THE unsung work carried out by farmers in conserving the English countryside is revealed in monetary terms for the first time ever today (Monday) - and the farmers get a huge "Thank you" from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Farming - vital to conserving the countryside
In a rare act of co-operation between two bodies which, in the past, have sometimes squabbled - the CPRE and the National Farmers' Union - the two bodies launched a joint research project to put a monetary value on the amount of unpaid work farmers do in conserving the rural environment.
And the result, announced this morning, produced the staggering figure of £400 million, equivalent to an average of £2,410 per English farm - more than £40 a week.
The findings, set out in their Living Landscapes report, aims to kick-start a debate about long-term support for farmers which recognises their leading role in looking after a diverse, beautiful and uplifting countryside for the benefit of us all.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: 'We need policy-makers and policy-influencers to understand that there is much, much more to being a farmer than being a least-cost producer of food.
'If economics was everything, many of the things people loved about the countryside would be under threat in the name of efficient production. The fact that they remain is because farmers instinctively understand the wider cultural and environmental significance of what goes to make up our landscapes.'
CPRE Chief Executive Shaun Spiers said: 'Amid all the talk of globalisation and increased competitiveness in agriculture, our farmers will need to be supported to look after our beautiful countryside. Great landscapes matter to us all - they contribute to our well-being, our personal and environmental health and our economy in all sorts of ways, including tourism.'
If economics was everything, many of the things people loved about the countryside would be under threat in the name of efficient production
Peter Kendall - NFU President
The survey, published under the headline "There is known such things as a free hedgerow" - in itself, an ironic comment on the grubbing up a thousands of miles of hedges in a Government-inspired environmental disaster - was commissioned because a recent report issued by the rural support department Defra suggested that support payments may be abandoned altogether.
But if this were to happen, says the report, farming and conservation work would decline drastically - with devastating effects for the countryside. Land would either be abandoned or farmed ever more intensively.
Government to match the money transferred from the Single Payment to agri-environment schemes throughout the period 2007 to 2013.
A Government commitment to more research and analysis of the likely impacts of further CAP reform on farmers' ability to continue looking after landscape
A Government commitment to significantly increase support for landscape management in the long term.
Shaun Spiers concluded: 'The Government must realise that there's no such thing as a free hedgerow when it comes to farmers looking after the wider countryside. We need to make sure they can continue this crucial role, because if they don't who will?'