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Farmers, conservationists and industry experts come together to celebrate wildlife friendly farming at Brussels conference

Last modified: 28 November 2012

Gethin Owen from Nant yr Efail farm, standing on a grassy hill

Wildlife-friendly farmer, Gethin Owen, is attending the conference

Image: The RSPB

Conservationists, farmers, volunteers and industry experts will gather at a wildlife friendly farming conference in Brussels today [Wednesday 28 November], almost a week after European leaders met there to negotiate the EU Budget but failed to reach any agreement. The conference is being held to celebrate the success of the RSPB’s Birds Directive on Farmland project, which has allowed the RSPB to support thousands of farmers in delivering a better environment.

Through the project, which was funded by the EU LIFE+ Programme, the RSPB has been able to engage, enthuse and advise farmers across the UK on how to deliver top quality habitat management for the benefit of biodiversity as part of a profitable farming business.  The conference aims to show how similar activities could work in other countries across Europe.

Farmers, volunteers and staff involved in delivering the project will be there to share their experiences, both as part of the official conference programme [see editors’ notes] and through networking during breaks.

Successes of the RSPB’s Birds Directive on Farmland project over the past three years include, the RSPB providing free bird surveys to over 2,000 farmers and giving environmental advice to more than 600 of them; more than 2,000 farmers attending farm events run by RSPB farmer advocates; and more than 300 farmers entering the Nature of Farming Awards each year.

The conference programme includes a number of talks. Highlights include Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, opening the day by celebrating the successes of the EU LIFE+ project to support wildlife-friendly farmers; Birdlife International’s head of EU policy, Ariel Brunner, explaining the role of the Common Agricultural Policy in meeting the needs of the EU Birds Directive; and a number of farmers, advisors and volunteers in the programme giving their views of on how the project has supported farmers and wildlife

As well looking back at the successes from the project, the conference will also look ahead to the RSPB’s plans for the future.  Dr Darren Moorcroft, the RSPB’s head of species and habitats conservation, will launch a new programme to enable the whole agricultural industry to learn how best to support wildlife-friendly farming together.

Farmers attending the conference share in a desperate hope that European leaders recognise the value of funding to our countryside.

Gethin Owen, from Nant-yr-efail Farm near Conwy in Wales, said: “Through this project, farmers have learnt so much about the work that can be done on their land to protect and support farm wildlife, however, it is all dependent on funding being available. As the future of wildlife friendly farming hangs in the balance, we hope Europe’s leaders will eventually see how important it is, for the future of our countryside and our wildlife, and agree on a fair deal.”

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s director of conservation said: “70% of the UK is farmed. As well as feeding us, a huge proportion of our wildlife lives, breeds and feeds there.  Farmers are not just food producers, they also need to be vital guardians of our landscape and wildlife, but they need financial backing to be able to do this.  This project proves what great work can be done with the right funding. It’s imperative all this hard work doesn’t go down the drain.”

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