Costing the Earth; The Environment after Exit (BBC Radio 4 March 15 and 16)
h/t Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
The programme, presented by Tom Heap, investigated the current impact on the UK of EU-related policies affecting conservation, fisheries, farming and renewable energy, and explored what might happen in the event of Brexit. The main fulcrum was whether, in the light of the evidence presented, the United Kingdom was likely to start afresh policy debates in each area, or whether it would be safer and more effective to stay in the EU.
Detailed analysis of the programme transcript shows it was heavily biased to the ‘remain side’ and was not impartial in the handling of the people and topics it covered. The impression conveyed was that Brexit would risk undermining the current conservation regime, would lead to a severe reduction in farming subsidies, would put small farms at risk, that the fast-expanding renewable energy business on farms would be threatened, and that the UK’s efforts to combat climate change and atmospheric pollution would be diminished. The programme did acknowledge that at least one farmer believed the Common Agricultural Policy did not work and that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was very unpopular. Three figures who opposed it were included – but the main sign-off, contribution on that topic was from a senior industry figure who favoured remaining in the EU.
In summary, the programme presented significantly more evidence that it was better to remain in the European Union. Speakers supporting ‘remain’ were given more time and space, largely uninterrupted, to advance their arguments, and their credentials were prominently mentioned. All of the eight were acknowledged experts working for national organisations or involved in campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU at a national level. Their expertise covered the entire terrain of the programme.
By contrast, none of the speakers supporting Brexit was a national ‘expert’ – they were a farmer, a fisherman, a harbourmaster, a snack bar owner and the press officer of a small charity/pressure group fighting windfarms in Scotland. It was thus a programme with contributions of unequal weight.
The handling of the two sides of the debate was also uneven in that more adversarial questions were asked by the BBC figures in the programme (Tom Heap plus two other correspondents) to those who supported Brexit. The ‘remain’ contributors had more uninterrupted time to explain their respective positions. for example, one of almost two minutes from Stanley Johnson, the main ‘remain contributor. By contrast, the contributions from advocates of Brexit were generally much shorter and fragmented by challenges from the presenters. None was able to present a long-form, detailed response.
This imbalance was not offset by the contributions of the presenters. They put only a couple of adversarial questions to the ‘remain’ contributors. More were posed to the Brexit side and they were more challenging, especially in the sequences covering fishing and windfarms.
A further problem was that the exact status and allegiances relevant to the programme of some of the remain guests was not explained to the audience. Matt Shardlow, who spoke about conservation, was correctly introduced as chief executive of Buglife. It was not mentioned – directly relevant to his likely outlook to the EU – was that his charity receives significant project funding from the EU. Andrew Blenkiron was introduced only as the estate manager of the Euston Estate. But he is also a prominent regional official on the NFU, and has written strongly pro-EU articles in that capacity for Farmers’ Weekly. Tom Clothier was introduced as the ‘renewable energy manager at Wyke farms’. The farm’s owner, Richard Clothier, was a signatory to a recent pro-remain letter to the national press by ‘leading figures from the farming industry’ – as was Andrew Blenkiron. Finally, Andrew Whitehead was said only to be an ‘energy analyst’ from the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau. The clear impression was that he was thus independent. But he is also a leading official of a pan-EU energy organisation and has written articles for the Birmingham Post warning about the downsides of Brexit as regards Britain’s energy needs. These connections all illustrate that figures introduced as ‘experts’ were not likely to be independent in their outlook, and, indeed, were each strongly pro-EU. This was seriously misleading to listeners.
The problems in imbalance are further illustrated by word count analysis. The total contribution of spokesmen on the ‘remain’ side was 1,847 words, whereas the combined figure for supporters of ‘leave’ was 1,040, a ratio of roughly two thirds to one third. The longest single contribution on the pro-EU side was 290 words (Stanley Johnson), compared with only 117 words for Linda Holt. Length of contribution as a measure on its own is not a definite indicator of bias, but in this programme, where the ‘remain’ side was in other respects heavily favoured, it underlines and confirms the problem.
In more detail, the key issues relating to the failure to achieve impartiality were as follows.
The programme featured several figures who were introduced as ‘authorities’ on EU legislation. All their contributions, with only minor reservations, supported ‘remain’ and that the EU had a strongly positive influence in
- supporting wildlife habitats:
- in ensuring that farming was highly prioritised in the national agenda and highly subsidised for the benefit of both farmers and food production;
- and in the transition to renewable energy.
In this category were eight contributors: Stanley Johnson, who had worked at both the European Commission and in the European Parliament in framing the EU Habitats Directive; Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, Andrew Blenkiron, from the Euston Estate in Suffolk; Bertie Armstong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (speaking in a personal capacity); Brian Gardner, a policy adviser for Agro-Europe, which provides intelligence to farmers about EU legislation; Richard Clothier, a farm owner who was using an anaerobic digester to provide energy; Andrew Whitehouse, an energy analyst with the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau; and Juliet Davenport, chief executive of ‘green’ power company Good Energy. Some of these, as is noted in the introduction, had declared in writing that they were strong supporters of the ‘remain’ side.
