What do you get if you put a farmer, an MEP and the RSPB in the same room to talk about Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform? Sadly there’s no punch line (and the answer is definitely not ‘punches’!) - instead you’re likely to get a passionate discussion about the importance of agri-environment schemes and the urgent need for the CAP to target support at High Nature Value farming systems.
Across 19-20 March, the RSPB (as part of BirdLife International) supported 8 farmers from across the EU to visit their MEPs on the Agriculture Committee so that they could tell their story about the role agri-environment schemes play on their farms. Representing diverse farming systems from the UK, Latvia, Portugal and Ireland, each of the farmers explained that the schemes allow them to ‘step up for nature’ alongside the production of agricultural commodities. And while each of the farmers was exceptionally proud of the wildlife their farms support, they were also honest that without CAP funding, they would not be able to manage their land in this way.
Gethin Owen*, one of the participating farmers who farms in Abergele, North Wales said, “As a farmer I have a duty to care for the countryside, and that means making sure that wildlife can thrive. The measures I have put in place on my land have made a real difference and this winter my land has been teeming with birds as a result. But modern farming is a business like any other and in order to continue providing these measures, we farmers must be supported”.
The RSPB and BirdLife were also keen to highlight to MEPs the critical need to channel support to High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems which, by the nature of their production methods, produce not just food but exceptional environmental benefits such as wildlife, clean water supplies and healthy soils full of carbon. Sadly, these systems are often economically marginalised and farmers face a stark choice between intensifying production or abandoning farming altogether, both of which would lead to environmental losses that are almost impossible to replace. These HNV systems urgently need the CAP to provide another option – one that will allow them to continue farming and producing the environmental benefits that society wants and needs.
As the European Parliament will play a significant role in determining both the design of the next CAP and its funding, this visit was a great opportunity to demonstrate that on some key issues, nature conservation organisations and farmers don’t just sit at the same table – they join forces! The farmers who came to Brussels welcomed the opportunity to explain to MEPs the value of their agri-environment schemes, not just for the environment, but for their farming businesses and wider society. They urged the 13 MEPs they met not just to protect the level of funding for agri-environment, but to increase it as part of the CAP reform process. The farmers also invited their MEPs to visit their farms back home so that they can see these amazing schemes in action.
‘Greening’ of the CAP is clearly a hot topic and was also discussed during the meetings. The RSPB emphasised that whilst improving the environmental performance of Pillar I payments is very much needed, ‘greening’ cannot replace what proven and targeted agri-environment measures can deliver.
The RSPB is hopeful that these powerful messages from farmers will ensure that the Parliament’s negotiating position on CAP, which is currently being developed, provides adequate funding and focus for invaluable agri-environment schemes and gives much needed attention to vulnerable HNV systems. As the wider EU Budget process (which will determine how much cash the CAP gets from 2014-2020) moves forward, all eyes will once again be on the amount of money this Policy costs taxpayers. In order to protect the best bits of the CAP, we will need every voice we can get to call for “More Money for Pillar II!!
* The other UK farmers taking part were James Bucher and Dan Skinner, both from Norfolk and Rory McKibbin from Northern Ireland.
Come on an RSPB training course!
Whether you're an arable farmer who wants to get the best from your agri-environment scheme, or an advisor looking to help clients to integrate conservation into their land management, we can offer you expert training at various locations around the country. Courses include a mix of theory and demonstration to show you the theory into practice, and are delivered by our expert team of agricultural advisors with the help of the host farmers.
This year, the farming courses on offer include:
Best use of Environmental Stewardship on an arable farm22 May and 27 June - RSPB Hope Farm, CambridgeshireFind out how to maximise farm wildlife conservation on farmland through Environmental Stewardship and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment: how to determine which species to focus on, putting together the right package of measures and how to manage them to get the best results for the farmer and wildlife.
Livestock farming – how commercial livestock systems can integrate the needs of farmland wildlife
20 September Great Wollaston Farm, Shropshire27 September Rectory Farm, Buckinghamshire
Courses will be held on a dairy farm in Shropshire and a beef and sheep farm in Buckinghamshire that have integrated management to benefit a range of wildlife over many years. Find out about the latest research, how to decide what wildlife to focus on and make the best use of agri-environment schemes. This course offers a mix of indoor presentations, exercises and on-site demonstrations of effective farm management practices that help wildlife.
Interested? See the full programme and find details of how to book here. If you haven't found what you're looking for, we can also offer bespoke courses designed to your own requirements so get in touch to have a chat about what you'd like us to provide.
Well now you can! Visit Defra’s new Green Food Project discussion forum and let them know what you think on topics including waste, diet, the role of new technology and how we should manage our land to produce a healthy environment as well as food.
In the Natural Environment White Paper, the Government promised to get together with stakeholders to discuss how to “reconcile how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production.” The Green Food Project is the result of this. The RSPB is participating in the project along with a range of other organisations with an interest in food, farming and the environment.
