FARMERS will have to do more work benefitting the environment and the countryside for subsidies after Brexit, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has warned.

It what was his first major speech since being re-appointed to the cabinet, the leading Brexiteer said money given to farmers would no longer be dependent purely on how much land they had.

The SNP warned this sounded like a threat to Scottish farmers.

NFU Scotland said even with the change there would be a “justifiable case for Scottish agriculture to receive the same levels of funding as it currently receives”.

Last year, under the Common Agricultural Policy’s area-based support system, 19,674 different Scottish rural businesses received a total of about £650 million.

The UK Government has pledged to maintain levels of funding up to 2022, but Gove said ministers could only go on “generously supporting farmers” in the face of other demands on spending if the environmental benefits were clear.

Gove’s reform of the system would see payments for woodland creation, habitat protection, caring for treasured landscapes and better animal welfare.

He said: “I want to ensure we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.”

Gove, who last year failed in his bid to be Tory leader, added: “The Common Agricultural Policy rewards size of land-holding ahead of good environmental practice, all too often puts resources in the hands of the already wealthy rather than into the common good of our shared natural environment and encourages patterns of land use which are wasteful of natural resources.”

He said the UK should take the opportunity presented by leaving the EU to reward farmers for environmental protection.

SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson, who sits on Holyrood’s Rural Economy Committee, said Gove should also give a commitment not to grab powers over agriculture, fisheries and the rural economy to Westminster after Brexit, but repatriate them immediately to Holyrood.

“This is an unambiguous Tory threat to continued agricultural support funding after 2022 – that is the stark post-Brexit reality which the UK Government is now proposing for our rural communities,” Stevenson said.

He added: “Scottish farmers, like others across the UK, rely heavily on farming subsidies and their farm payments must be protected.

“Michael Gove’s empty rhetoric and false promises during the Brexit campaign have long since been exposed, and now he is backtracking on all the assurances he has ever made to Scotland.”

NFU Scotland’s director of policy Jonnie Hall said:“The clear statement regarding a move away from the current area-based support system fully justifies our approach to have an open and frank discussion with our membership now and every member of NFUS has received a copy of our Change document in the past few days.

“The Secretary of State’s statement that support ‘must be earned’ chimes with our thoughts. We would want to see a properly funded policy, supported by science-led decision-making, that builds on our animal health and welfare record and is focused on productivity and profitability gains.

“That means, in the future, there is a justifiable case for Scottish agriculture to receive the same levels of funding as it currently receives, ring-fenced and spent in new and more effective ways to improve productivity, efficiency and resilience.”

The Scottish Government, who are responsible for distributing CAP money to farmers north of the Border, has come under fire recently for delays in the payments.