Rural economy

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WHAT value can you put on Sussex’s rural environment? The Government’s National Ecosystem Assessment put a value of £300 per person per year on the environmental services provided by nature, and there has been much press speculation about whether one can put a price on the countryside.

It is impossible to quantify fully the benefits of our countryside, and beyond practical matters such as flood alleviation, air purification, pollination etc, they are subjective. The positive effect on tourism of a carefully-managed landscape is undeniable, for example, but hard to pin down in monetary terms.

Where there should be less speculation is in the cost of conserving and enhancing the rural habitats and ecosystems. Here in Sussex, the main activity for farmers and landowners is to produce food for which they strive for a fair price in the market.

Our food bills do not include the cost of the environmental services they provide, however, such as the set-aside of field margins for pollinating and other beneficial (pest-eating) insects, leaving over-winter stubbles and provision of seed-bearing crops for birds or protection of water courses.

As the market, or our grocery bills, do not pay these environmental services, their cost is at least partially covered by environmental stewardship schemes. At present, the CLA is the strongest advocate to maintain such payments within the Common Agricultural Policy, which is in the process of being reformed.

It is as well for us all to be aware that the land produces more than just food, and it is essential to maintain a mechanism to contribute to the cost of its environmental “products”. Left to the market alone, we can only expect the sort of farming we are prepared to pay for at the till.

Leo Hickish

Sussex Chairman

Country Land & Business Association