Ranged against them on the anti-EU side were five figures: fisherman Andy Giles; harbourmaster Keith Bromley, Pam of Pam’s snacks (all in the fisheries section and opposed to the CFP); farmer Colin Tyler; and Linda Holt of the Scotland Against Spin anti-windfarm group.
This was a significant and unfair imbalance. All the arguments made by the pro-EU side were articulated by authority figures and experts who were identified and projected as such. By contrast, the anti-EU side was expressed by individuals, who, though clearly articulate and able, did not have the same ranking in their respective areas of activity as the pro-EU figures. The only minor exception was Linda Holt, who is press officer for the pressure group Scotland Against Spin. But it is a small charity surviving entirely on charitable donations – unlike Buglife (the nearest comparison on the Pro-EU side), which is an international organisation and receives significant grant aid from the European Union – a factor which was not mentioned on the programme.
Analysis of the contributions by the pro-EU experts also shows that all were allowed significant time to put and explain their respective cases, a total of 1,847 words; all their contributions were edited so that they included supportive facts and figures; and also so that their pro-EU points were the longest in the programme.
Tom Heap/ BBC presenter roles:
Examination of the role of the presenters, Tom Heap, assisted by Robin Marks (who interviewed the guests in the fishing section), and Nancy Nicholson (who interviewed anti-windfarm campaigner Linda Holt) raises further issues of concern.
In a 30-minute programme, they asked relatively few questions and presented very little analysis – their main role was to provide a framework for the contributors to express their views. In this process, they were not sufficiently rigorous, and not even-handed.
Only one mildly adversarial question about EU policies was put to any of the ‘remain’ contributors. Andrew Blenkiron was asked the cost of saving each great-crested newt in a conservation scheme he had manged; he replied that it had been £6,500.
By contrast, the Brexit contributors, Cornish fisherman Andrew Giles, farmer Colin Tyler, and windfarm opponent Linda Holt, were each directly challenged about their views. It was suggested to Mr Giles by Robin Marks that his opposition to the CFP would result in the environment not being protected and was based on self-interest; to Mr Tyler by Tom Heap that he could advocate less EU (or government) subsidy because he was closer to the markets of the south-east; and to Linda Holt by Nancy Nicholson that her resistance against more windfarms would cause more global warming and pollution.
The questioning of the respective sides of the debate was thus biased against the Brexit side.
As was established in the previous section, the ‘remain’ figures had most time to advocate their case. To rectify that, it would be expected that there would be balancing material and comment from the presenters. There was some, but it was very limited. Tom Heap said that the Common Fisheries Policy was unpopular and thought by scientists to be a failure, and that elements of energy policy did not sufficiently encourage insulation.
Mr Heap, however, also made pro-EU comments in his linking material. On fisheries, he noted that the Marine Conservation Society credited EU legislation for the clean-up of beaches and the creation of marine protected areas. He then noted that the CAP, in contrast to the CFP, ‘really matters’ because farming spent 40% of the EU budget’.
At the end, Mr Heap, in his conclusion, suggested that leaving the EU would involve starting each debate afresh, with issues such as ‘where should we get our low-carbon energy’ at the centre of the debate.
Costing the Earth set out to investigate how ‘Europe’ has its fingers and ‘tendrils’ in ‘an awful lot of issues in our countryside’, and chose farming, fisheries, energy and wildlife conservation as examples to investigate.
Tom Heap pointed initially to that the ‘bedrock of European conservation law’ was the Habitats Directive
Within its framework, several experts spoke positively about this involvement.
Stanley Johnson, introduced as the ‘father of Boris’ with the explanation that ‘they don’t agree on the European Union’, said that the Directive was now a ‘huge oak tree’ that protected 18 per cent of the land area of the 28 countries in the EU. He said it was ‘an extra layer of protection’ to this precious landscape ‘provided by Brussels’. It meant that even if the British government wanted to frack in the national parks, there would be ‘a lot more hoops to go through’. He suggested that people wanted this, ‘they do care’.
Matt Shardlow was introduced as ‘chief executive of the organisation Buglife. Tom Heap asked him what has ‘Europe’ done for the Roman snail., a species which Mr Shardlow said had been in the UK for hundreds of years. He said the creature had been brought here by the Romans and was thus part of our heritage. He explained when the European Union Habitats Directive was introduced in 1992, it was a protected species, and it meant that the member states had to keep it in good condition. He was asked ‘how confident are you that ‘Europe’ was needed to deliver that’. And ‘it couldn’t be delivered by national governments?’
