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 see them as ecological restorers—people who have a different but very rich relationship with the land, bringing back wildlife and ecosystems. We would hopefully see a constant racking-up of ambition as time goes by.

It is hard to universalise it, but there is now quite a big literature on nature-based economies, showing that, certainly in some circumstances, they can employ a lot more people than farm-based economies, even in quite fertile areas. For instance, I was at Gelderse Poort in the Netherlands last year, in an area that was previously dairy and maize farms. For the purposes of creating more room for the river, the dykes were taken a mile or so back from the river and the land was rewilded. The farmers were saying there would be a loss of employment. In fact, it turns out that there was an increase of between five and six times the total employment as a result of the tourists who have come in to see the wildlife, the bed and breakfasts, the cafes and the rest of the things associated with that. The farmers have done very well out of it.

I do not know the answer to whether we can replicate that everywhere, but we should be urgently investigating other new rural economies based around the restoration of wildlife and nature. Given that we are competing here with a loss-making economy—an economy where the farmers would make more money if they took the subsidy and stopped farming—it is not a very steep competition that we have to win if we are to show that nature-based economies are more productive in terms of employment and income.