Protecting the rural environment - The UK experience
Protecting the rural environment: A commentary
Group discussion on "The rural environment"
by Frances Sandiford-Rossmiller
Values and beliefs about agriculture and the rural environment in the UK have to be understood in the specific historical and geographical context of the country. The discussion that follows really concerns England: Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are rather different by reason of their economy, history, geography or systems of law or governance. They often have their own statutory bodies. Although the EU's agricultural, rural and environmental policies apply throughout the UK, the underlying attitudes and pressures that have been brought to bear on policy formation stem largely from the English experience. Nevertheless, most of the discussion that follows refers to both England and Wales by virtue of the long political and economic integration of Wales into the UK and its proximity to the main centres of English urban population. However, unless stated otherwise, statistics are for the UK as a whole.
A brief history of the 'countryside' movement
Rural Britain in the sense of countryside -landscape and scenery - is almost entirely the product of agricultural processes that have been going on since prehistoric times. More than 80 percent of the land is under some form of agricultural management: the area of woodland at just under 10 percent is low by western European standards (averaging almost one-quarter), and little of that is ancient woodland. For a variety of historical reasons, including the parliamentary enclosure acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,1 which were related to but not the sole reason for the development of capitalist agriculture, and the early birth of the industrial revolution, the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture has been the lowest in Europe for well over a hundred years: only 8-12 percent (sources vary greatly in their estimates) at the turn of the century compared with 40 percent for France and over 40 percent for Germany. The industrial revolution had itself had an important impact on agriculture with the successful pressure for cheap food for urban consumers that led to the final repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and an increasing dependence on imported food supplies. The agricultural depression of the late nineteenth century that these policies led to gave increased impetus to the further commercialisation of agriculture and shedding of labour. The owner-occupier family farm was not the development model that it was in Denmark, for example, and until after World War II when death duties and other taxation, and agricultural depression had made the owner-farmer the predominant organizational mode, large landowners and tenant farmers were common.
1See J.M. Neeson. Commoners: Common Right, Enclosures and Social Change in England, 1700- 1820 Cambridge University Press, 1993. And W.G. Hoskins. The Making of the English Landscape Penguin, 1985.
Thus by the beginning of this century, the vast majority of the population was divorced by more than one generation from direct experience of agricultural production. The importance of agriculture in the rural economy, although variable, was declining rapidly. In the northern and midland heartland of the industrial revolution, former villages became industrial cities and towns. The building of railways and tramways led to uncontrolled suburban sprawl as the urban middle classes and the industrialists sought to escape the grim conditions of the cities. So began the suburbanisation of the rural areas, the urbanisation for non-industrial reasons of small towns and villages, and the search for the 'lost' and very largely mythical rural values and quality of life.
The prevailing English ethos of 'rurality' has been described by Hoggart et al2 as "essentially defined and maintained by an urban-centred population (and arguably for that population as well)," and the associated rural tradition is naturalist, "which derives more overtly from a conception of rural space as an arena for consumption." This is clearly reflected in the formation of voluntary conservation organizations whose main interests have been to protect wildlife and landscape and to gain access to the countryside. The parliamentary enclosure acts, which largely completed the process of transforming the medieval open field fanning system with its commoners' rights to private ownership, wage labour and modem agricultural practices, led to the formation in 1865 of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society. Its objective was to "fight the enclosure of the remaining common lands for agriculture and to try to retain them for amenity."3 The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was founded in 1889 as "the reaction of animal lovers to the slaughter of birds of prey and other 'vermin' on game estates, and the general persecution of birds and other animals by the plumage trade and collectors."4 1895 saw the birth of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, which had both landscape and wildlife conservation objectives.5 Other organizations followed in the twentieth century, including the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the Councils for the Preservation of Rural England, Scotland and Wales, the County Nature Conservation Trusts, the Ramblers Association, and a whole range of recreational associations. Landscape, scenic amenity and concern for wildlife habitats represented essentially middle-class urban interests.6
2 K. Hoggart, H. Buller and R. Black. Rural Europe: Identity and Change. London: Arnold, 1995.
3 B. Green. Countryside Conservation. E & FN Spon, 1986.
4 Green, op. cit.
5 The National Trust is today the largest organization active in the conservation arena with well over one million members. It has become a very large landowner, seeing that as the best way of securing conservation with access and amenity. Death duties have assisted its acquisitions, as has the statutory power conferred in the first National Trust Act of 1907 to hold land inalienable.
6 Green, op. cit., distinguishes between landscape and scenery as follows: landscape is a particular configuration of topography, land-use, vegetation cover and settlement pattern; scenery is the visual impression of a tract of country.
The working class interest in the countryside made itself felt in the areas surrounding the midland and northern cities of the industrial revolution where the demand was for access on the one holiday of the week to the green open spaces outside the cities - the Pennine moors of the Peak District in particular - for recreation in the form of rambling and climbing. "Surrounded by the sprawling industrial cities of northern England and the Midlands, it was the last unspoilt outpost of the southern Pennines, and a precious weekend escape for the teeming populations created in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Half the population of England lived within 60 miles of the Peak."7 Here there was direct conflict with the large landowners who managed their moors for shooting, combining low density grazing with careful management of the vegetation (especially heather) for game bird cover. A succession of attempts from 1908 to 1939 to reach agreement on access failed because of the entrenched landowner interests in Parliament. With improvements in transport communications that facilitated travel to the area, the pressure built up. Clubs organized huge open-air rallies to campaign for access to the hills and moors, and in 1932 a Mass Trespass was held on Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District. But despite the strong public support and pressure for access, it was only in 1955, four years after the creation of the Peak District National Park, that the first access agreement to Kinder was signed.
7 Time Exposure: the Peak National Park - Past and Present. Peak Park Joint Planning Board, 1991.
Values and beliefs about agriculture and the rural environment
The naturalist tradition of rurality identified by Hoggart et al.8 "is a composite notion founded on the representation of the countryside first and foremost in terms of landscape and nature. This vision is generally accompanied by the belief that ,a (rather ill-defined) traditional rural way of life is superior born to urban and to contemporary rural life. Taken together, these arcadian and pastoral myths constitute the basis for a rural nostalgia that in Britain at least has become '...the basis of the role that the countryside plays in national identity'.... in no other nation has countryside protection become such a political rallying point for (commonly) middle class home-owners, united not so much as co-members in ecological or environmental movements as by a shared concern for the depreciating value of a consumer good; to whit, rural amenity and more specifically the sanctity of rural residential amenity." The power of this myth in the wartime experience is noted caustically by Calder:9 "Georgian poets and their associated cricket correspondents had dwelt nostalgically on the beauties of the English countryside and the virtues of the English yokel, while the former had decayed and the latter, if they had had much enterprise, had fled to the towns. Even during the war, many writers who should have known better implied mat the soldiers and airmen were dying to preserve an essentially rural Britain, the fantasy world of the minor and more optimistic followers of Thomas Hardy, of Mrs Miniver and of P.O. Wodehouse."
8 Hoggart et al, op. cit.
9 A. Calder. The People's War: Britain 1939-1945. London: Pimlico, 1996.
That this vision has lost none of its carrying power is evidenced by the purple prose of the White Paper published in October 1995:10
10 Rural England: A Nation Committed to a Living Countryside. Department of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Cm 3016. London: HMSO, October 1995.
The enduring character of England is most clearly to be found in the countryside. Yet the pace of change has quickened and much of what we value most about the rural scene seems threatened by increasing mobility, the pressures of leisure and recreation, the decline of jobs in rural industries and the demands for new jobs in businesses which would once have been found only in the towns.
So this White Paper is about a living and working countryside. It recognises the stresses and strains of widespread change but it never forgets those distinctive qualities whose preservation is a continuing commitment in a country which values the rural way of life.
Of course governments need to approach such an enterprise with humility. The future health of rural England does not rest primarily in their hands, for the countryside is the product of a myriad of human actions over many centuries, moulding the natural world until it is difficult to distinguish what man has created from what nature provided.
Most of what we most value in the natural scene is the product of farming - hillsides whose beauty is dependent upon grazing, water meadows which need to be used for cattle if they are to be preserved, dry stone walls, hedges and traditional building.
