ENGLAND is facing the biggest upheaval in land use since 1947 with no national strategy to determine the future of farming, food, and address climate change, says a new book.

Rarely has the countryside faced so many challenges – and potential opportunities - with so little coordination, still less ambition, according to Peter Hetherington, of Wylam, author of Land Renewed: Reworking the Countryside, published by Bristol University Press.

As a result, he says, Boris Johnson and his ministers are hosting the COP 26 summit in Glasgow with merely warm words to address the climate emergency – but with few, if any, proposals for practical action to address the multiple challenges facing land, farming and the climate.

With almost three-quarters of UK land devoted to agriculture - one of the largest areas of farmed land in Europe - he argues that raising domestic food production should be a key priority of government. Yet, it has effectively abrogated responsibility for feeding the UK – contrary, arguably, to a Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 which places upon it a duty to communicate problems with the UK’s nations.

He argues that the current food crisis – with producers destroying crops in fields and glasshouses, because of labour shortages and, hence, planning production cuts next year – will lead to falling domestic production and therefore more imports from the EU, particularly from the Netherlands and Spain.

With production subsidies being phased out from this year to be replaced by a yet-to-befully-defined Environmental Land Management Scheme, or ELMS, to encourage nature’s recovery, perhaps a third of farmers will be forced off the land, he says.

Told through personal, inspiring stories of people and places, Land Renewed sets out the innovative measures needed for nature’s recovery while protecting our most valuable farmland, encouraging local food production and ‘re-peopling’ remote areas. It begins in Wylam and outwards of the Tyne Valley.

Peter Hetherington, former regional affairs editor of The Guardian, explores how the pressures of leaving the EU, recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, and addressing global heating, present unparalleled opportunities to re-work the countryside for the benefit of all. He argues that we need to re-shape the countryside with an adventurous, new agenda at the heart of government.

Land Renewed is available at Cogito Books in Hexham.