Mr Shardlow replied that it could have been done by national government but was not, and for the past 20 years conservationists had relied upon the European Court of Justice – ‘the bigger scope of the Habitats Directive…to make sure that wildlife here is ultimately protected’. He added he did not have enough faith in the government (UK) ‘in suddenly stepping up and gaining…this moral sense of responsibility, this great urge and vitality about looking after wildlife…’
Tom Heap observed that the Habitats Directive had proved itself as ‘powerful tool’ in influencing development in this country. He spoke to Andrew Blenkiron (introduced as the manager of the Euston Estates in Suffolk – it was not mentioned that he was also regional chairman of the strongly pro-EU NFU and signatory of a recent anti- Brexit letter in the Financial Times) He said that as a result of the Habitats Directive, it had cost £65,000 to establish great crested newt habitats as part of a reservoir development. Tom Heap observed that he and other land owners were ‘irritated’ by such cost and delays for protecting a creature that was ‘actually quite common in England and Wales’ but rare in most of the rest of Europe. He said that Mr Shardlow of Buglife sympathised but ‘blames national government interpretation of the of the law rather than the EU’. He blamed the UK government for not monitoring the status (degree of threat) to species…if they did that properly ‘you don’t have to introduce Draconian laws’.
Tom Heap opened by saying that the Marine Conservation Society credits EU legislation with cleaning our beaches and creating marine protected areas. He added that said there was no avoiding the link between the EU and the pictures of fishermen throwing perfectly good fish, dead, back into the sea. He said British fishermen were no fans of the Common Fisheries Policy, and main scientists thought they had done a poor job of conserving stocks. A report followed containing fishermen’s reaction to the CFP. One said it prevented haddock fishing when there was plenty of stocks, the monthly quota was ‘ludicrous’. He asserted that ‘if we came out of Europe, maybe it would change’. The fisherman also noted that the haddock quota did not apply to the French – but if he went into their waters, they would be ‘blown up.’ Pete Bromley, the harbourmaster at Sutton in Plymouth, said the CFP rules were flawed ‘even after four attempts at reform’ and put a lot of pressure on British fishermen. Pam, of Pam’s Snacks, also said the UK should pull out of Europe because the rules and regulations were ‘killing the fishing industry’. The BBC reporter put it to the first fisherman that the CFP rules were there to protect the environment and ensure there was enough fish to go round. The first fisherman disagreed and said discards were still happening. The reporter said that was being phased out. The fisherman replied that instead, fishermen were being forced to stop fishing. The BBC reporter (Robin Markwell) said there weren’t many people who would defend the CFP. But he said that Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had a personal view that exit from the EU would make matters worse. He asserted:
‘Common sense suggests that collective action is better than a load of individuals competing, and in the fishing industry that’s largely true. Collaborative action so that no one individually over-fishes, or you don’t have what could be referred to as the tragedy of the commons of everybody trying to fish a little more than their neighbour. The negotiations, to have a sensible place outside the tent would be very complicated and full of hazard, particularly full of hazard for us, and this is highly significant, in that fishing – it’s very important to me, you would expect that, it’s very important in the areas where it happens, but, overall it’s less than half a percent of GDP. And so when a state is negotiating they will have pressure points, and fishing is unlikely to be a pressure point for the negotiating people who are trying to look after the UK’s relationship with Europe.’
Tom Heap said the feeling among farmers to the Common Agricultural Policy was ambivalent. He asserted that it had been at the heart of the ‘European project’ for 50 years and ‘in environmental and financial terms, it really matters. Farming spends 40% of the EU budget.’ Brian Gardner, a policy adviser with Agra Europe, a provider of intelligence about the EU to farmers, explained that farmers received a subsidy worth £100 an acre, and there was not guarantee that would be maintained post-exit. In addition, they received stewardship and other subsidies designed to encourage environmentally-friendly farming. That would be cut from £3bn to £1bn a year. Colin Tyler, a farmer from near Heathrow, said it was time for farming to kick away its subsidy crutch and leave the EU. Tom Heap asked him how many farmers shared his view at the recent NFU conference. Mr Tyler said he was the only one. Mr Heap suggested it was easier for him to support exit because he was in the South-east and relatively close to markets. He agreed, but warned that if the UK stayed in the EU, the amount of subsidy would get lower over the next 10 years and the amount of regulation would increase, and hill farmers might not be allowed to graze sheep on mountains because it threatened the environment. Brian Gardner said that if subsidies reduced, it would force out smaller farmers, especially dairy farmers, and larger farms without government intervention would be bad for the environment. Heap said that Brian Gardener believed that out of the EU, the UK might be more free to plant genetically modified crops, but did not expect changes in the chemicals that farmers would be allowed to use. He expected that the UK government would continue subsidising hill farms ‘so don’t expect sheep to disappear from the Welsh hills, the Yorkshire dales or the Scottish Highlands’.
