The Clacton constituency of UKIP’s Douglas Carswell is particularly vulnerable to global warming, says local farmer
By Megan Darby
The Essex town of Clacton voted in Britain’s first UKIP member of parliament in a by-election last month.
Douglas Carswell, who defected to the right-wing Eurosceptic party from the Conservatives, has told RTCC he is sceptical about manmade climate change.
But Clacton is one of the most vulnerable areas of the country to the impacts of climate change, a local farmer warned on Monday.
Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers Union, told a meeting in London: “As a farmer, I have got more skin in the game than most people.
“As a farmer in Clacton-on-Sea, I have more skin in the game than most farmers.”
One of the driest parts of the UK and a coastal town, Clacton is particularly susceptible to both drought and sea level rise – two of the forecast impacts of climate change.
That does not appear to have convinced Carswell, Clacton’s MP since 2010, it is a matter for urgent action.
He declined to comment on the latest developments, but has a record of voicing doubt over the scientific consensus on climate change.
In a blog last year, he said his “biggest regret as an MP” was a failure to oppose the UK’s Climate Change Act.
He blamed the 2008 law, which committed the UK to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, for pushing up energy prices.
And in a previous interview with RTCC, he professed scepticism that human activity was causing climate change.
“The climate has always changed and it always will change,” he said.
That is at odds with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which summarise the work of hundreds of scientists.
The IPCC says human influence on the climate is “unequivocal”.
Smith admitted “farmers have struggled to engage with the climate change debate in the past” – not helped by some inaccurate long term forecasts.
His neighbours experimented with growing apricots and peaches, for example, only to find them killed off by frost.
But they increasingly recognise that weather conditions are changing, he said.
“If there is one word to describe agriculture in the last 5-10 years, it is ‘volatility’,” said Smith.
“That is volatility of weather and volatility of markets – and the two are related. Farming becomes far more speculative.
“My worry is that may lead to a lack of investment in our farms, just at a time we need to invest more in weatherproofing.”
Farmers can prepare for climate change impacts with improved irrigation and flood defences, he explained. But they may be put off spending money due to uncertainty over their future income.
Much of the coastal farmland in Essex and East Anglia was created by draining salt marshes centuries ago.
One way of adapting to climate change is to allow that land to revert – as birdlife charity RSPB did with the Wallasea Island nature reserve.
Smith argued that government should instead act to preserve it as farmland.
The UK imports some 40% of its food and growing, which leaves it exposed to price fluctuations in global commodity markets.