environmental Stewardship, the largest green farming scheme in Europe; investment in the current and future health of the environment.
This investment has spin-off benefits in the wider rural community, sustaining up to 15,000 jobs and generating additional spending of as much as £850 million per year.
Over 55,000 farm businesses receiving financial support and practical advice.
Nearly 2.7 billion visits were made to English countryside, coast and open spaces last year - around 65 visits per adult.
An estimated £20 billion was spent during visits to the natural environment in 2011/12 – vital income for farm and village shops; hotels, tea shops and restaurants; attractions, car parks and activity centres.