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Secretary of State makes the right decision on crisis facing English farmland wildlife

Last modified: 19 July 2013

Insect on dewy ears of barley

Image: Andy Hay

The future of threatened and declining wildlife on English farmland, such as the turtle dove and greater horseshoe bat, looks less bleak following the Secretary of State for Defra’s commitment last week to boost funding for farmers who want to do the most to enhance the environment, biodiversity and rural development.

Following disastrous EU deals on both the Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) budget and the environmental conditions attached to this money, the RSPB feared there would be little available to support farmers who are doing their bit on their land to restore wildlife and the environment. However, the RSPB is delighted that Mr Paterson will cushion our most progressive farmers from the worst impacts of political horse trading by shifting the maximum allowable into rural development programmes, in particular into environmental schemes.

The crisis facing farmland wildlife in the UK is severe. The recently-published State of Nature report showed that over a third of those farmland species which are monitored have strongly declined since 1970.

Charlie Watson-Smyth, who farms near Padstow, is a national finalist of the 2013 RSPB/Telegraph Nature of Farming Award. He said: “We have many special wildlife species on our farm and without wildlife-friendly farming payments, we would struggle to keep these special species in the Cornish landscape. The money taken from farmers’ direct payments will be transferred to the rural economy, so it’s still funding which farmers can bid for. We’re proud of our produce and our wildlife, so having access to funding that recognises all of our work is the most valuable.”

James Bucher, a wildlife-friendly farmer from Suffolk, said: “I have always taken the view as a farm business that I should not rely upon my single farm payment. I have many poor yielding areas of the farm that I have placed into arable stewardship options, making the best of this land for wildlife means I not only provide benefits for wildlife but also demonstrate I am good value for the public investment I receive. Therefore, I can only view a transfer of funds from Pillar One at 15 per cent to agri-environment budget as a good and sensible way forward.”

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. He said: “The Secretary of State’s commitment to maximise the funding available for rural development in England is great news for the environment and the long term sustainability and competiveness of farming. Our quality of life and a thriving rural economy are both utterly dependent on a countryside which is healthy and bursting with wildlife, but as the State of Nature report showed us, this is far from reality in many areas. Mr Paterson’s decision will help ensure the public’s investment in farming buys the kind of environmental enhancement that is so desperately needed.

“Transferring funds into rural development will dramatically improve the CAP’s value for money and investing in well designed, targeted environmental schemes will secure maximum positive impact on the ground. Despite disappointing decisions in Europe in recent months, the Secretary of State and other Member State governments have the choice to maintain a ‘race to the top’, which builds on and rewards the excellent work of farmers who have embraced the environment that sustains their livelihoods. We now look to Mr Paterson’s counterparts across the UK to make the same commitment to boost funds for more sustainable, wildlife-friendly farming practices.”

Mr Paterson’s ability to transfer funding to rural development only extends to England. Funding decisions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be taken by respective ministers.

“Gethin Owen is a former winner of the Nature of Farming Award. From his farm in Wales, he said: “Mr Paterson has shown great sense by deciding to invest in rural development. It is a no-brainer to invest in wildlife, the environment, sustainable local economies and it’s also increases the value to the taxpayer too. I trust that ministers covering the other parts of the UK will be encouraged to adopt the same values.”

How you can help

At Hope Farm, the RSPB is developing farming techniques that will benefit wildlife

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