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Examination of Witness

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 13th February 2020.

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George Monbiot:

I would characterise the Peak park as an ecological disaster area. It is remarkable how little wildlife there is. You can walk all day and see just a handful of birds; I will see more in a suburban garden. We need a completely different approach to managing land like that.

What you can tell the farmers is, “Let’s pay you to do something completely different, such as restoration, rewilding, bringing back the missing species or bringing back the trees.” Where are the trees above around 200 metres in the Peak district and, indeed, most of the uplands of Britain? They simply are not there. This is a disaster. Anyone who visits from another country—someone from Brazil or Indonesia, my friends, tropical forest ecologists—says, “What’s happened here?” They see these places we call our national parks and say, “How can you call that a national park? It’s a sheep ranch.”

By all means let us keep people on the land, but let us use public money to pay them to do something completely different. Let us face it: there would not be any hill farming in this country without public money. It is a loss-making exercise. If we, the public, are going to pay for it, I think we, the public, have a right to determine what we are paying for. We should be paying for public goods, not public harms.