But where exactly does agriculture fit into this vision? What part does it play in the creation and maintenance of the myth? It has itself been ruthlessly romanticised, mythologised and exploited through the manipulation by advertising agencies of the rural fantasy, and the production of television programmes and films set in the pre-1950s. A population that is urbanised and knows little about farming practices is repeatedly fed with images of chickens pecking around in the farmyard; the ruddy-faced farmer's daughter hand-milking cows called Buttercup or Daisy; cosy farmhouse kitchens with the farmer's wife baking bread; jolly haymaking scenes where the children are given special holidays from school to help; stupendous farmed scenery apparently teeming with wildlife (and usually in glorious sunshine). The reality before the war was very different in the deep agricultural depression, and it is even more different now. The role of farmers as guardians of the national heritage - that beautiful countryside -has been and still is being assiduously promoted by the agricultural lobby, the government and the romanticiser: "... farmers have an obvious interest in managing their land wisely and handing it down to then-children in good order. We rely on them to act as stewards of England's countryside, using best environmental practice to nurture its quality and wealth of wildlife."11
How much worse, therefore, has been the demonising of the farmer when the general public started to realise rather belatedly what the consequences of modem farming can be for the environment and the farm animals. Factory farming of livestock; wholesale ripping out of hedges; draining of wetlands; monoculture not only of cereals but also of grass as high levels of nitrogen fertiliser and herbicides destroy the mixed pastures; and the disappearance of many birds has induced a sense of deep betrayal in the public at large.
The reaction on the part of farmers to the conservation lobby has at times been very hostile. At the peak of the CAP-induced agricultural prosperity, it was not uncommon to hear farmers voice the sentiment when the question of access to the countryside was raised: this is my workplace; how would they like it if we just walked onto their factory floor and strolled round looking at the view. But farmers too have felt betrayed and bewildered by the hostility expressed towards them and their actions. They have been very policy-responsive: post-war grants to 'improve' agriculture by ploughing up moorland and heathland, applying lime and ripping out hedges were notably successful. Now they are pilloried for doing just that, and subsidised to reverse the 'damage.' Their output of food, once so highly valued in more than monetary terms, is now treated contemptuously as 'surplus' to requirements and fed to animals or exported at vast subsidy.
Rural myth and agricultural policy
The history of countryside policy has been based on the explicitly stated belief that agriculture is the most important rural activity economically, socially and environmentally, which of course justifies policies to support agriculture. The National Farmers Union (NFU), which has been a remarkably successful lobbying group, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which is widely regarded as being the Ministry for Farmers, have made much of this argument over the years. In contrast, the countryside lobby has been diffuse, and, as will be shown, weakened by successive government actions that separated the amenity and access interests from the wildlife protection interests. Perhaps as befits a consumerist valuation of the countryside as identified by Hoggart et al. and described above, the consumers have found it difficult to organize and focus their lobbying power, or perhaps the diverse objectives of the estimated three-quarters of the urban population who visit the countryside at least once a year do not lend themselves easily to pressure group politics. But the whole environmental movement in the UK has found it extremely difficult to have its views taken into serious account. "Significantly, the combination of government reluctance to act and a highly informed and active environmental lobby... means that Brussels receives more complaints relating to Britain's poor performance in implementing EC environmental legislation than any other state."12 The British political system has not permitted the rise of a new environment-oriented political party, and the ill-named 'Department of the Environment (DOE)' has misled many into thinking that it somehow represents a government commitment to 'green' issues whereas it is, in fact, very largely a ministry for the built environment (housing, town planning, new towns, local government),13 not for the natural environment which forms only a tiny part of its brief and budget. In no way has the DOE performed a function for the conservation interests anything like that by MAFF for the NFU, and, as far as agriculture-related environmental issues are concerned, seems to have done a good job of supporting agricultural interests.
12 Hoggart et al., op.cit.
13 P. Hennessy. Whitehall. London: Fontana, 1990.
The agricultural depression of the 1870s onwards in the face of cheap cereal imports from the New World was only temporarily ameliorated by the First World War. The continuation of the agricultural support of the war years that brought three million acres back under the plough was promised, but the Agriculture Act of 1920 that incorporated those promises was repealed in 1921.14 This was only one of many betrayals by the postwar government to provide the 'land fit for heroes.' Nevertheless, under the stimulus of high prices reflecting the world shortage of food caused by sharply reduced European production in the war years of about one-third, farmers expanded output in the 1920s, with the result that prices collapsed catastrophically. Prices in 1923 were almost half of their 1920 levels, and the decline continued to a low point in 1933. According to Bowers and Cheshire15, "in the great depression the lack of investment and maintenance appalled The crumbling walls and buildings, unkempt hedges and weed- (and flower-) infested fields led a contemporary writer to lament:
14 Calder, op. cit.
15 J K. Bowers and P Cheshire Agriculture, the Countryside and Land Use An Economic Critique London Methuen, 1983
Everywhere you find buildings in a deplorable state, roofs defective, doors broken down and the walls often affording but little shelter The farm roads are neglected and the farmyards in wet weather are deep in slush and liquid manure, the gates are patched up anyhow, and the fields often enough, with their vistas of weeds and rubbish, cry aloud for land drainage
Farmers' economic circumstances were shaping the countryside "
This perception of a countryside ravaged by a depressed agriculture was greatly influential in shaping agricultural and countryside policy after the Second World War Addison, the 'contemporary author' quoted above by Bowers and Cheshire was the minister implementing government intervention in agriculture, and he argued strongly in his Policy for Agriculture in 1939 that such intervention was justified on landscape grounds
There is one fact that never comes into agricultural talks, but which we ought not to forget The British landscape we love so much has been preserved by farming The pasturelands, the fields and hedges bespeak generations of loving care ...the neglect ...should help us to realise what things would be like if it were not for farming - thistles, nettles and weeds and all manner of rubbish spreading over good land offending the eye.16
16 Quoted in Bowers and Cheshire op. cit.
During World War II, there was a widespread determination that the social betrayal after World War I should not be repeated, and the post-war reconstruction policies were prepared very largely in war-time For agriculture, the influential document was the Scott Report on Land Utilisation in Rural Areas (1942) It embodied two important principles "first, that rural England was essential to the nations' cultural and landscape heritage, and, second, that agricultural prosperity was vital to the countryside In an equally famous passage, the Scott Report declared that 'the cheapest, indeed the only way, of preserving the countryside in anything like its traditional aspect, would be to farm it' "17 The Report also "denounced the uncontrolled development in of land in the inter-war years," and " [the majority] opinion was that 'a radical alteration of the types of farming is not probable and no striking change in the pattern of the open countryside is to be expected ' Despite a lucidly argued minority report disagreeing fundamentally with nearly all these basic conclusions, the Town and Country Planning Acts, on whose powers conservation heavily depended, reflected the majority attitude and were designed essentially to protect the countryside from the town The need to protect the countryside from threats from within - from farming and forestry - was not envisaged, and consequently no machinery was provided to deal with them "19 However, the Scott Report also recommended that national parks and nature reserves should be established under the control of a central authority.
17 H.J. Buller Agricultural Change and the Environment in Western Europe. in K Hoggart (ed) Agricultural Change Environment and Economy Essays in Honour of W.B. Morgan London and New York Mansell Publishing Ltd (a Cassell Imprint), 1992.
18 Calder, op. cit.
19 Green, op. cit.
Underlying the rhetoric about stewardship is a very strong feeling by land-owning farmers that they have the right to do with their own land much as they will This attitude has its roots in the Roman law that forms the basis of land law in Britain and a number of other countries, and has been reinforced by the exclusion of agriculture from the planning controls of the post-World War II years That exclusion was of some significance because as Hodge20 observed, "changes within agriculture, such as ploughing up pasture or removing hedges, do not fall within the definition of development as specified in the Town and Country Planning legislation which established the development control process." Thus farmers have retained far more rights over the way in which they use their land than have any other landowners. The policy emphasis put on food production since 1939,21 and farmers' success in achieving massive output increases, together with the perceived strategic importance of the sector (long after this had any basis in the reality of UK food security), gave farmers and agriculture a status (backed up by unprecedented relative income and wealth levels) that they had never before enjoyed. And since here was the prosperous agriculture that was the bedrock of a beautiful countryside, well, the countryside must also have benefited, mustn't it?