Heap then said that one recent money-spinner for farmers had been renewable energy: solar panels, wind turbines and bio-energy plants. There was a actuality from Wyke Farms. Tom Clothier, in charge of the farms’ renewable energy business (and a signatory of the same FT letter as Andrew Blenkiron, mentioned above) explained they had an anaerobic digester unit which converted waste from dairy production into gas, one third of which went into electrical production and a third to the grid. Tom Heap said this anaerobic digester was ‘part of an extraordinarily swift energy revolution led from Brussels’. Andrew Whitehead, introduced as an ‘energy analyst’ with lawyers Shakespeare Martineau (and a strong opponent of Brexit) as well as being a member of the Association of European Energy Consultants), said the UK’s target under the climate change act was an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He said the UK had to meet the ‘binding European target’ for renewables. Mr Whitehead claimed that the UK had been quite influential in making sure the EU’s 2030 target for renewables was not so prescriptive. Juliet Davenport, introduced as CEO of Good Energy, said that anaerobic digester technology had improved and that meant it could produce economically gas and electricity. She said the legislation part had been ‘really strong’. The European Renewables Directive set an outlying target for renewable energy in each country, and that was supplemented by the UK Renewables Electricity Act, which brought in a 15% target across transport, electricity and heat in the UK.
The next section was based on an interchange between Nancy Nicholson, a BBC reporter, and Linda Holt, who said she was opposed to windfarms. Tom Heap said that in Fife, Linda Holt agreed that the EU had encouraged renewable energy ‘such as the windfarms that provide Good Energy with half its electricity’ but was not keen on the consequences and was a member of the campaign group Scotland Against Spin. Ms Holt explained that the EU Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 stipulated that Europe as a whole should produce 20% of its energy needs from renewables by 2020, with the UK target set at 15%. She said that Alex Salmond had ‘gold-plated’ this for Scotland and set a target of 100%. Nancy Nicholson put it to her that they were looking at a very industrial landscape in a hill near Mossmorran (a power station) ’we can see big chimneys, and I don’t know whether it’s steam or smoke that’s coming up from there. The point is really that if we did not have renewables, we would have more of these – coal fired power stations- and that would mean more climate change and worse air quality’. Ms Holt disagreed about the coal-fired power stations and suggested alternatives could be gas or nuclear power, as well as more research into other renewables ‘that are better than wind’. Ms Nicholson asked if she would like to see Britain out of the EU…do you think Britain would not support windfarms?’ Ms Holt replied that the UK had stopped supporting onshore windfarms, and the days of those offshore were perhaps also numbered.
Mr Heap concluded:
‘That, perhaps, is the nub of the debate over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The future of the environment would depend upon the UK governments that follow exit. Each of these enormous issues will need to be reassessed and weighed in the list of national priorities. Exit would just be the start of a debate on what’s best for our environment. Should landowners be subsidised to manage the landscape? How do we protect our fish stocks? Where should we get our low-carbon energy? They are all question we have, to some degree, allowed politicians and officials in Brussels to take the lead on. Are we happy to start each debate afresh?’
Transcript of BBC Radio 4 ‘Costing the Earth’ 15th March 2016, 3.30pm
TOM HEAP: I’m standing in front of a small pond, probably 10 metres across, there’s a willow part-tumbled into it on one side, a bank of brambles and some open ploughed feels around the rest. It doesn’t, in many ways feel particularly, if the locals will forgive me, beautiful, and yet, within it is something that’s become iconic within European environment circles, lauded by some, a bit of a pain in the neck to others – I’m talking about the great crested newt. Protected by the Habitats Directive. Today on Costing the Earth, we’re going to be looking at how Europe has its fingers, its tendrils, in an awful lot of issues in our countryside. Farming, fishing, energy and through wildlife conservation. And that’s particularly why I’m here. And I’m with Andrew Blenkiron, of Euston Estates, who look after the land in this area. Andrew, tell me what issues you have with the inhabitants of this pond.
ANDREW BLENKIRON: Well, Tom . . . actually, when we came down to it there were no great crested newts in this pond, there may have been, and that’s why we were refused our permission to apply for planning application to put our solar panels on the two fields adjacent to this site.
STANLEY JOHNSON: So what we’re doing now it’s driving . . . following the river really towards Exford, and Exford, you know, is the heart of Exmoor, and this farm has been in our family since 1951.
TH: The bedrock of European conservation law, responsible for protection given to great crested newts and a wide range of rare threatened and unique species is known as the Habitats Directive. One of its architects, when he was a European Commission official, was Stanley Johnson, father of Boris. They don’t agree on the European Union.
SJ: The funny thing for me is that so many aspects of my life seem to be coming together at the moment. I spent 20 years in the EU, you know, first in the Commission doing environmental policy, then in the European Parliament. And now these two items, Europe on the one hand and environment on the other are coming together for me in a quite remarkable way in the context of this referendum. And the third element of course is Exmoor, a huge chunk of Exmoor is a protected area under the Habitats, directive, and for me it’s completely wonderful, because little did I know, that way back in Brussels in the late 80s that this tiny acorn . . . the Habitats Directive would grow into such a huge oak tree. Taking the 28 countries of the EU as a whole, something like 18% of the land area of those 28 countries is now protected under the Habitats Directive Why is that important? In practical terms, it means there is an extra layer of protection to this precious landscape, provided by Brussels. Yes, I’m afraid to say, it is provided by Brussels, it means that even if the government said, ‘Yes you can frack in national parks’ – if that’s part of the national park was also protected under the Habitats Directive there would be a lot more hoops to go through. Now, there may be people who shout ‘boo, boo, that’s not what we want’, but my view is that taking the population as a whole, they do care.
