What would you say is the policy that has the greatest impact on wildlife in the UK? The Habitats Directive? The Wildlife and Countryside Act maybe? Or perhaps the Convention on Biological Diversity?
From my viewpoint, albeit a biased one, it is none of these. If I were to choose one, it would have to be the Common Agricultural Policy. Worth over £3 billion per year across the UK, I’m sure many of you are more than aware that the CAP has a major, and in many cases decisive impact on the quality of our countryside.
Many of the habitats that farmland birds, invertebrates and other wildlife depend upon are in turn dependent upon continued support under agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship and Rural Priorities.
However, continued declines of many iconic farmland birds such as skylark, turtle dove and grey partridge suggest that these schemes are not, by themselves, enough to reverse the declines of some of our most cherished species. The CAP must and can do more for the environment if we are to reverse the declines in British wildlife, and address many other issues such as water quality and the need to adapt to climate change.
The ‘greening’ of the direct payments presents us with this opportunity. Proposals put forward by the European Commission in 2011 suggest that 30% of direct payments should be conditional on farmers and land managers carrying out certain greening measures. In England alone, £1.6 billion will be paid to farmers through direct payments in 2012 – and 30% of that would equate to £480 million, roughly £80 million more than is currently spent on English agri-environment schemes. It is plain to see then that if done well greening represents a massive opportunity to turn around the fortunes of wildlife dependent on sensitively managed farmland.
The key now is to ensure that greening is implemented in a way that provides meaningful and additional environmental benefits on every farm. One of the most promising measures, Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), offers great potential as it would require an area on most farms to be managed for wider environmental benefits. If EFAs are introduced to complement, not conflict with, agri-environment schemes, with a transitional period for those with existing agreements, EFAs could represent a significant step forward toward a CAP focused on rewarding wildlife-friendly farming.
Recent signals from Member States however suggest that the greening measures may be diluted to such an extent as to be near worthless. Whilst there are still significant improvements to be made to the Commission’s proposals, many of the arguments that have been put forward to counter greening can and must be challenged. EFAs are not, for example, a return to the ‘set-aside’ of old, nor would they result in a massive reduction in commodity production from the EU.
Despite some calls to maximise commodity production in the EU to feed and clothe a growing global population we have to recognise that it is not the role of Europe to feed the world (although of course we must continue to be a strong producing group of nations). The role of the EU, and a role in which the CAP must be central, is to produce food alongside other vital ecosystem services whilst our governments support developing nations to do the same. Greening of the CAP can help this process and the opportunity must be taken. If it isn’t, then it will not only be a body blow for British wildlife, it would also amount to a withdrawal of the ambition to enhance the environmental performance of the CAP - which to date has been central to the current reform process and which is crucial for our long term food security.
What do you think about CAP greening? If you had £3 billion to spend on farming in the UK, what would you spend it on?
Hi Jen,thank you for your reply but the RSPB must know that to have a impact the petition has to get 100,000 signatures as I understand it anyway.
Personally and for sure others think the RSPB are dragging there feet as it will need a big campaign to succeed.However unfair the critisism seems I suggest that the RSPB is if it intends success for the petition is shooting itself in the foot as while such as my family will not cancel membership we certainly are not going to back things like the Loch Lomond project which is a really sad state of affairs.
Hi Sooty, As you're already aware, the RSPB thinks vicarious liability is a necessary development of wildlife law and therefore support the intent of the petition you mention.
The Law Commission is reviewing wildlife law in England and Wales and this is likely to lead to the most fundamental reform of wildlife laws in 30 years. The Commission intends to consult on its proposals late July-Nov this year and we expect that it will propose a new offence of vicarious liability. We will be encouraging our supporters to respond to the consultation and make their voice heard – not just on this particular issue but encompassing the continuing need for strong wildlife protection laws, appropriate offences and more effective penalties etc. We’d really welcome your help when the time comes!
The Government's Environment Audit Committee is also conducting an inquiry into wildlife crime, to which we have submitted evidence, including on raptor persecution and the benefits that a new offence of vicarious liability might bring. The Committee’s recommendations will feed into the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law later this year.
The RSPB most certainly cares about Hen Harriers, indeed we continue to invest more in Hen Harrier conservation than any other organisation, including the statutory agencies. Vicarious liability on its own will not prevent the extinction of breeding harriers in England, but it should help counter the serious impacts of ongoing persecution.
The first thing that a real absolute fraction of that money should be spent on is getting the RSPB to back the vicarious liability petition.What good is it putting a long good blog on here while the RSPB takes the stance of not caring about the Hen Harrier.At the same time asking for money fo Loch Lomond reserve.cannot say any more,find it impossible to understand,are you sure the letters stand for Royal society PROTECTION of birds.