ENVIRONMENT Secretary Michael Gove has emphasised the importance game and wildlife conservation plays in preserving the countryside and ensuring it continues to flourish.

Speaking at the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for game and wildlife conservation, which was chaired by Sir Nicholas Soames, he said 470,000 people are involved in field sports and game shooting in Britain.

He said: "When we think about the population that is concerned about the management of our land and environmental richness and diversity, and being able to contribute to the rural economy, those involved in game and wildlife conservation are equal in number and, in my view, just as important to listen to as those who have been managing the land for traditional agriculture enterprises.

"These have done so much over so many years to make our countryside productive and to keep it beautiful."

Mr Gove gave his views on the proposed new Agriculture Bill – profitable farming and the environment in the wake of Brexit.

He said: "There is an opportunity in this agricultural bill and an opportunity over the course of the next five years for Defra to ensure that the support we give, from the taxpayer to those who manage our land, goes to those who create the right environmental outcomes and in many cases that will mean working with organisations like the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to look at what has worked already."

He spoke of a common-sense approach to the new post-Brexit farming policy which will use what already works and improve upon elements that are not fit for purpose.

He also praised the GWCT’s Allerton Project, a research demonstration farm based in Leicestershire, which already "pioneers some of the techniques which I suspect we will want to see adopted in a more widespread fashion by land owners and managers in order to ensure that we reap the right environment for them."

Mr Gove also spoke about issues caused by the Common Agricultural Policy and how to avoid them in new agri-environmental policies currently in development at Westminster.

Organiser Dr Alastair Leake, director of policy at the Allerton Project, emphasised the need for "a simple voluntary scheme with a light regulatory touch to achieve the widest possible amount of farmer participants with bigger and better outcomes for not only nature and the environment but also for the people who are paying for this".

He singled out the importance of farmer clusters and longer-term stewardship schemes to farming developments in the future, which are part of the GWCT’s long-term environmental goals.