Implementing Sustainable Development for the Countryside: A Case Study of Agri-environment Reform in Wales

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Abstract: The paper examines the potential implications of the Welsh Assembly Government's decision to restructure the funding of agri-environment schemes in Wales with the proposed introduction, from 1 January 2012, of the new All Wales Glastir Sustainable Land Management Scheme. The research on which this paper is based was initiated in January 2010. It involved a selection of farmers from one Welsh county, Montgomeryshire, being aimed at establishing how the change to Glastir will impact upon their farming businesses and practices and, ultimately, the achievement of a sustainable agricultural industry. Montgomeryshire, which is set in the heart of Wales, is typified by the traditional family farm, being an important structure for achieving sustainable agriculture. The research concludes with a stark warning that Glastir may not be 'fit for purpose' and that the Welsh Assembly Government should reconsider its decision.

BACKGROUND

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)1 is now a system of European Union (EU) programmes and subsidies, which is demand driven, taking into account consumers' and taxpayers' concerns while affording farmers the freedom to produce what the market requires.

The CAP has been divided into two 'pillars':

1.    The European Agricultural Fund for Guarantee - focusing on direct payments to agriculture (food production support);
2.    The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development2 - focusing on rural development. It created a single fund and a single set     of rules for rural development.

The UK has played a significant part within the EU in promoting environmental reforms with implementation in the UK being made at the devolved level, resulting in Wales, Scotland and England having different agri-environment schemes and approaches.

THE CAP IN WALES

Since 1997, the CAP in Wales has been implemented on a regional level after the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) was given power3 to oversee agriculture. Such devolution of powers has enabled the WAG to implement regulatory measures and schemes appropriate to the type of agriculture and landscape prevalent in Wales,4 resulting in a more 'focused' approach. The WAG has power to discuss and create secondary legislation in a number of key areas, including agriculture. It is an executive form of devolution and the WAG has played an important role in developing agricultural law and policy, designed and adapted to meet the needs of Wales.

The WAG has a statutory duty to consider sustainable development, which forms part of the WAG Minister's5 responsibilities, and the work carried out by Committees that undertake detailed policy development and scrutiny work in this area.6 The WAG is required to compile a scheme explaining how it will promote sustainable development in its everyday work.7 After each ordinary election of the WAG, a report assessing the effectiveness of its proposals to promote sustainable development must be published.8 The Mid Term Review9 is an example of where Wales has implemented the Single Farm Payment (SFP) Scheme10 on an historical basis, whereas other regions of the UK adopt a very different approach.

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