TH: I’m with Matt Shardlow who’s chief executive of Buglife, and, Matt, we’re on our hands and knees here, (laughs) very close to the ground, looking at a certain lifeform, what is that?
MATT SHARDLOW: Well, this is a fantastic beast, this is our biggest terrestrial snail, it’s called the Roman Snail, it’s about the size of a golf ball, pale, almost white, but with a sort of pale, fawny brown patterning on the shell. This one’s actually hibernating, and it’s got a huge great big door over the front, that protecting the snail and keeping it moist and safe inside its shell.
TH: So this little thing, about the size of a big thumbnail over the opening is actually what’s keeping it alive at this time of year is it?
SH: Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing that they’re actually out here, even in the winter, they’re out, actually exposed on the surface, they haven’t burrowed down, and by sealing themselves in with this, you know, it looks very calcified and white shell over the front of the snail, they’ve sealed themselves in and it’s a, it’s a very successful hibernation strategy. They’ve been here for hundreds of years.
TH: Now what has Europe done for the Roman Snail?
MS: Well, I mean if you go back far enough to Roman Snail is called the Roman Snail because it was brought here by the Romans. So this is part of our cultural heritage, as well as our natural heritage. It’s a European species, brought here for people to eat. So, in 1992 the Habitats Directive came in, and this is one of the species that was put down as . . . the member states need to keep it in good condition, they need to make sure it’s not disappearing from those member states, and if it is, they need to take whatever action they need to to make sure that it survives and it’s looked after. In the UK that meant, in the early 2000’s, when cases came about of people collecting bag loads of these things and selling them to the restaurant trade, er, that meant that we stepped in and asked the government to bring in some protection and they did, they put it on the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and since then there have been reduced number of incidents.
TH: And how confident are you that needed kind of Europe to deliver that? It couldn’t be delivered by national governments?
MS: Well, it potentially could have been done by national governments but it hadn’t been done by the national governments. We’ve spent the last 20 years relying on the bigger scope of the European Court of Justice, and the bigger scope of the Habitats Directive and other pieces of legislation to make sure that the wildlife here is ultimately protected. You don’t then have much face (sic, means ‘faith’?) in, in the government, in suddenly stepping up and gaining, you know, this moral sense of responsibility, this great urge and vitality about looking after wildlife when the last 20 years has been like trying to force a limpet off a rock frankly. (laughs)
TH: The Habitats Directive has certainly proved itself to be a powerful tool in influencing development in this country. Often you hear about it in terms of where do houses go all roads go, but I’m back on the Euston estate with Andrew Blenkiron and we are standing in front of a reservoir.
AB: 75 million gallons of water capacity here which gives us the ability to irrigate approximately 700 acres of root crops on an annual basis. And it’s a significant part of our business.
TH: So take me through the process, you wanted to build this reservoir, and what hurdles did you come across?
AB: There’s about eight ponds within 300 metres of this development site. So what we had to do, at the right time of the year, which is sort of end of February through to May, we had to establish the great crested newt population at all of those locations. The next thing that we had to do once we done that is wait till the following year after gaining a licence from Natural England to catch and relocate the newts that would be on the development site.
TH: And so that took a couple of years, and added how much did you say to the cost?
TH: And how many newts did you find?
AB: We found ten great, great crested newts.
TH: so that £6500 per newt.
AB: Yeah, and I actually think that’s er, we, we got off quite light, because I hear people have spent £20,000 per newt.
TH: Andrew Blenkiron is absolutely nothing against the great crested, or any other kind of newt. In fact, he’s rather proud of the newt habitat he’s constructed in recompense for the damage caused by building the reservoir. But he’s one of many land owners and developers irritated by delays caused by an animal that actually quite common in in England and Wales. It’s protected because it’s rare in most of the rest of Europe. Matt Shardlow of BugLife sympathises, but blames national government interpretation of the law rather than the EU.
MS: As long as that species is in favourable conservation status, then it’s possible for governments to be more flexible about how it’s conserved. What happened at the moment is we don’t know what its statuses. If you can set your monitoring up so that you know how well it’s doing, so that you can address the problems it’s facing, then you don’t have to introduce Draconian laws that protect every single newt wherever every newt is.
TH: European Union rules don’t just affect the land, the EU also rules the waves, or at least the natural life beneath. The Marine Conservation Society credits EU legislation with cleaning our beaches and creating marine protected areas. However, there’s no avoiding the association between the EU and those pictures we’ve seen so often of fishermen throwing perfectly good fish, dead, back in the sea from which they’ve just been caught. British fishermen are no fans of the laws that strictly control their business – the Common Fisheries Policy. Many scientists think it’s done a pretty poor job of conserving stocks. Robin Markwell has been to one of England’s biggest fish markets in Plymouth to gather opinion.
