Last month I blogged here about some important decisions on essential funding for wildlife-friendly farming in England. We were expecting our Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson, to have made them by the end of this month. The great news is that the other week he made a clear statement to the entire House of Commons on one of these decisions. He confirmed clearly that he would transfer 15% of EU farming funds from the huge ‘Direct Payments’ pot, which goes straight to farmers with very few conditions attached, to the far smaller ‘Rural Development’ pot, which supports wildlife-friendly farming as well as lots of other investment in rural communities and economies, delivering great value for public money. This is exactly what we’ve been asking for together with your help, and we’re very pleased.
But the decision on transferring the funding wasn’t the only important decision to be made, and the deadline for others has been postponed, which means there is still time to write to your MP and ask them to encourage Mr Paterson to maintain this fantastic support for nature on farms across the rest of his decision-making. If you’ve not had the chance to write a letter yet and you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, write to your MP now.
It’s vital that the boosted ‘Rural Development’ funding for farmers and land managers prioritises spending on well-designed wildlife-friendly farming schemes that support our farmland nature where it needs it most. Protecting the natural environment that a healthy UK farming system so relies on just isn’t rewarded by the market, but these schemes go a long way to help address that failure.
Even with the 15% transfer of funds away from the ‘Direct Payments’ pot, it will still remain by far the largest source of funding for farming. Almost all farmers receive direct payments but they fund few public benefits. As I mentioned in my last blog, to qualify for these payments farmers must meet some requirements (such as EU rules on water, soil and animal health) and over the next seven-years that these funds apply, there will also be a new ‘greening’ requirement. This means that a certain proportion of each farm will need to be managed for environmental benefit. If put into practice well this could provide a big boost to wildlife across the UK because almost every farmer would have to take some basic measures for nature, which would also secure much better public value from direct payments.
Mr Paterson still has to make decisions on these two issues - how he spends the money he will transfer to Rural Development funds, and how the new ‘greening’ requirements work here in England. Here are a couple of points you could raise with your MP:
You can find out who your MP is and their email address at http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/, or send your message through http://www.writetothem.com/. Got questions? Leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can help us monitor the progress of our campaign by sending a copy of your letter and any responses you get to the same email address.
Thanks for your support!
John Martin and Colum Delaney, Conservation Manager and Policy Advocacy Officer respectively at our Northern Ireland HQ, explain what you can do to help wildlife-friendly farming get the funding it needs.
We know that Northern Ireland’s wildlife is in trouble. The State of Nature report, launched in conjunction with 24 other environmental organisations in late May, painted a worrying picture of declines in a number of species. In particular, farmland birds have been amongst the hardest hit with approximately 50% declines since 1970. Iconic species such as, lapwing, curlew and yellowhammer are amongst the worst hit. Sadly the corncrake is now extinct in NI.
Three quarters of the NI countryside is farmed, meaning farmland makes up a really big part of the environment upon which our wildlife depends. Farming in a way that looks after nature, therefore, is one of the biggest steps we can take to turn around the current situation. We know this works. In east County Down for example, wildlife friendly farmers have helped boost numbers of endangered yellowhammers by a massive 79%, only possible because of important funding made available through N. Ireland’s Rural Development Programme.
This money, which also supports much other investment in our rural economies, comes from EU ‘Rural Development’ funds – a small proportion of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the most important pot of funding available for conservation in the UK. But in the European budget deal agreed earlier this year these funds suffered disproportionate cuts.
Our Government must also step up if we are to collectively turn around the fortunes of our native wildlife - the alternative is a countryside devoid of nature. This would be devastating, not only for farmers and landowners who are privileged to share this space with wildlife, but also for our rural economies that rely on tourism focused on our wonderful natural heritage. Since 2010, the RSPB estimates that approximately £40 million has been cut from the wildlife-friendly farming part of Rural Development funds in N. Ireland. This is very worrying as wildlife-friendly farming schemes are key to delivering a countryside rich in wildlife and one of the only streams of funding improving the sustainability of the wider landscape.
We have only one opportunity to urge the NI Executive, and the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill in particular, to support our wildlife friendly farmers. The Minister will have the option to transfer (or ‘modulate’) up to 15% of funds into our Rural Development Programme from the much larger portion of CAP funds devoted to direct payments to farmers. Wildlife friendly farming schemes not only deliver for the natural environment but also for rural communities and the wider economy, making them excellent value for public money.
Together we can help to convince Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill that prioritising wildlife friendly farming is good for all of us! Please ask the Minister to transfer the maximum amount possible (15% of funds) into the Rural Development Programme. If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare please email the Minister now at email@example.com as a decision is likely to be made in the coming weeks.
Got questions? Leave a comment or email Colum.firstname.lastname@example.org. You can help us monitor the progress of our campaign by sending a copy of your letter and any responses you get to the same email address.
Using food for fuel when millions of people are starving is wrong. The ‘If’ campaign is trying to persuade world leaders to stop using corn and palm oil to produce fuel for cars. But it’s not just people who are suffering because of the global demand for biofuels, nature is too. We’ve written before about two wonderful habitats for rare and endangered birds in East Africa – Dakatcha woodland and the Tana River Delta – and there are terrible examples of deforestation in tropical countries as well. What you may not realise is that the UK’s landscape is also changing and our green and pleasant land is becoming covered in ever more yellow rape-seed oil.
This demand is being driven by a well-intentioned but ill-designed European Union policy aimed at reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. This policy means that governments are giving the biofuels industry subsidies worth billions of pounds a year across Europe. The trouble is that not only do biofuels cause huge problems for fragile ecosystems, they don’t even reduce emissions in the way they’re meant to. More and more, research has revealed that if you grow food or energy crops for fuel, the greenhouse gas emissions can be even greater than using dirty old fossil fuels. This is because every time you change one field from growing food to growing fuel another bit of land somewhere else has to be brought into agricultural production (for example, by clearing an area of forest), and the emissions from doing that wipe out any benefit we might otherwise have seen and trash a vital habitat for wildlife.
The next few months will be crucial as the European Union debates a change to EU biofuels law. We know how to fix this problem in a way that will stop the harm being done to nature and the climate, while still allowing innovative industries to bring new, genuinely beneficial, technologies to the market. Two key parliamentary committees will vote on this issue soon – the Industry Committee on 20 June and the Environment Committee on 10 July.
Here is a list of those UK MEPs who are on these committees and will be able to vote directly: Linda Macavan – Yorkshire and The Humber, Chris Davies – North West, Giles Chichester – South West and Gibraltar, Julie Girling – South West, Fiona Hall – North East.
Even if one of your MEPs is not on the committee they will have a key opportunity to influence the vote by talking to those who are, so we need your help. Please e-mail or write to your MEPs and:
You can find out who your MEPs are, and how to contact them on the European Parliament website, or you could use the Write to Them website.
Please let us know if you’ve taken part by commenting on this post or by e-mailing email@example.com – we’d also be interested to see any replies you receive.
Thanks for your help!