The departure of Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary yesterday apparently leaves farmers without a friend at the seat of government although his replacement, Liz Truss, has strong credentials in the field of climate change and has been widely welcomed.
Green groups labelled Mr Paterson the worst environment secretary for decades.
He drew the ire of environmentalists over the badger cull, flooding defence spending and for his scepticism over man-made climate change, despite heading up the department responsible for adapting to the impacts of global warming.
Critics accused him of ignoring scientific evidence on environmental issues – mostly prominently on climate change – and claimed he made a mockery of Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to be the greenest government ever.
But he proved to be a friend to farmers, a key part of his brief as Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, taking their side on the need to cull badgers to tackle TB in cattle and in opposing the ban on widely-used pesticides linked to bee declines.
The CLA welcomed the appointment of Mrs Truss and urged her to keep the revitalisation of the rural economy at the forefront of Defra’s agenda.
President Henry Robinson said the CLA looked forward to working with her on the series challenges she will face: “The whole of rural England and Wales will be looking to Liz Truss to set an agenda which will assure the future of a living and working countryside.
“It is vital that the countryside and the businesses based there are not disadvantaged by legislation which is predominantly urban focused.
“We hope she wastes no time in grasping the nettle on the key issues for food and farming and presents a bold vision for our industry.
“We would like to see her continue the good policy work started under her predecessor, particularly in areas such as animal and plant health and flood management.”
He said Mrs Truss would bring undoubted qualities to the job – but also paid tribute to her predecessor: “Owen Paterson served with great integrity. He operated in a tough climate, and took some difficult decisions. His door has been open to the CLA and he has listened to our views.
“We thank him for the good work he has done during his term as Environment Secretary and we look forward to working equally constructively with the new Secretary of State.”
And Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU, said: “Farmers grow and produce the raw ingredients for one of the country’s most successful sectors, food and drink, worth some £92bn to the UK economy.
“I look forward to meeting with Liz Truss at the earliest opportunity and working together on some of the key issues facing our sector.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Owen Paterson for his hard work and dedication to farming and agriculture over the past two years.
“He showed an understanding of farmers and the farming industry and knew how important food production and food security is.”
After the announcement of her appointment, Liz Truss immediately faced calls from animal welfare campaigners to ditch the controversial badger cull, and to take a more scientific approach to environmental policy.
A spokesman for campaign group Greenpeace said: “Liz Truss has written extensively on the importance of science to education and the economy.
“If she can bring that respect for evidence and rigour into her new role, then we should see amore coherent approach to the environment than the embarrassing shambles of the last few years.”
Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said: “Liz Truss, Mr Paterson’s successor, has a mammoth job in a short period of time to turn around Britain’s approach to climate change, to protecting biodiversity, to dealing with bovine TB, and many other issues.”
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said Ms Truss’s priorities must include protecting households from the impacts of climate change, increasing flood defence investment, drawing up an action plan to help bees and working to restore nature.
“Above all, we hope she will mark a clean break with Owen Paterson by listening to science and striving for evidence-based decision-making.”
He added: “David Cameron is right to give Owen Paterson the boot - he’s the worst Environment Secretary the UK has had for decades.