The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 7 Agriculture, farming and countryside policy

Landscape planning principles for agriculture

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Planning principles for agriculture

The landscape planning principles which will be considered in relation to agriculture may be summarised as follows:

  1. Landscapes should be planned from different points of view. These will include those of landowners and different sections of the public, as discussed in Chapter 1.
  2. Public landscape planning should focus on public goods, especially recreation, scenic quality and nature conservation, as discussed in Chapter 2.
  3. Plans must be adjusted to contexts. This may require zoning plans and EID plans, as discussed in Chapter 3.

Governments have often supported farmers, for strategic, social and political reasons. Since the 1930s, which saw a great agricultural depression, they have also considered support for environmental reasons. America led the way. Measures were introduced, as part of Roosevelt's New Deal, to ensure that land subject to severe erosion was not used for agriculture. Although named 'conservation' programmes, 'their main objectives were production control and income redistribution for the agricultural population' (Swader 1980). In the 1960s, America introduced a programme for withdrawing land from agriculture in order to limit production. A similar programme, known as set-aside, was adopted by the European Community in 1988. As in America, it led to less intensive use of some land and more intensive use of other land. One can hardly view this as a conservation measure. Britain's Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 included some 'environment friendly' provisions. Farmers who declined a grant to plough up moorland, for example, could obtain financial compensation from the Nature Conservancy Council. This was an odd measure. Should I be paid for not writing books? More positive legislation followed, encouraged by the EC's Environmentally Sensitive Areas (1985) programme. ESAs allow farmers in designated areas to receive an annual payment if they follow beneficial farming practices. In Britain this led to the Farm Woodland Scheme (1988), the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme (1989), and the Nitrate Sensitive Areas (1990) programme. These programmes allow payments both for positive actions, such as planting woodlands or maintaining stone walls, or for negative actions, such as restricting the use of nitrate fertilisers. From a public goods perspective, all these programmes are of questionable value. If government payments lead to environmental harm, discontinuing the grant would make more sense than offering compensation for not accepting the grant. Paying farmers not to use nitrates is like paying smokers not to smoke: if the practice is harmful to others, it should be restricted by law. Grants for small woodlands, hedgerows and farm walls seem like a better idea, but much depends on contextual circumstances and there is a need for large-scale plans to precede small-scale decisions. The agricultural landscape of the late-twentieth century is not a thing which should be eternally 'conserved'. Some areas undoubtedly are scenically beautiful, rich in wildlife and of great recreational value. They should be protected from agricultural development grants and supported with conservation grants. Other areas are deficient, scenically, recreationally or in wildlife. Here, public funds should be used to remedy deficiencies, where this can be done without damaging existing public goods. The social, political and economic aspects of agricultural policy will not be discussed in this chapter, except peripherally. These include the historic power of farmers as an organised pressure group, the equity of transferring wealth from poor urbanites to rich farmers, the desirability of maintaining a rural population, the influence of tele-commuting on the demand for rural property, the nutritional value of intensively vs extensively farmed food, the merits of free trade, international specialisation and competitiveness. In the main, this chapter is concerned with the public goods which might be obtained by spending public money in rural areas.