20 I. Hodge. Public Policies for Land Conservation, in D.W. Bromley (ed.). The Handbook of Environmental Economics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.
21 This found its post-World War II expression in the Agriculture Act of 1947, and subsequent legislation, and was reinforced by UK entry into the EEC in 1973 and the integration into the Common Agricultural Policy.
Rural reality and conservation policy
Although the inter-war years saw some discussion at government level of the need for conservation policies through the creation of national parks to meet landscape preservation, access and nature conservation objectives, nothing was actually done despite repeated lobbying by the amenity groups. Following the Scott Report, a number of reports were prepared, the outcome of which was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the statutory establishment of the Nature Conservancy Council in the same year.
This government action thus consolidated a split in the conservation movement in Britain, which now had two distinct objectives. One was the protection and provision of access to natural landscapes for their scenic beauty and use for informal recreation, and the other was the protection of wildlife for research and education... both these main arms of the conservation movement have until recently been essentially preservationist in their priorities. The protection of the resource rather than its use, whether a National Park from tourism or a National Nature Reserve from wildfowling, or even bird-watching, have been the main objectives....
It would be wrong to give the impression that the preservationist and utilitarian streams of development in the conservation movement have been completely distinct. many of those concerned with protecting the environment have seen that a totally negative, purely preservationist policy can rarely succeed. Management is often essential to maintain that which it is desired to protect and in many cases only the controlled exploitation and use of natural ecosystems offers the chance of keeping them in a commercial world. Pragmatic views of this kind, particularly with respect to the role of farming in creating and maintaining much that has always been cherished in the British landscape and its flora and fauna, have characterised both arms of the conservation movement... Indeed, when the measures to establish a state system of conservation were being debated, and when the legislation was drawn up and enacted in 1949, farming was seen as a major force working for conservation.22
By the second half of the 1960s, there was the glimmering of an awareness that the interests of modem agricultural production - or more precisely of modem agricultural producers -and both wildlife and amenity conservation were starting to diverge, and that the existing legislative powers were - well, powerless! The Countryside Act 1968 was the government's half-hearted response, and attempted to tackle some of the problems of loss of heath, down and wetland in the National Parks (which says a lot about how effective the Park authorities had been in protecting their patches), as well as damage to the designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Arguably, the most positive provision of the Act was to permit the Nature Conservancy Council to pay compensation to owners of SSSIs to manage the sites in a manner that would assure their continuing special scientific interest. But this created a number of problems, including moral hazard, it entrenched the principle that compensation could be paid for not carrying out specified agricultural practices, and, given the complete inadequacy of funding, ensured that trade-offs would occur and some sites be abandoned to destruction.23 However, the Act did establish the Countryside Commission as the statutory body to advise the government on countryside and landscape.
23 The details of the SSSI implementation are slightly peripheral in the context of this chapter. However, they do illustrate the special problem of compensation not to do something environmentally damaging and the moral hazard of threat. A good reference is: C.L. Spash and I.A. Simpson. Utilitarian and Rights-based Alternatives for Protecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 45 (1): 15-26, January 1994.
The incompatibility of agricultural and countryside goals grew more obvious during the 1970s as the full impact of the CAP was felt. Reports by the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council, as well as by some of the voluntary bodies, played an important role in bringing home to government the new realities, and a new environmental dimension was brought to the forefront of discussion - pollution of soil and water by agriculture in the form of pesticides, herbicides, sheep dip, nitrates, silage effluent, liquid animal wastes, dairy washings and various feed additives, including heavy metals.24
24 The pesticides issue had in fact come up in the previous decade with regard to the effects of organochlorine compounds on wildlife and the food chain.
And here I wish to speak in the first person from my own experience. At the time, the late-1970s, I was involved in the preparation of a written submission to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution covering the whole area of pollution from agriculture.25 This required an examination of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, most notably the section on water pollution. It turned out that here too agriculture received special treatment. For a successful civil prosecution under the Act for polluting a watercourse, it would be necessary for the Water Authorities to show that "on the balance of probabilities" a particular action by a particular farmer had indeed been responsible for causing pollution within the meaning of the Act. However, if the farmer could demonstrate that the action in question was "good agricultural practice," that was an adequate defence. MAFF was supposed to be responsible for drawing up Codes of Practice, but in the meantime, it rather looked as if the onus would be on the Water Authorities to prove that something was not "good agricultural practice." The Water Authorities also had to face dealing with the problems of non-point source and indirect pollution that characterise pollution from agriculture. In fact, the attitude of the Water Authorities was that only in the most flagrant and extreme cases were they interested in prosecuting farmers, preferring to visit, discuss, advise and generally find a consensual solution.
25 See Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
"Collectively, [these reports] identified modem agriculture as responsible for far-reaching changes in the natural environment and challenged its privileged status as a largely unregulated contributor. to environmental change."26 "Until recently those concerned with the damaging environmental impacts of [agricultural policy aimed at increasing production] have rarely questioned the need to grow more food. With the general revelations of the huge state support of the agricultural industry, the enormous surpluses and waste of food this has produced and the concern about diet and health, views have changed fundamentally.... Agriculture now finds itself under attack on all these grounds. Those who were not prepared to criticise the industry which provided their daily bread are much less happy about the destruction of the British countryside to provide cheap butter for Russians."27
Seventh Report: Agriculture and Pollution. Cm 7644. London: HMSO, 1979.
26 Buller, op. cit.
27 Green, op. cit.
The most important expression of these concerns about the problems of agriculture and the environment was the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The two-year debate that led to its passage was marked by a vigorous conflict, with the agricultural lobby and MAFF taking a markedly defensive position in the face of what was perceived to be attack (and largely unjustified at that) by the conservation interests. Green28 says of the Act that it "tackles the control of agriculture essentially through the principle of voluntary, fully compensated management agreements." While Buller29 observes that it "was hailed as a victory by farmers, as it maintained the voluntary principle in regulating environmental impact." It is conceptually rather difficult to reconcile "control of agriculture" with "the voluntary principle," and this has led to some difficulties between Britain and the EC which has increasingly seen environmental regulation as being necessary to protect air, water and soil quality. In fact, it was the European Community Drinking Water Directive of 1980 (Directive 80/788) that gave a high Community-wide and national profile to the problems of water pollution from agriculture, in particular because of the inability of many countries to meet the nitrate standards.
28 Green. op. cit.
29 Buller. op. cit.
Agricultural and environmental objectives: towards integration?
The insistence on the principle of voluntary participation in environmental programmes is in line with the oft-repeated view of farmers as the guardians and stewards of the countryside, and agricultural production as the process for achieving countryside objectives.30 But farmers are farmers and not conservation managers, so if the goals of agricultural and conservation policy conflict, they must not and cannot be forced to become what they are not.31 Education, advice, training, persuasion - and of course full monetary compensation -are permissible and necessary, but if the horse won't drink when taken to water, there is nothing (except in the extreme case of SSSIs) that can be done about it.32
30 See. for example, B. Plowden. Future Public Demands on the Countryside. Farm Management, 9 (5):209-217, Spring 1996.
31 Two interesting recent articles reflecting the changing attitudes among the fanning community are: J.S Marsh. Europe's Farmers: Should They Fight or Adapt? Farm Management, 9 (6):265-276, Summer 1996. And J.D.C. Beedell and T Rehman. A Meeting of Minds for Farmers and Conservationists? Some Initial Evidence on Attitudes Towards Conservation from Bedfordshire. Farm Management, 9 (6) 305-313, Summer 1996.
32 There are of course other influences at work in determining environmental change, some of which are analysed in: C. Potter and M, Lobley. The Farm Family Life Cycle, Succession Paths and Environmental Change in Britain's Countryside. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 47 (2). 172-190, May 1996.
And the compensation principle? The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 has had some influence here, although, as it was itself the product of a set of values and beliefs about both the benevolence of agriculture and the need to protect it from urban and industrial encroachment, it cannot be said to be the causal factor. Hodge33 explains the Act very well:
33 Hodge, op. cit.
[The] legislation... in effect nationalised the rights of landowners to develop their land. Once these rights were lost, owners had to apply to the local planning authority for permission if they wanted to undertake building works or major changes in land use...