ROBIN MARKWELL: Well, it may be five in the morning, pitch dark and raining, most of Plymouth is still asleep, but here in the harbour the fishing boats are preparing for a day’s fishing.
ANDY GILES: I’m Andy Giles, I’m a fisherman from Looe, but the boat is in Plymouth, so we fish from here every day on a . . . 15 metre Twin rigged trawler.
RM: How long have you been fishing for?
AG: Been fishing since I was 16 and I’m now 44 so, what’s . . . 28 years. Fishing mainly for erm, lemon soles, whiting, squid.
RM: Tell me about the Common Fisheries Policy, what does it mean for you as a fisherman?
AG: I’m not sure the Common Fisheries Policy is working, there’s lots of plentiful stocks of haddock which . . . they’re saying that there isn’t any, which we are seeing on the ground is different, it’s full up with haddock. We can catch our monthly allocation of quota in . . . probably one haul – 250 kilos. To us, it’s not fair as we’ve got Frenchmen on our doorstep which are catching 2000 kilo a day, which to us is just ludicrous, they’re 6 mile from our coast so it’s not really much good for us at the moment, but . . . who knows, if we came out of Europe, maybe it would change.
RM: The French have a higher quota than you then?
AG: Yes, and they’re fishing into our 6 mile limit. They have some sort of historic rights of some description.
RM: Can you get that close to French waters then, more than six miles?
AG: No we can’t. If you went in six mile in France, I think you’d probably be blown out the water.
PETE BROMLEY: I’m Pete Bromley, and the harbourmaster at Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, and I’m also the fisheries manager responsible for the infrastructure of the fish market.
RM: And there are crates upon crates upon crates upon crates of glorious fresh fish stacked up, going out to merchants at the moment, conger eels, lemon sole, you name it, you’ve got it here, Pete.
PB: Yes, this is the through the night and early morning sort of business, and the fish is being sold now to be transported away, in all parts of the country and eventually a lot of it will go on to Europe. Anything that a fisherman does is governed by the Common Fisheries Policy – the amount of fish they can catch, the sort of gear they can use, their entire lives are ruled by the Common Fisheries Policy. And quite rightly so, because it’s a pretty flawed policy, even after four attempts of reforming it, it’s still not really doing what it was set out to do. And it’s certainly putting a lot of pressure on the British fishermen.
RM: Well, this is Pam’s Snacks, which is where I think fishermen who’ve had a night on the trawler can come to get some breakfast. Pam, we’re looking at the issue of Europe and how it affects fishing, what are you hearing?
PAM: Well, to be honest, I think we should pull out of Europe, there’s a lot of rules and regulations that are coming in now, that Europe are, are doing, that’s killing the fishing industry. And there’s a lad that came in last week, and he said, ‘I had to throw about three boxes of haddock, beautiful haddock, and chuck it back in the sea.’ – Why, why, it’s crazy, it’s ludicrous.
UNKNOWN MALE: I’m voting for Pam when she goes in to the next election. Very well put Pam, very eloquent (laughter)
RM: You’ve been in the business 40 years, and is in the truth of the matter things are much better now, it’s been through this series of reforms, that it was when, when the Common Fisheries Policy first came in.
AG: No, not really. The fishermen have made huge efforts in gear technology, reducing the amount of undersized fish they catch, and the sacrifices that have been made that have led to the improvements of the fish stocks, we’ve had no payback for it.
RM: But the quotas are there for a reason, and they, they’re there to protect the environment, to make sure there’s enough fish to go round for everyone.
AG: That’s the theory behind it, but (exhales) if a fisherman is only allowed to catch a certain amount of fish – his quota – and he catches any more, then it gets thrown back, dead into the sea. So you tell me how that conserving?
RM: But the discards policy that you mentioned there, that is being phased out, isn’t it, under the latest reform?
AG: Yeah, okay, so now instead of the fish being thrown back into the sea, the fishermen has to stop fishing.
RM: You won’t find many people willing to defend the Common Fisheries Policy. It’s largely failed to protect the fishermen and the fish. But Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says that in his personal opinion, and he stresses this isn’t the view of his organisation, exit from the EU could actually make things worse.
BERTIE ARMSTRONG: Common sense suggests that collective action is better than a load of individuals competing, and in the fishing industry that’s largely true. Collaborative action so that no one individually over-fishes, or you don’t have what could be referred to as the tragedy of the commons of everybody trying to fish a little more than their neighbour. The negotiations, to have a sensible place outside the tent would be very complicated and full of hazard, particularly full of hazard for us, and this is highly significant, in that fishing – it’s very important to me, you would expect that, it’s very important in the areas where it happens, but, overall it’s less than half a percent of GDP. And so when a state is negotiating they will have pressure points, and fishing is unlikely to be a pressure point for the negotiating people who are trying to look after the UK’s relationship with Europe.
