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Land subsidies must consider people and the environment: our response to the National Trust

Tom Kenny

The National Trust’s recommendations for land subsidy reform would be a great step forward. But we don’t think that environmental value is the only public good land use should aim for.

Earlier today the National Trust made a great contribution to the debate on post-Brexit land use, calling on government “to put the recovery and future resilience of the natural environment at the heart of any funding system that replaces CAP.” This would be a major step forward from the current system, which essentially pays landowners for owning land, whilst doing little to stop land use that damages the environment. However we think that the fundamental principle that “Public money must only pay for public goods” should also mean public money supporting the other aspects of common good land use.

It is crucial not to think that environmental value is the only public good that land use needs to deliver.

We’ve recently done a lot of thinking about what represents the public good in land use. Indeed, last week we published an infographic setting out what we understand as ‘common good’ land use.

We agree with the National Trust that we need to prioritise nature, and think long-term and on a large scale about the environment. We also agree that land managers that contribute the most to the common good should get the most subsidies. However contributions to common good land use can come from a wider set of activities, and at least some of these should also be incentivised by land-based subsidies:

  • Creating livelihoods: Land use should create meaningful livelihoods for those who work on and manage land. We need to support models that enable farmers to earn a living wage and social entrepreneurs to generate enough income to run their businesses sustainably.
  • Producing the things people need: Land must be used to produce the things people need. This should include healthy food and sustainable building materials, but also social and environmental services and outcomes, such as supporting, health education, and recreation.
  • Creating shared benefits: Subsidies should incentivise  land use where the economic and social benefits are shared among communities, whether through increased access to land, flood prevention measures or the provision of affordable food and energy.
  • Offering community control: It is important for communities to be able to engage with the land around them. We should encourage land management that engages communities, and gives them a say in how their local natural resources are managed.
  • Contributing towards a more sustainable society: New models of land use have the potential to address some of society’s biggest issues, from housing to health to climate change. We should encourage models of land use that offer new solutions to entrenched problems.

Subsidies are by no means the only way of encouraging common good land use, and it may be that some of this will be outside the scope of the replacement for CAP. However it is crucial not to think that environmental value is the only public good that land use needs to deliver. Land management must be about helping people and society as well as conserving and enriching nature. We need to reconsider land management for a post-Brexit world. Shared Assets will be fighting to make sure that the next paradigm focuses on all the public goods land can deliver.

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