The Conservatives have pledged to raise the UK budget for farming subsidies by £1bn over the next parliament – far lower than the level demanded by countryside and nature groups.

The promised funding will ensure the budget rises by inflation in every year, the Tories said, with farmers able to spend “every extra penny” on grants to boost domestic production, on top of the existing nature-friendly farming schemes which have replaced EU-era subsidies.

As it fights for the countryside vote with Labour, which polling puts narrowly ahead in rural areas, and the Lib Dems who are often the alternative in such constituencies, the Conservatives claimed to “always be on the side of farmers”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak launches the Conservative Party General Election manifesto at Silverstone in Towcester

The Tory manifesto includes asked-for reforms to the planning system to fast track permission for building infrastructure on farms such as glasshouses, slurry and small-scale reservoirs, and pledges to introduce a legally-binding target to enhance food security.

The party also said it would move away from the reliance on seasonal migrant labour with a five-year visa tapered scheme, alongside investment in automation and promoting agri-food careers and skills.

Read more: Lib Dems pledge £1bn boost to sustainable farming schemes in rural offer

And it pledged to “stand up for farmers when negotiating new trade deals”, following warnings from farming groups that post-Brexit deals undermined British producers by allowing in foreign food that has been reared or grown to standards that would be illegal if produced here.

For rural communities, there were also pledges to boost rural broadband and affordable housing, make no changes to the Hunting Act, and make sure arms length bodies were responsive to the communities they serve.

Read more: Labour manifesto silent on funding for nature-friendly farming

Since Brexit, the Government has developed a new approach to farming subsidies which focus on payments for providing “public goods” such as healthy soil, protecting rivers, and creating wildlife habitat.

The Tories said they would build on work so far to ensure the schemes work for all farmers, from tenants to the uplands, and pledged the extra cash, though it falls well short of asks from the farming lobby, and environmental groups who see it as key for delivering a reversal in declines in wildlife.

(Image: PA)

In recent weeks, the National Farmers’ Union has called for an increase of just over £2bn a year in the UK-wide agricultural budget to deliver environmental goals and sustainable food production.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the budget for England had to rise by more than £1bn, and the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) coalition of conservation and environmental groups has also asked for a £1bn a year increase for nature and climate-friendly farming funding.

Responding to the manifesto Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, welcomed its commitment to halting nature’s decline by 2030 – a target put into law by the last Government.

“However much stronger action is needed to meet the targets.

“The modest increase in the farming budget could help, but only with a guarantee that funds will be spent on nature-positive projects,” he said.

But he warned plans to scrap the “nutrient neutrality” rules which prevent developments from worsening pollution in protected sites, and to deregulate the planning system “would be a step in the wrong direction for wildlife”.

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said: “The CLA has long called for a greater farming budget and we welcome the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to increase it by £1bn, and ensuring it rises by inflation every year, while continuing the positive approach to supporting our world-leading environmental land management schemes.

“The manifesto also offers some fresh policies, such as hitting fly-tippers with points on their driving licences, but the party must go further on reforming the planning system and supporting small-scale housing development in the countryside.”

Joan Edwards from the Wildlife Trusts said: “It is vital that we support nature-friendly farming in an environment where we increasingly see farmers struggling to produce food on frequently flooded or scorched fields.

“The Wildlife Trusts are pleased that the Conservative Party are re-committing support to uphold the real value of the farming budget but must also include more funds for environment land management schemes not just food production.”