Last modified: 16 November 2012
Agri-environment schemes are important for declining species such as yellowhammer.
Image: Steve Round
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, known as agri-environment schemes, were stopped or reduced.
Amidst fears of budgetary cuts, farmers confirmed that the environmental management they undertake would go down if funding for agri-environment schemes was reduced. This year sees the 25th anniversary of agri-environment in England, and many such schemes have delivered fantastic results for wildlife, but rather than protect and boost this vital source of funding, signals from Europe’s politicians, including our own, point to an uncertain future.
The questionnaire, to understand how farmers value agri-environment support, was carried out by the RSPB.
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 corn bunting.
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.
Next week, European Heads of State will meet in Brussels [22-23 November] to discuss the future of the EU's budget, including the amount of money spent on agriculture.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “Our big worry right now is that the cuts to European and domestic budgets could mean the largest single budget for wildlife conservation in the UK will soon be much diminished. We wanted to know what that might mean for wildlife friendly farmers and I think the results of this survey are loud and clear – it would be a disaster.”
Since the first agri-environment schemes were introduced in 1987, tens of thousands of farmers and landowners have helped wildlife.
David Cameron will be meeting his European counterparts in Brussels on 22 and 23 November. The RSPB is calling on all those who care about the future of the funding that benefits our countryside to step up for nature and email him. Urge David Cameron to safeguard this spending and get us, the public, more for the money spent on agriculture by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup
Nature is in trouble – so millions of people are stepping up to help. Our wildlife has been disappearing at an alarming rate. But small steps make a big difference. If we all act together and get stuck in, we can save our wildlife.
How you can get involved