The system has been the key mechanism in the process of urban containment, protecting agricultural land from urbanisation. The policy has been operated particularly strictly in areas of Green Belt which have been defined surrounding many major urban centres, but development in open countryside has also largely been prevented throughout the country except where a landowner can demonstrate that the proposed development is necessary for the purposes of agricultural production. Thus, by most accounts the policy has been particularly effective in giving considerable protection to the countryside.
It is important to note that the planning legislation, when it "nationalised development rights," did not include any compensation principle for the loss of those development rights, which included agricultural land. Indeed, subsequent tax legislation was introduced to deter or penalise speculation in land development rights What it did do was to exempt agricultural practices from the definitions of development and change in land use. Any attempt now to control or restrict agricultural 'development' or changes in agricultural practices is therefore seen as requiring compensation There has, however, been some strong public reaction against paying farmers not to do something, and (with the exception of SSSIs as we shall see later) farmers in general have not been too happy about the idea, not least because of the blow to their self-esteem and pride as farmers. The introduction of voluntary schemes that have environmental management objectives, so that the compensation payment, while being based on foregone agricultural income, can nevertheless be presented as a payment for environmental services rendered (the production of public goods in economic terms), can be viewed as a vital component in the integration of agricultural and environmental policy objectives. It can also be viewed as a cosmetic device for masking yet more payments to farmers while showing a 'green' face to the public. Either way, the underlying British approach is contractual rather than regulatory.
The British concerns about agriculture and the environment are increasingly having to find expression within the EU policy framework. That necessarily reflects a broader and often quite different set of values and beliefs about not only agricultural and environmental matters but also the whole question of the rural environment and rural development.34 Strong regional and national differences have emerged, with implications for priorities, policy objectives and policy implementation. On the one hand, there is the 'greening of the CAP,' which attempts to modify agricultural policy to allow for some incorporation of environmental objectives where a public good argument can be made. On the other, there is environmental legislation that impinges on agricultural practices. Both policy thrusts are relatively recent and to some extent still embryonic. However, optimists would rejoice that the principle has finally been established that agricultural policy objectives can no longer be pursued to the exclusion of other policy objectives. Pessimists might feel uneasy that the agricultural policy objectives that have proved so inimical to conservation considerations hitherto have not been abandoned.
34 Hoggart et al., op. cit. provide an excellent analysis of rural traditions and policies for the different countries of the EU, including agricultural and environmental
35 See Agricultural and Environmental Policies: Opportunities for Integration Paris: OECD, 1989 And Agricultural and Environmental Policy Integration Recent Progress and New Directions Paris OECD, 1993.
Contemporary policies for countryside management36
36 There have been a number of piecemeal agricultural policy measures with some conservation orientation, such as the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme, the Organic Aid Scheme, the Moorland Scheme, the Countryside Access Scheme and the Farm Woodland Scheme. This chapter does not attempt an exhaustive survey.
In 1985, Article 19 of EC Regulation 797/85 authorised governments to make payments to farmers in nationally designated areas for carrying out defined management practices to achieve environmental objectives (Only 25 percent of the scheme costs were met by the EU). A pilot scheme to conserve the Norfolk Broads grazing marshes was started by the Countryside Commission in the same year, and Section 18 of the Agriculture Act 1986 permitted designation of a number of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) in Great Britain, such as the Somerset Levels (a wetland environment) and the chalk down-lands of the South Downs. Participation is available to all farmers in the designated area of the ESA, originally for five but later changed to ten years. At its simplest, a flat-rate annual payment is made in return for adherence to a set of agreed management practices. However, the ESA scheme permits 'tiers' of payment to achieve different environmental objectives ranging from maintenance of existing conditions to reinstatement of former landscapes or habitats or creation of new ones.37 In order to broaden the environmental and geographical scope of the ESA scheme, the Countryside Commission launched a new scheme in 1991, revealingly titled 'Countryside Stewardship.' with the aim of improving and conserving "landscape and scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, history and archaeology and to provide opportunities for people to enjoy the countryside."38 The scheme targets particular types of landscape, rather than designated areas, and operates through a series of measures: "annual payments that support the enhanced management of existing areas of each landscape, or their restoration or re-creation; supplementary payments for more costly and sophisticated regeneration of landscapes and for the provision of new or improved public access; and capital funds for a wide range of landscape improvements and other work related to the specific landscape types."39 The interim evaluation found that Countryside Stewardship "has been successful in targeting its resources to landscape types and geographical areas that offer great potential for environmental improvement and public benefit and in some target areas very high uptake has been achieved."40 It was transferred to MAFF in 1996 after a five-year pilot period as "the core of England's agro-environmental programme."41
37 An interesting empirical study on the problems o) estimating the incentives necessary to achieve certain ecological objectives is A.P. Moxey, B. White, R.A. Sanderson and S.P. Rushton. An Approach to Linking and Ecological Vegetation Model to an Agricultural Economic Model. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 46 (3): 381-397, September 1995.
38 Countryside Stewardship: Monitoring and Evaluation. Third Interim Report. A Report to the Countryside Commission by Land Use Consultants. Cheltenham: Countryside Commission, May 1995.
41 Countryside Commission Press Release, 1 April 1996
Under yet another experimental scheme, the "Countryside Premium Scheme in East Anglia, set-aside was turned into new habitats, including alternative feeding areas for Brent geese... and public access areas were established creating meadow walks around villages previously hemmed in by intensive arable land."42 This scheme involved topping up the set-aside payments available from the EC for land set-aside for the purposes of supply reduction in order to gain some environmental benefits. So in addition to the payment for not producing cereals, participating farmers were able to receive additional payments for producing some environmental goods, not all of which materialised: "While the scheme as a whole appears to have met its general objective of an improved environment and greater capacity for quiet public recreation... not all projects achieved their aims. For example, pastures for goose grazing were little used by the Brent geese when the sward height was allowed to exceed 9 cm... and a chalk grassland restoration project included a wide range of species from European and garden origin and so failed to restore the local flora, although it was a successful creation of a pleasant public access area."43
42 Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. Managing Set-aside Land for Wildlife. ITE Research Publication No. 7. London: HMSO, 1993.
The recent EU agri-environmental legislation will permit the continuation of most of the British initiatives, and will increase the Community contribution to their cost to 50 percent (75 percent in regions covered by Article 1 of the Structural Funds). It also allows for a variety of other schemes that accord more with the priorities of other EU countries. The relevant measures are one of the 'Accompanying Measures' to the 1992 reform of the CAP: 2078/92, Council Regulation on Agricultural Production Methods compatible with the requirements of the Protection of the Environment and the Maintenance of the Countryside.44
44 The other two Accompanying Measures 2080/92 and 2079/92 deal with forestry in agriculture and an early retirement package. The British have decided not to implement the latter which would in practice probably have substantial negative environmental impacts in the British context.
The aims of this measure are as follows: to reduce the polluting effects of agriculture; to encourage environmentally favourable extensification of crops and livestock; to protect the countryside; to recover abandoned land; to set up environmentally beneficial long-term set-aside; to facilitate public access to land; and to educate farmers and landowners on agri-environmental matters.
These objectives may be brought about in any of the following ways: by reducing fertiliser use; by farming organically, by using other means of extensification, by reducing the number of sheep or cattle per forage area; by using farming practices which protect the environment and the countryside; by rearing rare breeds of animals; by ensuring the upkeep of abandoned land; by putting land into 20-year set-aside; and by facilitating public access to land.45
45 House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities. Environmental Aspects of the Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Session 1992-93 14th Report. (HL Paper 45) London: HMSO, 1992. This document includes both the written and oral evidence in full of the main conservation and amenity groups as well as farming bodies such as the NFU.
The agri-environmental measures have been fairly well received in Britain by the countryside and conservation groups, and also by the NFU, for bringing environmental objectives into the mainstream of agricultural policy and for funding them under the CAP budget. There is also widespread approval of the decentralised approach that has been adopted: most of the measures are to be developed and implemented at a regional level by means of five-year zonal programmes, and no detailed Community framework will be provided. Nevertheless, it is recognised that this raises problems as well as creating opportunities:
It will be important to ensure that this regionalised approach is successful in practice. Member States should not be permitted to avoid implementing the necessary measures or only to implement them in an ineffective, minimalist fashion. Furthermore, it is important that the latitude provided... is used for environmental benefits and that the proposed schemes are not simply regarded as an additional farm support measure...
