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Is Owen Paterson the man to kill off meddlesome agency?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 23, 2013

Comments (4)

By all accounts the new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is ideally suited to the job. He's a countryman, he does a bit of farming, he even hunts.

On that basis he has a far better grasp of his brief than anyone to previously hold the post, of whatever political persuasion.

So he will realise, too, how farmers are being hogtied and shackled with pointless rule and regulation and virtually made subservient to the wishes of Natural England.

In the absence of any clearly set-down Government policy on farming (apart from a few vague promises of support from the Prime Minister) it is Natural England which has increasingly taken over the reins since it was set up by Labour.

It has, in fact, turned out to be another classic Labour confidence trick. As it was presented to the farming community it would be there to look after the countryside, to work with and support the people who put the nation's food on the table.

In reality it has turned out to be a by-word for pointless bureaucracy, for the enforcing of petty regulations down to the very last letter. Far from supporting farming it has added to farmers' costs, stifled production, made the already difficult task of farming profitably in the 21st century even more of a challenge – and undone years of progress in improving relations between farmers and conservationists.

Owen Paterson has it in his sights, I am told. The quicker he squeezes the trigger the better. Then he can take aim at the next target, the Environment Agency, another monstrous organisation created out of nothing and which has achieved little except generate work for itself by picking over the piles of regulations regularly shoved over from Brussels and deciding which ones to concentrate on in order to make life difficult for farmers.

I see our colleagues in France were out on the streets this week again, demonstrating in Le Mans, Rennes and other major centres about the imposition of nitrate vulnerable zones which are going to severely restrict activity and compromise profitability for pig and poultry farmers. They want the entire framework of the regulations to be reviewed and scaled down.

Nitrate vulnerable zones are nothing new for us, of course; British farmers have already had to spend millions on new storage systems and adopt more costly management practices to reduce polluting run-off to watercourses – even though the levels of nitrates considered by the EU to be dangerous couldn't even have been measured 40 years ago.

But the French demonstrations – which included dumping dung in the streets and building breeze block barriers around government offices – illustrate the difference in approach to farming across the Channel.

Only now is the French government starting to enforce the regulations under the threat of massive fines from Brussels for deliberately ignoring legislation that was drawn up nearly 20 years ago. And the demonstrations were actually organised by the FNSEA, the national federation of farming unions.

The delays may well have handed French producers an unfair and unlawful commercial advantage over their competitors for a few years, but good luck to them. At least they have a government which stands up to Brussels rather than making a pretence of doing so while quietly running a gold-plating department for European regulations.

Derek Mead is an entrepreneur dairy farmer from Weston-super-Mare

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  • vulcan  |  January 23 2013, 8:31PM

    Seems to me that you can never please a farmer

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  • eponymice  |  January 23 2013, 7:15PM

    Farmers usually have relatively little contact with Natural England unless they wish to apply for subsidies under an agri-environment scheme. The rules and regulations he complains about are to ensure that those who claim subsidies abide by the requirements of the schemes they sign up to. While the majority of farmers accept this there are, unfortunately, some who want the money but are not so keen on adhering to the requirements. If Derek Mead does not wish to deal with Natural England then perhaps he should do without the agri-environment scheme subsidies.

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  • bullocks400  |  January 23 2013, 6:55PM

    Let us hope Owen Paterson is the right man. There is much to be done in order to strengthen the farming industry in this country. A strong farming industry equates to good care of the environment,not the reverse as the conservationists etc insist. Natural England and many other groups who shout most about caring for the environment seem mostly to care about pet agendas and, of course, their continued high salaries and easy lives. Time for us to take a hint from the French farmers and become much more forceful, dare I say, militant?

  • Syrrets  |  January 23 2013, 12:02PM

    Yet more blinkered rubbish from Derek Mead - has this man ever been right about anything? Owen Paterson is far from ideally suited to the job of Environment Secretary since he does not seem to care about the Environment! On the contrary he seems to delight in trashing countryside and killing and persecuting wildlife. Natural England and the Environment Agency should both be strengthened and their funding significantly increased. On the other hand, Owen Paterson should be given the 'big E' - sack him!

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