The highest levels of government started to discuss rural devolution in the 2010s.
In 2017, Liz Truss backed English counties’ call for ‘radical’ rural devolution. A report by Oxford Economics called Understanding County Economies, commissioned by the County Councils Network, said that providing counties with full devolution of public spending and tax raising powers would boost rural economies, create one million new jobs and generate public sector savings of £11.7bn a year over a five-year period. Since then, the CCN has lobbied for more powers for county councils.
It’s not just county councils. DEFRA minister Steve Double is part of the Labour-Tory urban coalition against the countryside, but in 2016 even he praised rural devolution in Cornwall in a speech in Parliament.
We would like future governments to go further.
We would like true rural devolution, with a new Rural Devolution Act and a new government department for all country beyond the streetlights.
We would like this to replace the existing rural affairs departments in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
The Rural Devolution Act (RDA) will have the following clauses:
The RDA must settle the matter of the consumptive versus the non-consumptive use of wildlife and livestock. The consumptive use of wildlife and livestock pays for the countryside, so the act will recognise it as beneficial.
Animals don’t have rights (John Nash). ‘Animal rights’ is a strictly human construct that may
be usefully thought of as a currency in the eternal competitive display between
people (Martin Jacoby).
When a cat tortures a mouse slowly to death, or a hyena disembowels an impala alive, it is unfortunate and possibly painful for the victims, but it is not ‘wrong’ or ‘unfair’ or ‘cruel’ because these are human things, consequences of our ability to think inside our human cave of civilisation. They do not exist outside in nature. There is no such thing as ‘animal rights’ outside human minds. Lawyers and politicians who advocate these things are advocating fairy-dust / are playing a psycho-social game that I call ‘Look At Me
Since we cannot live without killing things, the best we can do is to consider animal welfare – to provide animals with as decent and pain-free life and death as we can manage under the circumstances, but that is the best we can do. Animal welfare is not animal rights.
Bird and animal protection
Until the 1980s, the UK had a list of pest species and a list of game species. From the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act, the trend in government has been to replace the pest and quarry lists with general licences.
Legally speaking, until the 1980s, the UK’s wildlife laws was a list of what you can do to wildlife. From the 1980s, the UK’s environment departments adopted a European approach, slowly forbidding interaction with wildlife and adding ‘licences’ that reallows it.
Notably, the new environment laws do not touch the game acts, though that is apparently under consideration.
Since the establishment of the general licences, the regulations have become more and more restrictive and onerous, to the point where they are no longer workable and are actively damaging UK biodiversity.
We propose a clause that repeals the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act and replaces it with a simple pest list. The game acts, dating form as early as 1831, remain in force.
In addition (submitted by Ian Jensen), the RDA will enact a written right for people to harvest wildlife for food on land where they have permission. According to the current general licences, you are not allowed to shoot a pigeon to eat it. You can shoot it for other reasons and then eat it but shooting it to eat it carries a £5,000 fine and/or six months in prison.
Freshwater fish protection
The success story for rivers in the past 50 years is based around the former National Rivers Authority’s river wardens network. The Environment Agency replaced the NRA and sacked the river wardens. We will reestablish the river wardens network and give them the powers they had to police river catchment protection.
The destruction of rivers has come from factors including water extraction. The destruction of existing river habitats has come from slurry spills and storm sewage outflows. The RDA will review existing water laws and set new penalties and new policing the Environment Agency.
There is poor communication between the majority of people who live in the countryside and the agencies that are meant to protect the countryside. People don’t know who to call. that will change.
Standards for water quality, sustainable fishing/fish, policed by the Royal Navy’s Overseas Patrol Squadron and, at freshwater catchment, by the Environment Agency.
Food and farming
Public subsidy to end for any activity that fails the test: ‘Is this simply a payment for land ownership?’.