... there must be some doubt about the mixed objectives of the agri-environmental package, which attempts to combine environmental concerns with reducing production. It is clear that reduced output in a particular area may benefit the environment, but it is not legitimate to conclude that "...measures to reduce agricultural production in the Community must have a beneficial impact on the environment" as is stated in the preamble to the draft Regulation. It is important to establish clear environmental objectives within agriculture and to devise effective ways of achieving these objectives, rather than attaching them to supply control policies.46
46 Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), Green or Mean? Assessing the Environmental Value of the CAP Reform "Accompanying Measures." Report prepared for the Council for the Protection of Rural England and submitted in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, op. cit.
The question of set-aside land brings into sharp focus the ongoing conflict between agricultural and environmental policy objectives. Set-aside is a supply control measure, and the so-called environmental cross-compliance conditions are very much secondary and subordinate to that purpose. The original proposals did not allow for the 20-year set-aside under the agri-environmental measures to count towards the 15 percent then required for rotational set-aside under the supply reduction scheme. However, the Council of Ministers agreed in June 1995 that in future "arable land taken out of production under agri-environment schemes, currently the Nitrate Sensitive Areas and Habitat Schemes, and forestry schemes could count against farmers' set-aside obligations."47 The practical implications of this concession are not yet clear.
47 Rural England, op. cit.
The budget allocated for the agri-environmental measures should give cause for concern about the priority accorded to environmental objectives: it averages about 400 million ECU a year for five years, which represents about one percent of the total FEOGA budget. It can be argued that many EU countries have little experience in implementing suitable schemes, and so the absorptive capacity in the early years should not be over-stretched, nor should there be encouragement to dream up quite inappropriate and environmentally unhelpful schemes just to get more Brussels money for farmers. There are some searing memories of CAP fraud, and there is every reason to suppose that such ingenuity has not declined over the years. There is also the legitimate concern that the real budgetary constraint is more likely to be at the national level. Of perhaps even greater importance is whether the Commission have the resources and expertise in the Agriculture and Environment Directorates to screen proposals adequately to prevent fraud and ensure their technical soundness.
But the smallness of the agri-environmental budget is of itself only part of the problem: the vast majority of CAP expenditure is still going to support agricultural production in ways that are at odds with countryside and natural resource protection. It has been accepted that farmers should be paid for the production of environmental goods and services: it has not been openly acknowledged that the cost of achieving any given level of those goods and services is greatly inflated because of the agricultural support prices. Valuing public goods is by its nature very difficult, but one recent study48 used a contingent valuation method to compare public benefits with net exchequer costs of the scheme for two ESAs, the South Downs and the Somerset Levels. The benefit-cost ratios for user benefits were 50.2 and 5.8, and for total benefits including passive use were 82.3 and 28.4. This would suggest that the levels of provision of public goods are far from adequate (and this finding is supported by other studies of environmental goods), and that they are even more inadequate if the high costs of agricultural support that inflate the cost side of the calculation are taken into account.
48 G.D. Garrod and K.G. Willis. Valuing the Benefits of the South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 46 (2): 160-173, May 1995.
Water pollution from agriculture: What happened to the polluter pays principle?
The UK takes the question of water pollution from agriculture rather more seriously now than it did in the 1970s, but is the same true of the 'Polluter Pays Principle' (PPP), which is supposed to form the basis of pollution control measures in OECD countries and is incorporated in Article 130R of the Treaty of Rome? Different approaches have been taken with regard to nitrate pollution, pollution from farm wastes and pesticides.
Britain has introduced an experimental scheme based on the designation of Nitrate Sensitive Areas, based, unsurprisingly, on the principles of voluntarism and compensation.
Ten such areas to combat nutrient enrichment in 1990 were identified by the [National Rivers Authority] and designated by [MAFF] under the Water Act 1989. Their purpose is to help control the entry of nitrates into controlled waters from agricultural land by payments to farmers to reduce nitrate use. Twenty-two new areas were introduced in July 1994. Consideration is being given to extending the life of the original ten areas for a further five years.49 (My emphasis.)
Farmers are offered compensation on an annual basis in return for changes in management, including limits on fertiliser application, an obligation to minimise the area Of bare land in the winter and better management of organic manure. In each NSA, a basic scheme and a more restrictive 'premium' scheme is offered to farmers with compensation based on expected reductions in income. 50
49 National Audit Office. National Rivers Authority: River Pollution from Farms in England. Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. HC 235 Session 1994-95. London: HMSO, 22 March 1995.
50 OECD. 1993, op. cit.
It is obvious that, in some modified form, the UK government is intending to use this approach as part of its package of schemes within the framework of the agri-environmental measures (2078/92) under the heading of reducing the polluting effects of agriculture. Yet how does the Nitrate Sensitive Areas scheme marry with the obligations under the EC Nitrates Directive which is aimed at bringing drinking water quality up to standard? Even with the scheme in place and other measures taken by the water companies, Britain has not enforced the EC limit on nitrates in drinking water in some parts of the country, and charges have been brought in the European Court. A more recent Directive (1991) is specifically aimed at controlling nitrate pollution from agricultural sources
In the summer of 1994 the government consulted interested parties on the establishment of 70 Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, under the European Community Nitrates Directive. These are areas of land which dram into surface water or into aquifers. The [National Rivers] Authority has assisted in the formulation of the Government consultative proposals for implementing the European Community Nitrates Directive, advising on the methodology, providing water quality data and suggesting boundaries for the vulnerable zones. Action programmes to control the nitrate contribution from agriculture will become compulsory within these zones without compensatory payments51 (My emphasis)
51 National Audit Office, 1995, op. cit.
Following designation, the government has two years to draw up action plans and a further four years to implement them It is far from clear what package of measures will be selected, and even less clear what sorts of measure might be effective in achieving the quality standards And if effective, then politically acceptable.52 The government has announced that it intends to re-introduce capital grants (presumably under the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme) for farmers in areas designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. Unless animal wastes are a major source of nitrate pollution in those areas, it is not immediately obvious what the capital grants would be used for. At the time of writing, the lack of information on government thinking about reconciling the two approaches, and its intentions with respect to controlling nitrate pollution in the long term leave this issue as an open question.
52 A number of studies have looked at some of the economic instruments that might be able to achieve the objectives - there is serious doubt about the efficacy of the obvious one, which is to tax nitrogen usage Some alternatives are proposed in:
J.H. Pan and I. Hodge. Land Use Permits as an Alternative to Fertiliser and Leaching Taxes for the Control of Nitrate Pollution. Journal of Agricultural al Economics, 45 (1) 102 112 January 1994
A Moxey and B. White. Efficient Compliance with Agricultural Nitrate Pollution Standards. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 45 (1) 27-37, January 1994
A Hartley Controlling Nitrogen Fertiliser Use: An Analysis of the Impact of Selected Policies on Farm Income and Output Bulletin No 205. Department of Agricultural Economics University of Manchester, 1986.
F. Sandiford. Controlling Water Pollution from Animal Wastes: A Reconsideration of Economic and Legislative Approaches. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 11 15-27, 1984
Farm wastes have been dealt with by a combination of regulatory, educational and advisory approaches, supplemented by a system of capital grants. No measures have been thought necessary to limit intensive livestock production in particular areas, but there are controls over the building standards and design of the installation of new units, particularly with regard to animal waste management. The Water Resources Act 1991 gave statutory duties and powers to the National Rivers Authority53 (NRA) for water resources and pollution control inter aha, and, in addition to responding to pollution incidents and taking action against polluters, it can recover costs, and engage in pollution prevention activities In 1993 in England, agriculture accounted for 11 percent of all substantiated pollution incidents, and the proportion of reported farm pollution incidents has fallen both absolutely and relatively since 1985, despite easier reporting procedures. Nevertheless, it is admitted that the low population density in agricultural areas means that there is under-reporting.
53 Under the Environment Act 1995, the National Rivers Authority was combined sometime in 1996 with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and waste regulation authorities to form a new Environment Agency for England and Wales. Since all documents cited refer to the NRA, that is the organization referred to throughout this chapter.