TH: This is Costing the Earth on BBC Radio 4. Today we’re examining the potential impact of exit from the European Union beyond the city walls. We’re looking at wildlife, fishing, farming and energy. If many fishermen actively dislike the Common Fisheries Policy, the feeling amongst farmers about the Common Agricultural Policy is ambivalent. It’s been at the heart of the European project for 50 years and in environmental and financial terms it really matters. Farming spends 40% of the EU budget. Brian Gardner is a policy analyst who’s just written a report for Agro-Europe, on the impact of Brexit on UK farmers.
BRIAN GARDNER: It’s quite complicated, but essentially they get a direct income subsidy which is worth something in the region of about £100 an acre, whether or not they grow any crop on it or not. In addition, they get stewardship and other subsidies which are designed to encourage an environmentally kindly approach to farming. And there’s no guarantee, of course, that a Brexit government, and ex— EU membership government would maintain support at that sort of level. In fact, I’m quite sure they would not. At the moment, the total expenditure on subsidies for the British farmer is about £3 billion a year – it’s quite clear that they would cut that to about £1 billion a year, in that order, I mean it’s a rough estimate.
COLIN TYLER: Their family came here in the 17th century, we’re looking over some parkland, we’re only a mile from Heathrow South runway, we’re looking over some old parkland where the Milton the poet’s family lived, and we’ve got some sheep who are grazing our parkland, and we have some highland cattle. And they’ve all just done a runner.
TH: Colin Tyler farms dozens of fields scattered to the west of Heathrow airport. He doesn’t deny the British farmer’s dependency on money from Europe, but he thinks it’s time for his industry to kick away its own subsidy crutch. So you would favour voting to leave the European Union.
TH: You went to the National Farmers Union conference recently. How many people shared your view?
CT: Erm, I arrived on the Monday night and our hotel was with my friends from the Welsh contingency and the Berkshire contingency and after about midnight, when all of us had one or two drinks we decided to talk about Euro (sic) and the exit. And I was shocked to find that, of a hundred people, farmers in that bar, I was the only one for exit. And . . .
TH: And what did that tell you?
CT: That either I’m wrong and they’re right . . . but my view is, is that they’re still saying they can’t farm without subsidies, they won’t have access to the markets, their business will end. I don’t think it’s that black and white. We have this one opportunity in our life to say, ‘We’ve had enough, it’s time for us to leave, time for UK farmers to stand on their own two feet.’ We produce the best milk in the world, the best beef, the best sheep. And thousands of other products, I think we can export to elsewhere.
TH: Have confidence in that ability?
CT: Have confidence in that ability and be brave enough.
TH: Maybe that’s easier for you to say here in the South East, relatively close to markets, a few opportunities for making money outside conventional farming. If you were a hill farmer a long way away you really need those subsidies. They make up a big proportion of your income.
CT: I would have to agree with that. It’s easier for me to make the decision, but let’s look . . . We’re in Europe, ten years time. Have we made any changes? The subsidy will be lower, the regulations will be higher. Would they allow us still to graze sheep on mountains, because they say we are destroying the environment?
TH: Of course, what’s bad for farmer’s income isn’t necessarily bad for the environment. Would lower subsides affect the landscape?
BG: Well, the problem is, from a social, from an environmental point of view, is that it would tend to push out the small family farm, which is essential really to the maintenance of the current structure of the rural areas, particularly the dairy farmers, of course, because they are suffering most at the moment, and if they lost that 30 to 40% of their income, if that subsidy was scaled down, then of course they would be forced to give up or become much larger, so there would be a tendency towards larger farms, fewer farmers – a move towards the countryside being dominated by large farms would tend, without government intervention, would tend to be not good for the environment in my view.
TH: Agricultural analyst, Brian Gardener sees an increase in intensification of agriculture in the lowlands. Out of the European Union we might be more free to plant genetically modified crops, but he doesn’t foresee any major in the chemicals that farmers are allowed to use. He also expects any UK government to continue subsidising upland farms, so don’t expect sheep to disappear from the Welsh Hills, the Yorkshire Dales or the Scottish Highlands.
TOM CLOTHIER: I’m Tom Clothier, I’m in charge of our renewable energy business here at Wyke Farms, and we’re on our anaerobic digestions site, where we generate most of our energy for our cheesemaking operation.
TH: One recent money-spinner for farmers has been renewable energy. Solar panels, wind turbines and bio-energy plants have popped up across the country.
UNKNOWN MALE: So we’ve got a tank here for holding strong waste, which is pumped down from our cheese dairy.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: So is it producing gas constantly, 24 hours . . .
UM: 24 hours day, yes, we’re, we’re producing gas. Erm . . . a third of the gas goes into electrical generation, and then the rest of the gas gets upgraded and goes into the grid.
TH: This anaerobic digester here at the Wyke Farms cheese factory is part of an extraordinarily swift energy revolution led from Brussels.
ANDREW WHITEHEAD: Renewables’ share of the power generation mix in the UK rose from around 7% in 2010 to 22-23% at the moment.