Background: The UK governments currently make more than £2 billion in payments to landowners. After the Second World War, this cash was conceived to provide the UK with food security. By the 1980s, the payments went to farmers to pay them not to grow food as well as to grow food. By 2019, it had become simply a payment to own land. As well as creating a false economy for farming in the UK, it creates a hostage system for the current system of land ownership in the UK. It underpins the threat of rural land reform from urban interests and the conservation industry. They can point out that the current system has seen the taxpayer pay for the capital value of the countryside several times over, so why should they not own the land they have already ‘bought’? It has to stop in its current form. There is a case for government grants for environmental projects. But the countryside must be allowed to stand on its own two feet, and not rely on welfare.
(submitted by Colin Johnston)
Formerly native species that have become extinct can only be re-introduced under the following conditions:
The re-introduction is fully supported by local community(ies) where the re-introduction shall be proposed. Neighbouring communities must also be consulted to ensure a ‘landscape’ buy-in for the project.
A full environmental impact assessment, based on modern best practices and scientific data (not emotion) of the existing biodiversity of existing species, domestic animals and farmed livestock shall form the keystone document demonstrating added environmental and conservation value to the community(ies).
A full, risk and mitigation based Re-Introduced Species Management Plan (R-ISMP) shall be establish and shall include a decision support package detailing the scientific, economic and community benefits and costs that have led to the species re-introduction being recommended.
The R-ISMP will include a list of best practices from previous species re-introductions including challenges that were not perceived as risks prior to re-introduction but which have now manifested themselves as liabilities. Any mitigations that are being considered and or have been implemented are to be listed.
A fair and easily understood compensation mechanism for local business and livelihoods negatively impacted by the re-introduced species will be included in the R-ISMP prior to the species being re-introduced.
The R-ISMP shall include an unambiguous species management strategy detailing planned interventions once the re-introduced species has become established. The strategy shall provide pre-approved details for relocation, non-lethal and lethal management procedures should the re-introduction have negative impacts from one or a number of the reintroduced animal. This strategy must set out the process (from initial request to approval) permitting the community impacted to request that the re-introduced species be controlled. An example of this is would be crofters on Mull requesting the removal or relocation of white tailed eagles due to their predating livestock.
Antisocial behaviour and countryside responsibility
(submitted by Colin Johnston)
The RDA will provide new powers for reporting and policing behaviour including the ownership or exercising of dogs, ramblers, trespass, wild campers, camper vans parked, for example, in passing places.
Like it or not, the countryside provides the UK’s greatest supply of developable land. The RDA will establish a new ‘rural’ status for planning applications, similar to ‘listing’ status, where planning applicants will have to pass separate criteria if they want to develop greenfield sites. The new UK Rural Executive (below) will administer this.
The government estate
The government will make publicly-owned land available for regulated hunting by local people, just as common land is available for regulated livestock grazing by local people (submitted by Niall Rowantree).
Forestry England, Forestry and Land Scotland, Natural Resources Wales or the Forest Service (in Northern Ireland) owns or manages 860,000 hectares (2.1 million acres) of land in the UK. A review of sporting leases will allow local people greater ability to use this land for their own food production.
UK Rural Executive (UKRE)
The RDA establishes the new UK Rural Executive, with the following sub departments:
Rural nature and wildlife, including Environment Agency (river catchments), UK public land and Forestry Commission
Food, farming and biosecurity, including veterinary, pesticides regulation, genetics and food standards
Marine nature and wildlife, including fisheries
Rural heritage, amenity and national parks, including protected sites and public access
Devolved governments liaison, including Stormont, Cardiff, Holyrood and Westminster liaisons, Cabinet Office liaison (urban affairs), Treasury liaison (funding), Home Office liaison (police and planning) and Foreign Office liaison (international and borders)
Reestablishment of the Countryside Agency and/or the Commission for Rural Communities
(submitted by Chris Rayfield)
There is currently nobody to look after ‘rural’ in government outside DEFRA, even though government policy is to rural-proof all policy. DEFRA and its agencies are only interested in snapshot policy such as ELMS, water quality, sustainable fishing/fish, tree health, without looking to see how a small number of ‘golden threads’ link all of these things and could make them work vastly better. A new Countryside Agency and/or the Commission for Rural Communities will provide that joined-up government.
This replaces current government rural departments and agencies including DEFRA, the Welsh rural agencies, Nature.scot and DAERA, with departments reassigned to UKRE.