The DOE, in consultation with MAFF, produced the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations in 1991, which govern the storage of farm waste, and MAFF publish Codes of Good Agricultural Practice. The Regulations set minimum standards for all new waste storage facilities and for older ones that are substantially enlarged or reconstructed. The then-commercialised Agricultural Development and Advisory Service54 (ADAS) acted on behalf of MAFF in carrying out free pollution visits, either of a general advisory nature or for assistance in drawing up a farm waste management plan. Preventive work is carried out by the NRA through targeted farm visits. Among the criteria used in targeting a catchment are: "failure to meet set water quality standards; a history of pollution incidents; the risk to water sources; areas of high conservation value; and public opinion." Farm visits are also made in response to requests for advice, following up on reported incidents, and as part of the approval process for grant applications under MAFF's Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme. (Between 1989 and 1994, 11,000 proposals were approved in principle.)
54 ADAS was originally the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service of MAFF. After its commercialisation, ADAS undertook statutory work on behalf of MAFF, most notably in the areas of conservation and environment. In late 1996, steps were taken to privatise ADAS, and it is understood that at this point ADAS ceased to carry out statutory work for MAFF, certain of the officers being transferred back to MAFF for this purpose prior to the sell-off.
Under the scheme farmers were required to obtain the approval of the Authority for farm waste facilities on which they sought grant before the Ministry would provide funding. Grant was available for the provision, replacement or improvement of facilities for handling, storage and disposal of agricultural waste and effluent.
In November 1993 the rate of grant payable was reduced from 50 per cent to 25 per cent of eligible work costs and in November 1994 the Ministry announced that grants would be discontinued with immediate effect.55
The involvement of the NRA in scheme planning and approval has been an important pollution prevention instrument whose effects are likely to be long-reaching because of the well-planned investment in farm waste facilities. However, there may be a danger that the withdrawal of capital grants could weaken the NRA's preventive role, although it still has strong powers under the Regulations. The NRA has shown itself to be willing to take action against farm polluters: in a sample of 100 incidents, eight were dealt with by prosecution, eight by formal caution,56 79 by remedial action and five were unsubstantiated. The National Audit Office57 found that the actions appeared to be appropriate. Certainly the NRA is careful in the prosecutions it does bring because the proportion of convictions is between 95 percent and 99 percent.
56 "Formal cautions are used by the National Rivers Authority following less severe incidents in order to get the farmer to acknowledge the offence and take steps to reduce the chance of further pollution offences. The Authority also uses them where it believes prosecution could be counter-productive in view of remedial action taken by the farmer. To issue a caution the Authority must have the same degree of evidence as for a prosecution and the polluter must admit to the offence and accept the caution. Should the person offend again and be prosecuted, the existence of previous cautions will be disclosed to the court." Ibid.
57 National Audit Office, 1995, op. cit.
Interestingly enough, the NRA does have the power to make the polluter pay: the cost-recovery forced on government agencies in the Thatcher years has in this case over-ridden an inherent government aversion to the polluter pays principle where the polluter in question is a farmer. The NRA emphasises that its main aim in bringing a prosecution is the award of costs. However, "where no criminal proceedings are involved the Authority can seek, under the Water Resources Act 1991, to recover the costs (defined in the Act as 'expenses') from the polluter for works and operations carried out to remedy pollution."58 In cases of course where the polluter can be identified. There has been some uncertainty about whether the costs associated with the investigation of an incident, which are often very high, can be recovered under the existing legislation. The NRA policy is that they can and must, and the position was expected to be clarified in subsequent legislation.
With regard to the question of pollution from pesticides, the government should be allowed to state its 'position' in its own words:
In order to further our policy on the use of pesticides we will hold a conference... to help us develop an Action Plan... Features of the Action Plan are likely to include:
· working with farmers, growers, retailers, consumers and other organizations to encourage widespread adoption of pesticide minimisation techniques;
· promoting these techniques through formal and ad hoc training, guidance and the extension services;
· investigating and promoting the opportunities afforded by new technology and research;
· reporting progress annually to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides.59
59 Rural England op. cit.
It is perhaps some comfort to know that the NRA has obtained approval to establish a National Centre for Toxic and Persistent Substances, and intends to undertake a systematic review of the potential impact and likelihood of pesticides entering natural waters. On the other hand, there is little comfort in the reliance of the Action Plan on the 'extension services', which have been privatised.
Revealed beliefs and values
Let us now consider what the history of agriculture-related environmental policy in Britain might be able to tell us about the underlying beliefs ("persuasion of the truth of something"60) and values ("moral principles or standards"61) about the rural environment. In the first place, it is surprisingly difficult to unravel the tangled relationship between values, beliefs and the rural mythos that together constitute a belief system. The moral standards that we know as values are not exogenously determined, and they have been attached to, as well as shaped by, a particular set of beliefs about a mythical rural reality by a non-rural, largely middle-class, electorate. Secondly, it is even more difficult to identify the values referred to with any precision because they inhere in a myth that is more felt than articulated. In this belief system, the farmer is given a quasi-priestly role as custodian and steward of that set of values embodied - both by belief and by definition -in the 'traditional rural way of life' as proxied by the 'countryside.' (This pseudo-mystical terminology is not accidental.) Thus values and beliefs about the environment were for a long time assumed to be adequately catered for predominantly through the medium of agricultural policy in all its manifestations, a state of affairs encouraged by farmers and landowners. Conversely, the numinous values and beliefs underlying agricultural policy (as expounded by Michel Petit) have had an infinitely greater carrying power hitherto. That belief system has been under severe and increasing stress since the 1960s, not, it must be said, because the 'traditional rural way of life' has been exposed for the myth that it undoubtedly is (after all, the mythos has a vital role to play culturally, socially and psychologically).
60 Chambers English Dictionary.
One important reason is that the reality of rural life, and most especially the reality of modem industrial agriculture, is so far from providing a satisfactory or satisfying representation of the values embodied in the myth, that the associated beliefs about farming and the countryside are being falsified. And herein lies a possible explanation for the demonisation of the farmer: he is perceived as having betrayed the sacred trust of his sacerdotal role by 'desecrating' (the word is frequently used, and that is very revealing) the countryside. The policy response has been to refocus countryside concerns through the lens of environmental policies that nevertheless still operate through the means of the farmer, reflecting a growing belief that the farmer is a policy-responsive, economic agent whose actions must be directed and controlled to ensure a socially acceptable outcome. On top of all this, the farmer is going to be held accountable for those actions or non-actions. This belief encourages the relationship between farmer and society to be seen as contractual, rather than coercive: policy measures are implemented wherever possible through management agreements and compensation, and the farmer is still granted a stewardship role albeit one that is far less exalted and subject to proof of good conduct.
Another reason is that the values themselves are being questioned, ironically enough because a new awareness of certain aspects of rural reality is making the rural myth seem very much less appealing. The most widely publicised expression of this is the anti-blood sports movement by animal rights activists of all persuasions from mild to violent. 'Field sports' (hunting and shooting) are under attack as cruelty to animals (violence), and the first line of defence is that they are a vital part of the 'traditional rural way of life.' However, the new rural population (as described in my comments on Wilkin's paper) are in many small ways objecting to several traditional rural practices, such as the ringing of church bells and the keeping of cockerels (noisy), pig farming and muck spreading (smelly), silage clamps (ugly and smelly). The 'quality of life' that many rural incomers seek has nothing whatsoever to do with rural traditions and a great deal to do with a reaction against the perceived noisiness, smelliness, ugliness and violence of contemporary urban life. The policy response to such value challenges is legislative and regulatory, the measures being implemented; through fines, restrictions and prohibitions.
It would be unwise to try to draw general inferences on the basis of a few specific cases - and indeed the ambiguous policy response to nitrate pollution of water courses would give the immediate lie to any such attempt - but there could be a certain poetry in trying to achieve moral standards by the imposition of legal standards, and to use persuasive (agreement and compensation) methods to cater for beliefs about truth and reality. Yet it is in policy objectives not their delivery systems that values and beliefs need to make themselves felt, and it is far from obvious that either the UK government or the European Commission have come to grips with this as far as the environment and agriculture is concerned.
