The National Farmers Union (NFU) has raised questions about the government’s proposed targets on water pollution, tree planting and rebuilding, calling them “illogical” and “unachievable”, according to documents released by the environment ministry.
Under the Environment Act 2021, the government is required to set legally binding targets for nature restoration and environmental improvements. Consultation on these targets began in March 2022 and recommended, for example, that tree canopy and forest cover increase from 14.5% to 17.5% of England’s total land area by 2050. Targets for reducing water pollution were initially set for 2037.
After closing consultations and posting goals, there he was Some disappointment. The tree canopy target has been lowered to 16.5%, while the water pollution target has been pushed back to 2038.
Recently published consultation documents show that the NFU response has been highly critical of the initial proposals.
The lobby group, which represents powerful voices in the agriculture sector, said proposals to reduce nutrient pollution from animal waste and fertilizers were “nonsensical”.
She told the government: “Overall, we consider the level of ambition across nutrient targets to be unachievable, inconsistent and irrational. The NFU and its members are committed to building on past successes and further reducing nutrient losses to the environment from agriculture. However, this effort must be balanced with the need to produce food, fiber and energy on the farm, thus protecting the rural economy and maintaining food security.”
The union also said it did not agree with the goals to reverse species extinctions, and spoke out specifically against reintroduction of lost species. She said: “The NFU has long advocated that we should support species that already exist before we seek to introduce new ones. So, instead, we believe we should aim to prevent species loss, as such a detailed targeted approach to rare and threatened species can To be instrumental in driving action to reduce biodiversity loss.”
He argued that the concept of rebuilding harms the countryside, warning against “adopting an approach that risks undermining the social fabric of rural communities”. She said: “Reconstruction, for example, ignores the fact that our cultivated landscapes are valued by many who make the 4 billion visits to the British countryside each year.”
She also said that the target of tree planting at 17.5% coverage was very ambitious. An increase in tree canopy and forest cover from 14.5% to 17.5% will equate to 415,000 hectares of tree cover by 2050, approximately 15,000 hectares of trees per year. This is highly ambitious, if not far-fetched.
Nature groups said the federation was “disingenuous and dangerous” and was “blocking progress towards a greener future” after it was revealed that it had been lobbying against nature restoration policies.
Rob Percival, head of food policy at Soil The association said: “The National Farmers Union’s attitude towards environmental goals is defeatist, disingenuous and dangerous. There is a clear scientific reason for reforestation and increased tree cover, but the National Farmers Federation believes it is too difficult. Our rivers are choking on excess nutrients, mainly due to the prevalence of intensive livestock systems.” , but the NFU dismisses pollution-reduction targets as “illogical.” Instead, they propose more of the same — more poultry, more pollution.
“It is strange and unfortunate that the NFU displays such a lack of imagination when the stakes are so high. Solving the climate and nature crises will require difficult land-use trade-offs, and a radical shift in the way we eat and grow. With the right policies in place, farmers and producers can be paid To lead change. By adopting such an obstructive attitude, the National Farmers Federation is failing its members, failing the public, and impeding progress toward a greener future.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We have full confidence in our Environment Act goals, which have been set through extensive consultation with businesses, land managers and environmental organisations. Achieving these goals will require a joint effort across the whole of government, businesses and the individual decisions we all make, and through the Environment Act, We have secured a strong legal framework to hold current and future governments accountable, and to protect nature for generations to come.”
NFU has been contacted for comment.