Over the last 18 months Covid-19 has been immensely challenging for us all but the pandemic has brought to the fore the critical contributions that farmers and landowners make to society.
Early on in the pandemic we had farm workers classified as key workers due to the incredible job they do putting food on our tables every day. There were long queues outside farm shops as landowners who had diversified into retail became a vital hub where communities could get much needed supplies such as eggs, milk and flour.
And we have had hundreds of thousands of people visiting the countryside – a significant amount of which is carefully managed by landowners who are putting nature and the environment at the core of their work.
Many of us are aware of the social contributions made by landowners, particularly within local communities – yet it can be overlooked and less often quantified.
Most landowners live locally and are very much part of their community. Last year, a CLA survey of its members – who are a range of farmers, landowners and rural businesses - showed 80% make a personal contribution to their community – everything from hosting a wide range of community groups to helping to clear roads.
These estates often provide some sort of facility, whether it is a sports ground, public open space or village hall. One in four provide land for village functions and the same number provide land for voluntary access.
Alongside all this, landowners often provide significant employment opportunities in rural areas. More than three quarters of our members have some form of diversification – with many moving into the hospitality and tourism sectors.
These businesses are not only providing jobs but they are also attracting visitors who are spending their money locally on accommodation and eating and drinking in the area.
Creating employment is one thing, but the availability and affordability of housing continues to be a challenge for many rural areas.
For the rural economy to thrive, there needs to be an adequate supply of housing in the right place and of the right type. Landowners play a central role in providing housing to help sustain their communities for future generations. They are well placed to help meet the future housing needs of these communities if given the right support. This support should include changes to the existing tax regime and a far less complex planning system.
Landowners are also at the forefront of tackling climate change. It is impossible to ignore the rise of environmental issues up the political agenda. Whether it is the radical re-design of policy in the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, the increasing prominence of natural capital, or the economy’s transition towards net-zero emissions, there are strong signals everywhere that we all need to be more green.
Land managers are very much part of the solution. As we transition to a low-emissions economy, the agriculture industry is in a good position to demonstrate how businesses can thrive, reduce emissions, promote environmental outcomes and, importantly, produce high quality food.
More than 90% of people who responded to our survey manage land under an environmental and countryside stewardship scheme. They are also spending thousands on environmental measures that are not part of a scheme. The majority own and manage woodland and nearly one in four have planted new trees in the last 10 years.
The social, economic and environmental contribution of land managers is vast. This work often goes unseen but provides so many benefits to society.