It is the stated intention of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers that the new EU agri-environmental measures should enable every farmer in the Union to do something that is somehow environmentally friendly, and to be paid for it. Since each country individually can choose with very few restrictions what agri-environmental measures are most appropriate, it is tempting to think that the unthinkable has happened: the tremendous divergences of environmental values and beliefs across western Europe have been accommodated in one simple piece of enabling legislation based on the compensation principle. In fact, I should argue that the environmental concern has been quite effectively hijacked by agricultural interests. The agri-environmental measures are not a real expression of society's willingness to pay for a public good, for a majority public value, (or even for a minority value) or for a realisation of a belief about the importance of a particular environmental issue. They are using the excuse of environmental values and beliefs to justify new farm support payments, and the inclusion of payments for environmental goods and services in the agriculture budget, not in the environment budget, is a clear indication of the danger - and one that has implications for future trade negotiations. Historically, the values and beliefs underlying agricultural policy have taken precedence over any environmental ones. Although we have seen a fundamental change in the official recognition of environmental concerns as a legitimate aspect of agricultural policy, the latter continues to have an overwhelming primacy. As long as the imbalance is so great, and the underlying power blocs so unevenly balanced, it is going to be difficult for agriculture-related environmental values and beliefs to be adequately articulated, let alone find effective political expression.
The foregoing discussion has focused explicitly on the values and beliefs underlying English attitudes towards agriculture and the rural environment. Even within the different parts of the UK, the story is different. Within western Europe, history, tradition, geography and a whole range of other factors have shaped the attitudes to and the expression of rural environmental concern. Hoggart et al. 62 have studied many of these factors for the current EU member countries, and it is worth quoting their findings at length as they provide a useful framework for structuring our thinking about:
· the different values and beliefs within and between EU member states, and how these can be given expression in environmental, rural and agricultural policies; and
· the issues that are going to be of importance in and for the aspiring member countries of central and eastern Europe.
62 Hoggart et al., op. cit.
Reasons for the emergence of environmental concern in agriculture reveal nine distinct themes:
1. an ecological concern for the impact of intensification upon ecosystems;
2. a concern for the public health implications of resource contamination;
3. a concern for the farming sector's relative freedom from regulatory constraint;
4. a concern for the amenity value of the countryside;
5. a concern for access to rural areas threatened by intensification of agricultural land-use;
6. a concern that local economic development could be hindered by agricultural monopolisation;
7. a concern to limit agricultural surpluses generated by intensification;
8. a concern to improve farm incomes by diversifying farm activities into landscape protection;
9. an ethical concern for a declining sense of environmental responsibility that is considered inherent in contemporary agricultural policy.
These concerns are not universally present in rural Europe. Indeed, it is here that we might begin to identify distinct trajectories which mirror varied national and local conceptions of the role of agriculture within contemporary rural space and, inter alia, differing patterns of rural economic and social change. Significantly, such trajectories bear witness to an overall sense of decline in the position of agriculture within Europe's rural regions.63
63 Hoggart et al. op. cit.
During the discussions between western and central Europeans at this seminar three other concerns emerged to add to Hoggart's list:
· a concern for the human health implications of modem agricultural practices;
· a concern to protect one's own grassroots territory (pays, paysage - the fact that there is no adequate English translation of this French concept tells its own story!) from the undesirable consequences of agricultural development;
· a concern for the detrimental effects of industrial pollution on the quality and quantity of agricultural production.
Environmental matters in general may not yet have a very high priority in the transition economies, and indeed they do not in all EU countries. However, the nature of the EU agri-environmental measures, which enable rather than enforce and compensate rather than penalise, is such that it is hard to see them as a source of conflict between the EU and the aspirant members. On the contrary, they seem to be more likely to offer encouragement to the development of a concern for the relationship between agriculture and the environment since such concern can be translated into material rewards.
A much trickier area, and a source of potential conflict, is that of environmental regulation that impinges on agricultural practice and income, such as the Nitrate Directive, or problems posed by specific issues or geographical areas that require governmental action, especially where trade is affected or the environmental impacts cross international boundaries. Water pollution, animal health and human health spring to mind as examples. In such cases, there will have to be pragmatic policy responses that are not necessarily supported and carried by deeply held values and beliefs about agriculture and the environment. The question then is not whether the values and beliefs of west and east clash, but whether in their absence a political consensus can be obtained and maintained to implement unpopular policies.
by Csaba Csaki
Environment is an area where Central East Europeans have to learn. My remarks are divided in two parts. First, I will make some general observations about agriculture-related environmental problems in the region, mainly based on Hungarian examples. Second, some comments are made on the paper.
Agriculture-related environmental problems represent probably one of those areas where the values and beliefs in the region are quite far from the current West European values and beliefs. In the region environmental problems have been discussed continuously. The environmental concerns related to agriculture or landscape, however, had not played a significant role in any agricultural policy decision, and there are no strong grassroots-based environmental movements either.
What are the reasons? We have to go back to the pre-reform period. The fact that the land became depersonalised in the command economies made a very strong impact on the attitude toward environmental problems related to land and agriculture. In Western Europe, we always talk about farmers and the polluters and say they should pay for the damage. Who was the polluter in Central Europe? De facto, the state was the polluter since it ran the whole economy. As a result the problem gets a new dimension and the whole environmental problem area became part of the planned economy.
Central European countries under communism implemented very advanced environmental laws, generally copying West European laws. These laws were, however, implemented under the planned system. State-owned enterprises were not supposed to pollute, but if it could be shown to be in the interest of the national economy, it was easily forgiven. For example, animal waste was often put into the local river. Unless it went into the village where the population was directly affected, the Environmental Agency trying to implement the regulation got a letter from the Planning Bureau saying, "We 'have' to keep this unit running, we don't have clean-up money; therefore, it is in the interest of the national economy to let the unit continue to run without paying any penalties."
The implementation of environmental rules was light and loose. There were no real farmers who were concerned about land, just the large farms, with management not personally related to the land. Generally, even if there was a fine, it was forgiven because it was accepted that the offending farm was beneficial to society. In Hungary, the Balaton Lake area has one of the largest bauxite deposits in Europe. Mining caused tremendous environmental damage by lowering the water table level. As a result, a large thermal basin nearby was almost destroyed. The damage to agriculture was also great. It took quite a long time to change this situation.
Another important factor was that the former system really did not tolerate grassroot based actions. Activities such as protesting for the environment were considered very suspicious. Even organizing anything which was not part of the overall framework was politically suspicious; therefore, it was very difficult to express local environmental interest. It is also very interesting that in practically all the countries the first really visible and strong demonstrations against the old political system happened under environmental slogans. Environmental problems were used to express dissident views and to demand political change. Hungary was a very good example of this. The joint dam project with Czechoslovakia became the focus of the first political demonstrations and demand for more pluralism and change in the Hungarian political system.
Unfortunately, this relationship of environmental issues to politics also contributed to the fact that most of the environmental movements discredited themselves very quickly after the political change took place. Most of them were not able to recognise the new political situation and looked at environmental problems objectively. They remained extremist, forcing for example, the Hungarian Government into a very unfortunate policy regarding the dam.
There now are new developments in the environmental movement, but because public awareness, in general, is not very strong and the environment is not a major issue, there are no strong environmental movements anywhere in the region. There are no significant environment-oriented 'green' parties as well.
A closer examination indicates that modem agriculture has all the same impacts on the environment in the East as in the West. It has more or less the same technology, so the damages and impacts are also similar. The ecological system is somewhat different, but the problems are identical: water pollution, animal waste pollution and various sorts of erosion and soil damage. The impacts of the large scale animal production units with improper animal waste treatment are more serious in the region than in Western Europe. When the region, and Hungary, left the previous system there was a heritage of water pollution, damage from animal wastes and soil problems. The latter is not so serious in Hungary because this is a relatively flat land that is not very sensitive to water erosion and has no wind erosion. Hungary has water erosion, but only in some hilly areas, not like Africa or in some parts of Russia.
