Will Brexit bring a new dawn for the UK’s farming and fishing industries? Only if environmental sustainability is at the heart of new policies.

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In all versions of Brexit currently proposed, the UK will leave both the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. In this paper, we explore the implications of this major shift in approach, both positive and negative, based on the views of major players in the agriculture and fisheries industries, combined with the latest scientific thinking and emerging Government policy. 

Our results highlight that policy makers should recognise that healthy environments deliver ‘public goods’ such as clean air and water, food provision and places for leisure, that belong to all of us, and that the continued provision of these goods means providing sufficient resource to publicly reward sustainable farming and fishing practices.  Ensuring that these natural assets, termed ‘natural capital’ are shared fairly is also vital. Farming and fishing should no longer be about maximising production, as was the case under the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies, but about protecting employment opportunities and the environment on which they depend in rural and coastal communities.

Delivering this vision will involve drawing on best practice in environmental management from around the world, and embracing innovative practices already developed in the UK. Continued cooperation with the EU after Brexit, and improved relations between devolved nations, will also be essential. Pollution and fish stocks do not recognise manmade borders, and the economies of the agriculture and fisheries sectors depend on efficient movement of goods and labour. An overarching UK-wide framework for managing our land and seas will therefore be required to ensure consistency, collaboration, and to facilitate international trade.

Significant challenges lie ahead. In the face of continued uncertainty over Brexit, much of the UK’s new policy on the environment, agriculture and fisheries is currently ambitious in vision but light on detail. There is also a risk that leaving the EU will weaken existing environmental protection. The development of innovative policies, with significant input from the major players in the industries across UK countries, will therefore be essential for ensuring environmental sustainability and prosperity after Brexit.