Loss of set-aside threatens farmland bird recovery
30 January 2008
The RSPB warns that wildlife such as skylarks and stone-curlews could be under threat due to large areas of set-aside farmland going under the plough this winter.
Last year the RSPB predicted that high prices for wheat, caused in part by the worrying government incentives to grow biofuels, would prove impossible for farmers to ignore, but the sheer scale of the habitat loss shown in Defra’s announcement today comes as a unwelcome shock.
RSPB research suggests that the loss of uncropped land could have significant impacts on wildlife
The issue was highlighted by the RSPB when the European Commission announced its plans for the amount of set-aside land to be at 0% last summer.
RSPB research suggests that the loss of uncropped land on this scale, especially if mirrored across Europe, could have significant impacts on wildlife.
The RSPB’s Gareth Morgan, Head of Agriculture Policy, says: 'We are extremely worried about what this means for wildlife, especially as the European Commission have failed to put a realistic proposal on the table for anything to replace the wildlife benefits of set-aside.
'We applaud Defra for undertaking this research but these results are a wake-up call. They must now act to ensure a measure is adopted on all farmland in England'
The current 'Health Check' of the CAP provides an ideal opportunity for the UK to take the lead and convince other European countries that a measure to replace the wildlife benefits of set aside across the whole of Europe is needed.
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Set-aside was introduced in 1992 to remove land from production and reduce the EU’s grain mountains. In 2007 the EU suspended set-aside for a year, and the European commission has now put forward proposals to abolish set-aside completely next year as part of the 'Health check' of the CAP.
The Defra study aims to quantify the impact of the removal of the set-aside requirement across English farmland in 2007/2008. It suggests there will be a huge 85% reduction in temporary fallow land that provides food for farmland birds in both winter and summer and a reduction of up to a third in set-aside land that has been put down to permanent habitats such as grass.
Set-aside is good for birds because it provides ample food in winter and undisturbed nesting sites in spring. In East Anglia, 80 per cent of linnets spend the winter on set-aside, compared to one per cent on winter cereals.
In France, the little bustard is dependent on set-aside, in Austria, set-aside is important to birds of prey and a range of farmland birds. In Sweden, some farmland bird populations, including house sparrows, vary according to the amount of set-aside.
Set-a-side has also improved water quality by keeping land next to rivers and streams free of fertilisers, partly compensating for environmental damage caused by agricultural intensification.
BirdLife Europe is calling on European governments to require that farmers leave a small proportion of their land as Environment Priority Areas in place of set aside. This would ensure that wildlife is given a breathing space across all European farmland.