The transition to a market has had both positive and negative impacts. The positive impact is the drastic decline in the use of chemicals. Central European countries used to apply three hundred kilograms of active fertiliser ingredients per hectare while two years ago the average application in Hungary was only 80 kilograms. In addition to having no money for fertiliser, many farmers decided to experiment with using no fertiliser or pesticides. Plus, in 1993, 1.5 million hectares remained uncultivated because people were debating who owned it and how the land should be divided. Intensive technology was not used on most of the land. The soil and water, therefore, got some relief in this period, which is definitely positive from an environmental point of view. On the other side, it is quite clear that there was also a strong negative impact, and now it is more clear than a year ago. The weed control situation became very unsatisfactory in some areas. Even ragweed came back after twenty years because the private farmers did not use any pesticides. Their grandfathers didn't use any so they thought it was not necessary. The various technologies that the new farmers did use sometimes were more damaging to the soil than earlier. In the West locusts have been forgotten, but last year Hungary again had locusts in some areas. That is because the use of control technologies have broken down. On the whole, soil productivity decreased and the yields went down dramatically.
The change loosened up a lot of things, partly good partly bad. But I think, at least in Hungary, there is once more a growing awareness of the necessity of using a certain set of agricultural technological procedures in a consistent package. The Government has introduced environmentally focused legislation and began to provide payments for those who are using environmentally friendly methods. There is a grant system to support the introduction of environmentally friendly technologies, especially to support the upgrading of livestock waste management and waste treatment. It is quite interesting and characteristic of the current situation that last year in the Hungarian Government budget almost everything was over spent - except grants for environmental investments. About 40 percent of the grants were not used. It shows that the farms put priority on other investments because there are grant systems for other productivity enhancing investment as well, and those are fully used.
In Hungary and in other Central European countries there is much more talk about the EU environmental actions and what is going on in the EU than what is going on in their own countries. The EU sets the standard for the region. The positive side is that the countries know what standards they have to meet. There are at the same time new concerns related to the impacts of European environmental concerns on trade. Many fear that when trade negotiations move ahead, the environment, like animal rights issues, will become a cover for new protectionism.
There was an unfortunate event two years ago, created by France, when Hungarian goose liver imports were stopped for a couple of months. France claimed that the Hungarians harassed the geese in the feeding process. In that year there was over production of goose liver in France. After two months the barriers were removed since, by that time, producers had sold all of their domestic goose liver. The impact of the ban on the Hungarian industry was serious, especially in the private sector. Many producers went bankrupt because of the delays and the low price resulting from the French action.
Another important issue is the border area environmental protection. Pollution, animal disease and a lot of other things are coming over from the eastern Hungarian borders. There is talk about developing a new environmental and animal health monitoring system along the eastern boundary, which is mainly Ukraine and Romania. It is a positive attitude acknowledging that if Hungary will join the EU, it has a responsibility to protect the whole community.
A few comments on the paper
The first section on the history of the British countryside movement is really interesting to read. What is really different in Central Europe is the discontinuity in this whole process. In this region few people even have their parents' property. It is a very important fact to consider. The region has been living in a very uncertain political and economic environment during the last fifty years. During the past half century the system has changed upside down four times. The officially stated values and the beliefs have changed repeatedly. As a result the main belief is - do not believe in anything until you can see what is good for you.
One of the most difficult tasks is to recreate the belief, of the people in themselves, and recreate the belief in a system that works for them. There was a survey in the region recently, asking people about the government. Two questions were asked: (a) do you believe that the government can improve your situation; and (b) do you believe that you can improve your situation? In Hungary 80 percent said "no" regarding the government, while 60 percent said they might be able to improve their situations. The same questions were asked in the Czech Republic, where the result was not exactly the same. In the Czech Republic more people believe in the government than in Hungary.
What allowed these people in these countries to survive was the 'not-believing approach.' It is now very difficult to create a situation where people believe what they are told because what they heard in the past was not always true. They knew it; therefore, they had a double life. This is important in shaping attitudes concerning the environment as well.
The other comment is about rural areas. Hungary is probably not the best example because here communism, in a way, was better for rural areas than for towns. While in general the urban areas were subsidised, the rural areas received more economic freedom, which resulted in faster development. In general urban areas were treated differently. Even in Hungary up to 1989 electricity in urban areas cost half what it cost in rural areas. The housing was almost free in urban areas, while rural people had to build their own houses because there were very limited rural state housing projects. The rural-urban transportation was practically free. The benefit to rural people was modest because they did not travel to urban areas. There were virtually no telephones in rural areas, limited infrastructure, few shops, and fewer services. After the fall of communism, however, the urban people have suffered more than the rural people.
In the West, consumers have found it difficult to organize and focus their lobbying power. This is true in this region as well. What is needed very much in Hungary is a much stronger consumer lobby. There also is a need for some kind of agricultural policy council to co-ordinate the various interests.
The paper speaks about UK. environmental movements. There is no country in Central and Eastern Europe where there is an environmental or 'green' party in the parliament. In Hungary, there is a party which mix the 'green' with certain fascist ideas. This party got 0.1 percent of the vote in the last election.
It is very interesting to learn about environmental legislation and rules. In Central Europe, there are no problems with the legislation - the problem is in the implementation. There is no enforcement, except for very extreme cases.
The discussion of the policies on environment centred on two separate, but potentially related, issues; the situation, beliefs, and values in Central Europe and policy directions in Western Europe.
It was pointed out that in Poland there has been a great deal of concern and considerable activity to improve what were clearly major environmental problems. There have been major programmes to reduce water pollution, to develop rural infrastructure including rural sewers, to increase the area of national parks and protected areas, and put other public policies in place that would make up for years of environmental neglect. These activities have been financed by internal funds, World Bank loans, debt forgiveness programmes of foreign governments, and grants from Western Europe. The result of these activities has been an appreciable improvement in some areas.
These activities to improve the environment in rural Poland have involved public activities and funding external to the areas concerned. Farmers have been nearly oblivious to the potential impact that their activities could have on the environment, and no policies have been developed to attempt to modify farmers' practices.
No 'green party' has emerged in Poland and there is no politically strong environmental group. In fact, the government technocrats have been the primary leaders in developing the environmental activities that have been undertaken.
It was pointed out that the beliefs and values under the old system resulted in serious damage to the rural environment in the Czech Republic. The belief that the state was responsible for social utility meant that no one took any personal responsibility for actions that damaged the environment. In addition, the depersonalisation of land ownership meant that no one was concerned or responsible for the major problems created by the farm consolidation and shift to large scale production.
The result of this heritage is major problems of soil erosion, widespread soil compaction, inadequate control of animal wastes from large-scale production facilities and severe water pollution.
The parliament of the Czech Republic passed new environmental regulations shortly after the revolution. However, the old attitudes still prevail, and, thus, no one expects them to be enforced. This has turned out to be the case because other issues relating to economic policy have received priority in the political system.
There is no politically important environmental movement in the Czech Republic, and the one environmental group that had been active has been classified as an extremist movement and has no support from the general public.
There are no special programmes or subsidies to deal with environmental problems in agriculture in the Czech Republic. However, some payments have been created to maintain the rural landscape, but these are really disguised income transfer payments to persons in depressed rural areas.
In Western Europe it was agreed that there was movement toward a new social contract with widespread support for preserving rural landscape and conserving natural resources. Recently, concerns on these issues have been broadened to issues regarding the naturalness and safety of foods and the welfare of farm animals. Increasingly, there is interest in using these issues to justify the large payments being made under the CAP, or as one person termed it, "Farmers have highjacked the rural environmental movement."
Some argued that it was wrong to have to pay farmers to stop polluting. It was argued that under the principle of 'the polluter pays' environmental damage can be avoided by using regulations rather than paying polluters not to pollute. If the agricultural system is to be sustainable in terms of not damaging the environment, it should bear the cost of avoiding pollution. It was also argued that in Central Europe despite the seeming reluctance to enforce regulations, it would be necessary to enforce them eventually to deal with the pollution problems.
It was argued that farmers may be making a mistake to tie the future of their income transfer payments to protecting the environment. If this relationship is firmly established, it is likely to mean more targeting of payments, both by area and by individuals, which has been strongly resisted under the CAP.
Finally, it was agreed that modem agriculture has two aspects relating to the environment. One aspect is the adverse impact that modem technology and organization has on the environment. The other aspect is that, as owners and managers of a large portion of rural areas, farmers must be involved in efforts to protect the rural landscape and environment. Policies to achieve these two objectives are sometimes confused and mixed.