Bees, birds and hedgerows at risk

Posted on 31st October 2013



Public must act to protect nature on farms

28 day consultation asks:  farming with – or without – nature?

This morning the Government launched a consultation on how the Common Agricultural Policy should shape the future of farming and the rural economy in England from 2015-2020.

The Government has given only 28 days for the public to have their say on how 69% of the English landscape is maintained and how farmers can be financially supported to deliver the environmental benefits that underpin sustainable food production, healthy ecosystems and rural communities.

The Wildlife Trusts are gravely concerned that overall budget cuts will mean a halving of the area of land currently benefiting from farm environment schemes. Additionally, we are extremely disappointed at the Government’s lack of ambition on implementation of the new ‘greening’ measures, which are linked to 30% of the payments that all farmers receive.  The consultation makes it clear that it intends to implement greening in a way that keeps close to the basic European requirements.

We welcome the Government’s support for moving the full 15% funding allowable under EU rules into the purse that supports the farm environment schemes that do most for nature – this is a necessity if such schemes are to be viable in the future.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, says:  “A healthy natural environment, where farmland is producing food but also bursting with wildlife, underpins sustainable farming systems.  Currently 70% of farmland benefits from farm environment schemes that help both commonplace and rare wildlife. Reducing this to 35/40% and adhering to the EU’s very basic requirements for greening could be disastrous for our natural environment. It is bad news for bees, birds and hedgerows as well as water quality and a host of other environmental considerations.”

Helen Perkins, Living Landscape Development Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, says:  “Farmers have made a huge commitment to delivering farm environment schemes during the last 25 years.  They  have restored and connected areas of flower rich grassland to benefit butterflies like the marsh fritillary, they are bringing species like cirl bunting back from the brink, have restored hedgerows and wetlands, and  created  new habitats for bees and other pollinators.  We need to make sure that all this good work is sustained, but also we now need to see farming for nature mainstreamed – with environmental standards raised on every farm so that exemplary environmental practises are not restricted to pockets of the countryside.”

The Wildlife Trusts welcome:

  • The Government’s affirmation that CAP will be a strong contributor to Government environmental objectives and the highlighting of biodiversity, water and soils quality, and specific mention of restoring peatlands.
  • A new element of environmental land management schemes being delivered on a landscape-scale, in addition to the actions targeted at the most valuable sites for nature. However, the limited budget means it’ll be restricted to a small number of areas.
  • The Government’s desire to produce a package of measures to generate more habitats and food sources for pollinators.  However, these must be developed across the whole landscape – in grassland as well as arable systems – and must be strategically linked across the landscape to create sustained enhancements for these species.

In the future, The Wildlife Trusts believe we need to ensure that public money (the CAP budget for the UK totals almost £20 billion) is deployed for public benefit with more transparency in how his huge amount of money is being spent.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the Government can do two things to ensure that we continue to reward farmers for delivering environmental measures on their farms:

Firstly, it can sustain the funding for farm environment schemes by transferring the maximum amount allowed from another CAP budget pot (the direct payments pot) to the budget that supports these schemes (the rural development pot).

Secondly, it can use the ‘greening’ measures that are being introduced to farms across Europe (and which are linked to 30% of farmers’ direct payments) to maximum benefit-raising environmental standards.  It can also make sure that farms which are unable to get into environment schemes can play their part in helping to address  issues such as the loss of wildflower-rich grasslands and the fragmentation of remaining habitats across farmland.