16 March 2011
Around 75% (about 1 million ha) of the Northern Ireland (NI) countryside is used for agricultural purposes. This industry is vital for the NI economy employing over 3% of the population, well above the UK average of 1.3%.
Before the introduction of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in the early 1970’s, the NI Agricultural landscape was mixed, supplying varied habitat for associated farmland wildlife. Land use in NI is now dominated by improved grassland management for dairy, beef and sheep production. County Down is now one of the last areas of cereal production.
As elsewhere in Europe, agricultural policy has driven this process – and often with significant impact on farmland wildlife. The loss of farmed habitats has pushed seed-eating birds such as yellowhammers and wetland-loving wading birds such as lapwings into steep decline.
Grey partridges and corncrake are now extinct in NI, and others, like the chough, teeter on the brink. The RSPB believe that as well as its vital food production role, farming is of fundamental importance for wildlife and eco-system services (soil protection, climate regulation, water quality). Although agriculture is often associated with a suite of environmental problems, it can also provide the solution.
The RSPB in Northern Ireland is working for:
- A more equitable CAP that pays farmers for the delivery of public goods backed up by a strong legislative baseline and the polluter pays principle
- An agriculture sector that is equipped to face the future challenges of supplying safe, healthy and sustainable food, adapt and mitigate climate change, halting biodiversity decline and improving water quality
- A fully-funded Rural Development Plan and an Agri-environment scheme that delivers for threatened species and eco-system services
- Targeted delivery of the Countryside Management Scheme ensuring the right options in the right places, particularly for priority species
- Farm agreements that secure additional environmental benefits by meeting the year-round requirements of farmland birds
- Continued pressure on government to implement reform of the LFA scheme so that it delivers meaningful environmental public goods.