NFU24: Farming and the environment: the regulator’s view

Environment and climate
Minette Batters and Alan Lovell speaking on stage at the NFU Conference

Common sense is key to maintaining watercourses and the EA (Environment Agency) wants to support farmers to manage their land to reduce the risk of flooding, drought and pollution, its chairman told NFU Conference 2024.

Alan Lovell acknowledged that farmers were being impacted by the effects of flooding and drought and said the EA recognised that farmers contributed to society not just through food production, but through how they used and managed their land.

But he also recognised that there would sometimes be contrasting views over the best way to spend money or the best course of action to take.

“I am not a fool,” he said. “There are times when you will not like the Environment Agency. It is our role to be a good steward of the environment and also a good steward of public money.

“That means our decisions about how we spend money, for example on managing watercourses, will not always align with what you think we should do.”

Mr Lovell said the EA’s primary focus was water – flood, drought and water pollution and praised the work of the NFU and individual farmers during the recent winter floods.

“We know there’s a perception that the vast majority of our investment in flood defences goes to protect urban populations, and it’s true that our schemes must be measured against impact on people, and quite right too. But that does not mean that we do not protect rural communities.”

Proactive management plan

He acknowledged NFU calls for a proactive management plan from the EA for controlling watercourses and flood defences.

While he acknowledges calls for more dredging and demaining – the transfer of river responsibility from a national level to a local level – he said neither course of action was a straightforward as it seems, but the EA would continue to consult locally and recommend these steps when and where appropriate.

“We stand beside you in recognition of your challenges, both financial and environmental, and we seek to work with you on the twin priorities of food production and environmental wellbeing.”

Chair of the Environment Alan Lovell

And he said farmers and landowners could carry out appropriate maintenance but should use common sense and the EA would use common sense too.

“You, the riparian owners, have the responsibility for looking after these rivers. We have powers as well, but you can carry out appropriate maintenance. We shall encourage that wherever we can.

“I know, of course, on major schemes you need permits, but above all use common sense. You use common sense on work, and we shall use common sense too.”

He emphasised that working together was the key to achieving climate-resilient places and creating cleaner and healthier rivers.

“You are our most important partners in delivering that endeavour. We stand beside you in recognition of your challenges, both financial and environmental, and we seek to work with you on the twin priorities of food production and environmental wellbeing.

“We really appreciate the good work that you do. We really appreciate the partnerships that we have with you and we look forward to working with you to do a whole lot more.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Minette Batters

Former NFU President

Minette runs a tenanted family farm in Wiltshire.  The mixed farming business includes a 100-cow continental cross suckler herd, as well as sheep and arable.

Diversification includes the conversion of a 17th century tithe barn into a wedding and corporate events venue, and horse liveries. Minette co-founded the campaigning initiatives 'Ladies in Beef' and the 'Great British Beef Week'.

Campaigning on behalf of NFU members about the importance of British food and farming has been a key driver for Minette throughout her time at the NFU. In 2020 she led one of the most successful petitions ever, bringing together a coalition of chefs, including Jamie Oliver, farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and animal welfare experts – resulting in over one million people signing the NFU food standards petition. She has also regularly engaged with different media genres including appearances on Desert Island Discs, Question Time, and Any Questions.

She has been an NFU member from grassroots through to County Chair; she served as Wiltshire’s Council delegate and also as Regional Board Chair for the South West. Minette has also been a member of NFU Governance Board and served as NFU Deputy President for four years from 2014 to 2018, before being elected as president in February 2018. Minette is also an ambassador of Farm Africa and was made a Deputy Lieutenant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2021.

Officeholder responsibilities 

  • Trade and standards
  • EU and international relations
  • Taxation and fiscal policy
  • Science and research and development
  • Food supply chain (fair dealing, Markets and Authorities, competition, regulation)
  • Food service
  • AHDB
  • Levelling up
  • Education

Alan Lovell

Chair, Environment Agency

Alan is best known for the rescue and restructuring of companies.

Since 2015 he has held Non-Executive Director and Chair positions, including NED for the last 10 weeks of Carillion, and Chair of Interserve. He is now a non-executive director and senior independent director of SIG plc. 

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