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Funding fears for wildlife-friendly farming

Last modified: 16 November 2012

Male yellowhammer in winter hedge

Yellowhammer

A survey of farmers in the UK has revealed that 96% think environmental work on their farms would be impacted if payments for wildlife-friendly farming were slashed next week.

The results come as the EU President Herman van Rompuy proposes swingeing cuts which will affect agri-environment schemes. Agri-environment - which funds nature conservation in our countryside - will be disproportionately hit by a cut of almost 10 per cent if Mr van Rompuy's plans are approved at an EU Budget meeting later this month. This compares unfavourably to a much smaller cut to the controversial agriculture subsidy budget.

This month sees the 25th anniversary of agri-environment in England, and many such schemes have delivered fantastic results for wildlife. In a survey we conducted, farmers confirmed that the environmental management they undertake would go down if European funding was reduced.

Essential

Results showed that 51% of farmers asked believe the environmental work would be impacted ‘severely’, and 7% think it would ‘stop’ altogether. Only 4% said environmental work on their farms would be unaffected by cuts to agri-environment schemes.

A reduction of this amount could spell disaster for wildlife in England, and the rest of Europe. As well as being important for widespread but declining species such as the skylark and yellowhammer, agri-environment schemes are essential for less well-known species, including cirl bunting and stone-curlew. It is possible that without this funding, these species could be lost from our countryside within a decade.

As well as helping to safeguard some of our most iconic wildlife and habitats, these payments also help maintain the financial viability of some farm businesses

As well as helping to safeguard some of our most iconic wildlife and habitats, these payments also help maintain the financial viability of some farm businesses. 71% of farmers said that agri-environment scheme payments were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important to the viability of their business, and 8% said they are ‘completely vital’, demonstrating the close fit between profitable farm businesses and environmental stewardship.

Andrew Brodie from Manor Farm in Lower Dean, Huntingdon has been in agri-environment schemes for 7 years, and is concerned they may be cut. He said: “I really fear that all the hard work from all the wildlife-friendly farmers across the country will be totally undone if Europe cuts this funding. Farmers like me won’t be able to afford to continue all the environmental work they do on their land and nature will suffer as a consequence. This survey is proof that agri-environment schemes are vital for a healthy countryside. I hope Mr Cameron takes notice before next week’s meeting or it’ll be too late.”

Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “It is outrageous news that President van Rompuy is asking EU leaders to cut the largest single budget for wildlife conservation in the UK. We wanted to know what cuts to this budget might mean for wildlife friendly farmers and I think the results of this survey are loud and clear – it would be a disaster.

"These payments provide excellent value for tax payers' money by delivering benefits for rural communities and wildlife - but they are an easy target when it comes to cutting budgets. Once again our environment is set to suffer for the sake of short term political convenience."

Since the first agri-environment schemes were introduced in 1987, tens of thousands of farmers and landowners have helped wildlife.

How you can help

David Cameron will be meeting his European counterparts in Brussels for the European Heads of State meeting on November 22 and 23. We're calling on all those who care about the future of the funding that benefits our countryside to step up for nature and email him using our simple online action. Urge him to safeguard this spending and get us, the public, more for the money spent on agriculture.

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