'Small farmers' livelihoods face collapse, post-Brexit'

Climate change protest. Picture: Getty Images

Young people are leading the climate change campaign - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you speak to most young people about their greatest worry for the world, most will say the change in our climate.

Asked the same question 45 years ago, I would have said “imminent nuclear war”. Fortunately, the latter has not yet come to pass. The latter – climate change – is an established, undeniable certainty.

Remarkably, thinking about this subject reveals many fascinating aspects for debate.

For example, the government has just decided against allowing a sub-channel power line from France to land near Portsmouth. On the one hand, local campaigners are happy, on the other, there goes a massive opportunity to import sustainable energy from an ally rather than be so vulnerable to the on-off switch of Putin’s pipelines.

Then there is the real danger just around the corner of fuel poverty, people already choosing not to heat their houses rather than go without food.

Astonishingly, this weekend it was reported that the people best placed to ride the sharp price increase out are those who live off-grid in our rural areas and are obliged to have oil-fired heating. The price of oil has not gone up anywhere near the price of electricity and gas, and as there has been no artificial price ceiling (about to go for the other utilities) oil consumers will hardly see any difference.

Or to put it another way, if you live in an agreeable six-bedroom thatched Devon long house with an oil-fired Aga and heating, you are sitting pretty. If you live in two-bedroom local authority flat with electricity and gas bills about to soar, you are not. Discuss.

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These are just two examples of the challenges around green energy policy. Sustainable undersea pipelines – or not. Live off-grid on oil power – or not?

Then there are the problems caused by the government’s astonishing delay since 2016 to put post-Brexit policy in place for farmers.

One little known example is payments made to those who look after great heritage sites such as Hadrian’s Wall. The National Trust says it is reckless to now say that any new scheme will not be ready till 2025.

“This shows Defra hasn’t grasped how natural and cultural heritage is so intertwined in the farmed landscape. This announcement risks erasing or damaging history.”

Indeed, across the whole faming environment, the post-Brexit picture is heading towards a collapse in the livelihood of small farmers and – guess what – the acquisition of their land by huge landowners.

It’s as if we are heading back two or three centuries, when Toryism and landowners scratched each other’s backs to mutual advantage. Champagne for the master, turnips for Baldrick.

But nil desperandum.

Our council at East Devon was proud to announce last week that we made a total of 6 million recycling and waste collections in your area last year. 4.5 million were recycling and included 22,700 tonnes of dry recycling and food waste.

The dry recycling was sent for processing to be made into new products, and the food waste has been used to generate bioenergy and fertiliser for farms.

A further 6,700 tonnes of green waste was also collected, composted, and used as soil conditioner on East Devon farms.

As well as collecting huge amounts of recycling, a further 18,600 tonnes of waste was sent to an ‘energy from waste’ centre and turned into electricity for the local grid.

So much becomes possible by making these short and concerted strides. This is unrecognisable from the “chuck it in the landfill” of my own childhood.

I like the little details too. In your food bins you can now use anything to seal your potato peel - from newspaper to an old plastic bag. No need to buy those expensive little green bags.

Next of course, stop using plastic bags altogether, or any single-use plastic. It’s down to us. Kids know this already. It’s how they can get out of bed in the morning.