TH: Andrew Whitehead is an energy analyst with the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau in Birmingham.
AW: We’ve got, in the Climate Change Act 2008, our own self-imposed carbon reduction target, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, so that’s a really ambitious target. At the same time, in Europe, there is a binding renewable energy target which says that all member states must contribute towards helping the EU increase its share of renewables across the energy sector, and the UK is a share of that is 15%. And that’s binding. And that applies not just to power generation, but also to heat and transport.
TH: And how powerful has that target been up until now in delivering?
AW: Well, it’s been very influential, we’ve seen the problem has been that it’s quite prescriptive. So, in trying to meet carbon reduction targets the UK government is, to some extent, constrained, because it has to meet that binding European target for renewables while there are obviously other ways in which carbon reduction targets can be met, for example, energy efficiency, nuclear and more gas for example.
TH: Some people think it actually rather handcuffed policy, this renewable energy target and, for instance, made, you know, building a biomass boiler on a school more attractive than insulating it properly which some people think is a bit mad?
AW: I think that’s probably a fair comment, but I think the UK government has been quite influential in making sure that the EU’s new 2030 targets for renewables are not so prescriptive.
TH: Those European Union targets have been great for those subsidised to produce renewables and for an electricity company like Good Energy that buys that power and sells it on to consumers.
JULIET DAVENPORT: My name’s Juliet Davenport, I’m the founder and CEO of Good Energy, a green energy company. So we are here at Wyke farm in Somerset, which is a cheese manufacturers, but actually we are on their 100% renewable energy site, which is an anaerobic digester which generates electricity from gas, that is anaerobically digested from the waste of the cheese plant, and we are involved in buying some of the power from that site. There’s been a lot of technological development, not just in the UK, but worldwide, we’ve seen the Chinese come very strongly into the solar market, we’ve seen the Germans and the Danish move very strongly on the wind market, and then we’ve seen things like technologically, anaerobic digestion reduce in size so we can actually produce, economically gas and electricity from sites like this. So, I think you’ve seen the technological part, through, but obviously legislation part has been really strong so we saw a lot of the renewables directive, the European Renewables Directive that then set an outlying target for renewable energy in each country and we have the Renewables Electricity Act in the UK which brought in the 15% target across transport, electricity and heat in the UK. So it’s very much been driven by legislation, as well as by technological change.
LINDA HOLT: Looking at (placename unclear) we can see nine 125 metre turbines, but behind as there’s another four or five. If you were to sort of look up and jump in that direction, you’d see another windfarm with 125 metre turbines, I don’t know, there’s 12 or 13, so there’s quite, this is quite heavily saturated in terms of development, and quite a lot more have been consented that haven’t been built yet.
NANCY NICHOLSON: And they’re quite visible, actually, from the main road that leads down to the Forth Bridge and into Edinburgh.
UF: That’s the right, the A92, yes. Nobody can fail to see the turbines in Fife when they drive into Fife from Edinburgh.
TH: In Fife, Linda Holt agrees that the EU has encouraged renewable energy, such as the wind turbines that provide Good Energy with half its electricity, but she’s not keen on the consequences. Linda belongs to the campaign group Scotland Against Spin. She met our reporter, Nancy Nicolson, on a snowy hillside overlooking the Firth of Forth.
LINDA HOLT: It all comes back to the EU energy, Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 which stipulated that Europe should produce 20% of its total energy needs from renewables by 2020, and then the EU gave each country a percentage that they had to produce from renewables by 2020 and the UK was given 15%. Alex Salmond decided to gold plate this and declared the most ambitious renewable energy targets in the world by saying that Scotland should have 100% renewable, or the equivalent of renewables by 2020.
NANCY NICHOLSON: But this is a very industrial landscape. Yes, we’re looking at windmills, but we’re also looking just over the hill at Mossmorran. We can see the big chimneys, and I don’t know if it’s steam or smoke that’s coming up from there. The point is really that if we didn’t have renewables we would have more of these – more coal-fired power stations – and that would mean more climate change and worse air quality.
LH: Well, I don’t think we would have more coal-fired power stations, actually, what we would have is combined gas, and we’d have more nuclear. And perhaps we have had more research and development in other forms of renewables that are better than than wind.
NN: So, you would like to see Britain out of the EU? Do you think that Britain wouldn’t continue to support windfarms?
LH: Well, it’s not continuing to support wind— . . . certainly, onshore wind farms, the UK government has stopped all new subsidy for onshore wind, it’s still supporting offshore wind, but I think the days for offshore wind for new offshore wind farms are numbered.
TH: That, perhaps, is the nub of the debate over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The future of the environment would depend upon the UK governments that follow exit. Each of these enormous issues will need to be reassessed and weighed in the list of national priorities. Exit would just be the start of a debate on what’s best for our environment. Should landowners be subsidised to manage the landscape? How do we protect our fish stocks? Where should we get our low-carbon energy? They are all question we have, to some degree, allowed politicians and officials in Brussels to take the lead on. Are we happy to start each debate afresh?