Policy From the People: Laying the Groundwork for Brexit Environmental Policy

Image Credit: Elliott Brown, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Making Brexit work for environment and livelihoods: Delivering a stakeholder informed vision for agriculture and fisheries (2019) Beukers-Stewart et al., People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10054

The Crux

Ok, last article on Brexit for the time being. Everyone rest easy. This week’s paper looks once again at the consequences of Brexit for both the agricultural and fishing industries, and the knock-on effects on Britain’s farmland and marine ecosystems. As has been echoed both by this week’s earlier interview with Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and the views from this week’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Brexit can represent an opportunity. An opportunity to put together a directive that helps maintain both marine and terrestrial ecosystems whilst not putting the people at a disadvantage.

This week’s paper is trying to get an understanding of how to put together that framework, by speaking to the people Brexit will likely impact more quickly than others: farmers and fishers. Government subsidies support many British farmers, and it’s not clear whether they’ll remain in place going forwards. Quotas could shift dramatically for fishers.

What They Did

The research team brought the groups of people into separate workshops, 40 from some level of the agricultural sector, 35 from the fishery sector. Both groups answered a pre-workshop questionnaire (although a lack of responses from the agriculture group meant their data was not considered). The workshops entailed a ‘World Cafe’ format, where after short presentations, groups of 4-6 people discussed key questions surrounding the impact of Brexit. Results were collated both from these groups and post-workshop follow-up questionnaires.

Did You Know: Shared Interests

I was lucky enough to speak to the lead author of this paper recently. Bryce Beukers-Stewart, a fellow Australian now living in Europe, and his team made sure that the first thing they did during the workshops was to identify common goals and priorities among the participants. The key to having a successful discussion like this one is finding common ground, which was easier than imagined, given that although participants were from the same sector, they were from very different areas within that sector. Finding those shared interests, like sustainability and access to low tariff markets, helped set the tone for a productive day.

What They Found

Well, a lot, obviously. This is a range of human opinions we’re talking about, so breaking down results by picking out the interesting bits is going to be even more subjective than normal (see the Did You Know section).

There seemed to be a lot of shared views across both groups. Both farmers and fishers obviously care about sustainability – they were adamant that this should remain at the heart of whatever new environmental directives are put in place. They both acknowledge that current EU policy is sub-optimal, and that Brexit represents an opportunity. But they both also seem to agree that the proposed changes to policy concerning both agriculture and fisheries are very flimsy, and don’t really take into account the people who work in these industries, or the environment.

World Cafe sessions do tend to proceed better when you can initially find some common ground (Image Credit: SuSanA Secretariat, CC BY-SA 2.0)

World Cafe sessions do tend to proceed better when you can initially find some common ground (Image CreditSuSanA Secretariat, CC BY-SA 2.0)


Workshops like this are obviously imperfect forums for getting a comprehensive view of the complete spectrum of opinions. Pretty much any study that relies this heavily on humans is likely to have the same issues. Capturing the conflicting views within even one table would have been difficult to write up (so you can imagine that a summary of the summary barely does it justice). But it is important to try and get an overview of how people feel going into a period of upheaval like this, and there are agreements, though potentially generalised, that can give policy makers vital information.

So What?

There is obvious potential for policy makers here. Tapping into these sort of workshops can give clear goals for forming new environmental policy. Unfortunately given the deadline for Brexit, whether or not this potential will be used is another story.

We’ll know better once the day is up.

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