Brexit and Wales – Land and Sea: The Implications of Brexit for Rural Land Management and Fisheries in Wales

Location Aberystwyth
Date 13 February 2018

On Tuesday 13th February 2018 we hosted an event at Aberystwyth University which explored the implications of Brexit for rural land management and fisheries in Wales, with leading researchers and stakeholders from the fields of agriculture and fisheries giving their expert views on the implications of Brexit for Wales.

In the morning we heard from Griffin Carpenter, Senior Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, who presented findings from a report focusing on the catching sector and fishing opportunities, co-authored by the New Economics Foundation and ABPmer for the Wales Centre for Public Policy – Implications of Brexit for Fishing Opportunities in Wales.

In his presentation Griffin explained three key elements of risk and opportunity influencing the debate around Brexit and fisheries: access to waters; access to fishing quota; and access to markets. The importance of each depends on the nature and composition of the fleet and fisheries industry and in Wales this is very distinctive.  In Wales, most vessels are small-scale, landing mostly non-quota shellfish and fish species. Of these, most landings are exported, therefore exiting the single market, customs union and EU trade agreements with third countries is a serious concern for the Welsh shellfish and aquaculture sector. Of the small number of Welsh vessels that currently fish quota species, most make their landings internationally. While the Welsh fishing industry is relatively small economically and politically, Brexit provides the possibility of significantly growing the industry and the opportunity to revisit the different levels of decision making and options to reform fisheries policy for better environmental, economic and social outcomes.

The presentation was followed by a panel of researchers and industry representatives, chaired by Michel Kaiser, Professor in Marine Biology at Bangor University. He was joined by: Griffin; James Wilson – a mussel farmer and Director of the Menai Strait Fishery Order Management Association; Jim Evans, Chair of the Welsh Fisherman’s Association; and Graham Rees, Head of Fisheries at Welsh Government.

The panel discussed how the data and scientific research required to effectively understand and manage fisheries in Wales is equivalent to that of other countries that have far more active and productive existing sectors, e.g. Scotland. The costs are not necessarily borne by the industry and is therefore primarily reliant on the limited capacity and resources of the Welsh Government. Investing in research and development was seen as a priority. There was also discussion of how technology can improve tracking and enforcement within Welsh territorial waters.

Questions and comments from the floor were varied and insightful. There was interest in how expanding the sector could support local communities through career opportunities and the development of local supply chains. It was also noted that working towards fishing at levels of Maximum Sustainable Yield is beneficial for both the long-term health of fish stocks and the sustainability of fishing – a win-win situation.

After lunch we heard from Janet Dwyer, Professor of Rural Policy and Director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute, based at the University of Gloucestershire. Janet presented findings from her report for the Wales Centre for Public Policy – The Implications of Brexit for Agriculture, Rural Areas and Land Use in Wales.

Janet’s discussed the current state of agriculture and rural land use in Wales, setting out that away from the main conurbations, businesses in Wales are generally very small, and access to services can be very poor. Average farm income in Wales is poor, and the economic return for farm products is very low.

We can expect reduced levels of UK public funding for agriculture once we leave the European Union, and following a likely 3-year transition period; i.e. after 2022. Grazing livestock farms depend upon European Union funding, with sheep meat dominating production, most of which is exported to the European Union. Beef and dairy are consumed more in the UK. Sheep and beef farmers could be in a particularly disadvantaged position after Brexit. A decline in the economic viability of sheep production is likely. Dairy, horticultural, mixed and other farm types may be best placed to benefit from changes after Brexit. Tourism and leisure are also important, and forestry has potential if prices rise. North and West Wales are likely to face stronger negative impacts than South and East Wales.

The priorities for future management of agriculture and rural land use in Wales should be adaptation, through encouraging partnerships between government and key sectors, and ensuring a sustainable future support framework. The sooner the scale and accessibility of resources is known, the better.

Janet’s presentation was followed by an expert agriculture panel, chaired by Mike Woods, Professor of Human Geography at Aberystwyth University, and Co-Director of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD). He was joined by: Janet; John Davies, President of National Farmers’ Union Cymru; Glenda Thomas, Director of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups; and Peter Midmore, Professor of Economics at Aberystwyth University.

The panel discussed what they see as the key priorities for agriculture in Wales. Peter Midmore sought to place the discussion in the context of other key changes in state funding. He argued that any changes in agriculture are unlikely to match broader state changes such as the freeze in public sector pay. John Davies disagreed with this argument, arguing that farming matters, and that its economic contribution to Wales is huge. Glenda Thomas highlighted the importance of environmental considerations. Who else will respect the priorities of land management if not the land managers?

There were plenty of questions from the floor, generating discussion on whether the priority should be to harmonise regulations and funding across the UK or to encourage localism and differentiation, the implications of Brexit for environmental and wellbeing of future generations concerns, and the role of agriculture in relation to rural communities and services.

The event was positively received by both the delegates and speakers, and prompted a great deal of interesting discussion and debate. Our thanks to everybody who attended, and to Aberystwyth University for hosting us.