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Farming reforms must deliver for wildlife

Last modified: 12 October 2011

Male lapwing in breeding habitat

Farmland birds such as the lapwing rely on wildlife friendly farming methods for their survival

Image: Andy Hay

RSPB Scotland has warned that the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could put wildlife in the country and across Europe, at risk.

The CAP reform proposals published by the European Commission today (Wed 12th Oct) will determine how approximately £4 billion of taxpayers’ money will be spent in Scotland in future.

The budget is split into two pillars of spending – direct payments for farmers, and funding for rural development schemes.   It is believed that EU ministers want to divert already inadequate rural development money away from environment schemes, and into other areas such as research and competitiveness.

In Scotland, farmland birds such as the lapwing, corncrake and corn bunting rely on wildlife friendly farming methods for their survival.  But changes in farming methods, encouraged by past CAP subsidies, have led to substantial declines in the population of these birds and other farmland wildlife.

Agri-environment schemes, paid for by the CAP, can and do play a key role in supporting Scottish farmers and crofters who help wildlife. Without them it is possible some farmland species could disappear completely in the future. However, only a small proportion of the overall CAP budget is dedicated to these measures and the reform proposals will do little to shift more of the funding in this direction. One specific proposal, will actually allow some countries, including the UK, to move funding from rural development programmes – of which agri-environment schemes are part – and into direct payments (Pillar I of the CAP). Such a move would spell disaster for farmland wildlife.

Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy at RSPB Scotland, said: “In a time of financial austerity, and if Scotland is serious about meeting its 2020 biodiversity targets, this money must be used wisely to support a greener and more environmentally friendly approach to farming and food production. The proposals go some steps towards this - but not far enough – and are likely to be watered down substantially as negotiations proceed. If we’re not careful, we will have even less support for wildlife friendly farming in the future than there is now. For the sake of our wildlife we cannot afford to take a backward step.”

The new proposals are also likely to offer no support for traditional farming systems in the Scottish Highlands, Romania, Poland and elsewhere, which have low profit margins but provide vital habitats for wildlife. These High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems could disappear unless they get the targeted support for the environmental benefits they deliver.

Under the new rules there will be a ‘greening’ element of direct payments. Farmers will be required to put 7 per cent of their land into environmental management. While this is a welcome addition to conservation efforts, RSPB Scotland believes it must not be viewed as a substitute for targeted agri-environment schemes.

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