We set out what we think needs to happen in our paper to the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference. Farmers should be rewarded for producing a range of ecosystem services from their land – carbon storage, clean water and wildlife as well as food – to name but a few. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for the future: different farming systems deliver different benefits and are suited to different situations. Our choices on how we manage our land must be based on good evidence. We can’t tackle hunger in other parts of the world by producing more food here in England – to start with the hungry of the world wouldn’t be able to afford it! Ending hunger requires sweeping changes including improving the way food is distributed, investing in sustainable agriculture in developing countries, cutting waste at all levels of the food chain, and improving environmentally damaging farming practices. These are the messages we’re aiming to get across in our involvement with the Green Food Project.
Do you agree with the RSPB’s assessment? Is it important to you that England’s farmland supports flourishing wildlife as well as food production? Do you have any bright ideas on how to tackle the challenges facing farming and the environment? Get onto the forum before 3rd April and have your say.
Don’t you find that the world always seems better when you’re out in the fresh air, enjoying the steady arrival of spring?
We outdoor types on the Eastern England farmland advisory team certainly think so.
Looking at various winged things with RSPB and Buglife farmland bods
Happily this week we had chance to visit one of our favourite farms, meet up with some colleagues from Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, and learn more about the ‘Small Things that Run the World’.
By that I thankfully don’t mean Little Mix, at least not yet.
I mean the myriad millions of creeping, crawling, fluttering critters that keep intricate webs of food, water and nutrients moving in our countryside and play such an essential role in its health.
Things like the Large Garden Bumblebee – a threatened bee to which the Fens area is very important. It nests underground in rodent burrows in open habitat, and forages at deep flowers, particularly red clover and water mint, found in many fen ditches. It has suffered mainly due lack of flowers, loss of nesting habitat and insecticide exposure.
But a good clover-rich nectar flower mix next to a rotationally managed ditch and a grass margin where field mice can burrow is easily achievable in an Environmental Stewardship agreement and ticks a lot of boxes for this bee, which forms part of an army of pollinating insects worth £440M annually to the UK economy.
Things like the Necklace Ground Beetle – a declining farmland beetle. It is flightless and lives in leaf litter on the soil surface. It has suffered because of increased autumn cultivations which kill the larvae and prey, as do insecticides, and from loss of refuges like hedgerows.
But a beetle bank or rotationally managed hedgerow near fields containing weedy overwintered stubbles left fallow all summer is easily achievable in an ELS agreement and can make all the difference to this beetle and hordes of others like it, which if able to flourish, spend their entire juvenile and adult lives munching through pests.
So have you spotted how well this fits into our recurring theme? If you’re doing the Farmland Bird Package through Environmental Stewardship, providing insect-rich habitat, winter seed food and nesting habitat – through things like flower mixes, stubbles and summer fallows - then you’ll also giving a boost to all our precious pollinators, pest-controllers and poo-recyclers too.
So it turns out us at the RSPB and our friends at Buglife have lots of Little Things in common.
Do you? Tell us about the Small Things helping to run your farm.....
Essex Frank, Fens Niki, V&FA Emily, EERO Alison, Gaffer Simon and the brilliant Richard and Vicky from Buglife.
That helping farmland wildlife is important......That level of consensus can’t happen too often. The results of a ‘Voluntary Initiative’ survey amongst farmers was recently published. It encouragingly found that 86% of farmers agree that environmental management and wildlife conservation are important parts of their farm management. It seems to have been the season for rural surveys, because another recently publicised survey, this time carried out by the ‘Campaign to protect Rural England’, found that 84% of the general public believe that farmers have a responsibility to look after the landscape and wildlife for future generations. Who says there is little connection between the general public and farming - they seem at least to be on the same wavelength on this topic. If the farmers that manage the countryside and the general public that finances farm support through their taxes agree that looking after the environment is a critical role of modern land managers, you might think it just a short, simple step to making this a reality........and that once struggling farmland wildlife would be well and truly on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, those who ultimately make the decisions on how farm support is spent seem to be less sure. For enough farmers to take the steps that would really make a difference for wildlife, 3 things are essential: first and foremost there needs to be sufficient financial support; secondly, this support needs to be embedded in effective schemes that pay farmers to do the right things; and finally, farmers need clear advice about how to deliver these measures and how much is expected of them. It's safe to say that we are not where we need to be with these yet. Currently, only around 3 to 4% of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget is spent on the part of CAP that is about making a real difference for the environment on farmland, namely agri-environmental schemes. We also know that this rather paltry spend is not always as effectively spent as it might be. A report by the European court of auditors into agri-environment schemes found that while there has been progress since the introduction of agri-environment schemes, there were many examples where it was unclear or difficult to measure how payments would benefit stated objectives. For example, the French have spent millions paying their farmers to reduce fertiliser rates on grassland .......to levels above what the farmers would be applying as a matter of course! With the negotiations for the new CAP budget building, let’s hope that some agreement can break out amongst the bureaucrats on the importance of the environment in farming, and we can see more money being spent more effectively on this issue into the future.