The Wildlife Trusts describe today’s announcement on agricultural funding for 2014-2020 as a missed opportunity to boost investment in wildlife-friendly and progressive farming.
The Government’s decision to initially transfer only 12% from farmers’ direct payments to the budget for environmental and rural growth schemes instead of the full 15% for the full seven year period is disappointing.
Although it is a relief that the status quo is being maintained for which Defra should be congratulated, the fact remains that this is insufficient to meet the huge challenges facing the natural environment. A unique opportunity to create benefits for our natural heritage at no extra cost has been lost.
If the full 15% had been transferred, this money could have been used more wisely and effectively by targeting the farm-environment schemes that deliver far-reaching public benefits and ensure a better future for farming.
Farm-environment schemes don’t just ensure that wildlife thrives on farmland: the schemes play a vital role in sustainable farming systems, protecting soil, water quality and allowing pollinators such as bees the flourish – these factors are crucial in underpinning agriculture in this country.
The decision to transfer 12% across England rather than the maximum 15% allowable by EU rules compares unfavourably to the 15% adopted by the more forward-thinking Welsh government, but favourably against the 9.5% adopted by Scotland.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The Government’s decision leaves both taxpayers and wildlife short-changed. It shows a lack of ambition and poor understanding of how much nature matters to the future of farming. This money for agriculture comes to the Government from the EU and the Government had a clear choice on how to spend it. This funding could have been prioritised for those forward-thinking farmers who are not only producing food but also doing most for wildlife as well and creating other significant benefits such improving water quality. Instead, the Government will now spend vital millions on farming whether or not it provides public benefits.”
Farmland covers 69% of the English landscape. The Government needs to embed environmental protection and enhancement at the heart of agricultural activities to ensure that the good work achieved by farmers for nature over the last 25 years can be built upon. The average family contributes an estimated £400 each year towards the Common Agricultural Policy.
Paul Wilkinson adds: “The Government’s hesitant approach towards bolstering our natural heritage comes at a time when much of our farmland wildlife is on the critical list. We need to do more than simply retain the status quo. How the Government implements ‘greening’ is now even more critical. The need to restore nature is now so very urgent and the need is so pressing. The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work with farmers to help them improve the lot for wildlife on their land.”
In May this year, The State of Nature report revealed that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether. The new decision is not the bold approach that’s needed to reverse these declines.