Congratulations to everyone who passed their A-levels, despite the Government’s unfair decision to “deflate” grades in England faster than those in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Last week, I visited a farm in St Ewe to see how seeding pastures with a combination of grasses and herbs can lock up carbon, aerate and enrich the soil and reduce runoff. The end result is that the farmer is spending less on fertiliser, the pasture is resilient to drought, and during periods of heavy rain, water travels towards the river more slowly, reducing flooding and carrying fewer pollutants. And most important of all, the sheep and cattle love the mixed menu.
Also present on this visit was an enforcement officer from the Environment Agency, whose job is to identify water pollution incidents and take action against those responsible. When I asked the officer what patch they covered, the answer was “All of Cornwall and parts of Devon”! How on earth can one person protect every river and stream across such an enormous area?! Of course the answer is that they can’t, and this lack of staff is a direct consequence of the fact that the EA’s budget for “environmental protection” has been cut by over 50% in real terms under the Conservatives.
The consequences are plain for all to see. As the EA’s budget has fallen, pollution has increased, and there is now widespread concern about the safety of swimming in our rivers and seas or eating anything that has grown there. But the Government has announced that the “annual” assessment of water bodies in the UK will now only happen once every six years, and the next report will not be published until 2025… after the general election!
The policy of paying farmers for the ‘public goods’ they provide was originally proposed by the Liberal Democrats, who have a long-standing connection with farming communities, especially in the South West. But the number of farmers signing up for Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) is far below target, because (as usual) the Conservative Government has ruined a good idea by trying to deliver it on a shoestring. The financial support simply doesn’t match the costs involved, so rather than pulling more farmers into sustainable practices, the new regime has pushed many to walk away from state funding altogether, making up the shortfall by adopting more intensive methods of production.
Cornwall’s farms, rivers and beaches are precious to us all, yet they are all being harmed by a combination of incompetence and indifference from our Conservative MPs and Government.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for the EA’s enforcement workforce to be restored to its original strength, and the phase-out of the basic payment scheme to be paused until ELMS is properly funded.