A major survey of farmers’ attitudes to changes in the Government’s agricultural policy shows that English farmers recognise the need for the environment and animal welfare to be prioritised.

The results showed that farmers acknowledge the key link between a thriving natural world and successful farming.

The survey, published today by Wildlife and Countryside Link, showed that 80 per cent of farmers believe the health of the natural environment is important or very important for their farm business.

Pollution prevention was rated by most farmers as deserving Government funding in future farming policy, with more than half of farmers (56.2 per cent) believing that activities which prevent pollution should be supported.

Animal welfare (50.4 per cent), habitat restoration (41 per cent) and biodiversity conservation (38.2 per cent) all ranked more highly than food productivity and competitiveness, which 38 per cent said should be prioritised. Soil conservation and protection of crop, tree, plant and bee health were ranked closely behind at 37.2 per cent and 35.0 per cent respectively.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results revealed that smaller farms are the least likely currently to be undertaking environmental actions in response to problems on their farm. Less than half the number of small farms 100ha and under are undertaking soil improvements, wildlife habitat enhancement, or more efficient management of inputs such as fertiliser. But small farmers are just as likely to be planting trees.

The lower environmental activity level of smaller farms overall is possibly due to ‘economies of scale’ meaning that larger farms have greater financial scope to carry out such activities.

Further key findings from the independent research with 500 farmers, carried out on behalf of environment and animal welfare charities, reveal that:

● Two thirds of farmers say regulation is important or very important to protect standards in the farming industry. This is particularly significant considering over 90 per cent of respondents class themselves as ‘conventional’ or ‘high-input’ farmers

● Half (50 per cent) of farmers agree with the principle of ‘public money for public goods’ (one third are neutral, and one in five disagree with the principle). Younger farmers are the most supportive with 56 per cent in favour and only 15 per cent against public money for public goods.

● Increased weather volatility, e.g. flood and drought caused by climate change, is the second most commonly reported problem facing farmers (affecting 40 per cent), second only to increased costs and reduced profit margins (affecting 51 per cent). Weather volatility is hitting horticulture (75 per cent affected) and arable farmers (51 per cent) the hardest.

● A third of farmers are currently taking no environmental action to deal with problems on their farms, 44 per cent are undertaking one or two environmental activities, one in five are undertaking three or more

● Farmers cite lack of access to capital and uncertainty caused by Brexit as by far the biggest barriers to making environmental and other improvements to their farm business (41 per cent of farmers experienced lack of funds access and 41 per cent are struggling to make changes due to Brexit)

Helen Chesshire, senior farming advisor at Woodland Trust and chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Agriculture Group, said: "Farmers and conservationists are on the same page overall for the future of farming.

"Farmers are key guardians of our environment, and this research shows they know it is vital to our farming future to prioritise fixing the natural resources which farms rely on.

"With more than double the number of farmers in favour of public money for public goods than are against it, this research is a clear vote from farmers for keeping a strong environmental focus in future farming policy and legislation."