Swindale Valley, Haweswater, Lake District National Park | The RSPB

Farming and Land use

Our countryside may appear to be a natural space, but it is heavily shaped by people. The wildlife that we share it with prospers or suffers depending on our management choices.

Achieving a nature friendly food and farming system

Harvest mouse handing on to a piece of corn. She's really cute!

Our current agricultural system has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of nature’s decline. If we are to restore wildlife to our countryside, whilst ensuring we are fed well, without exporting our impact overseas, we need to support our farmers to produce food very differently. By working closely with farmers and land managers, we know it is possible for nature to thrive alongside sustainable food production.  However, it requires a food and farming system that provides farmers and land managers with the right balance of support. We are working with farmers and government to implement a combination of effective regulation and enforcement to maintain standards, better incentives via payments for public goods to reward great management, fairer markets which fairly reward producers and accessible advice to enable farmers to deliver for nature and the environment, whilst producing food.  Changes must go beyond farming. All businesses must do more to ensure their supply chains are nature friendly.  Wider society must also be engaged to ensure that nature friendly food choices are accessible and affordable for everyone.

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Supporting nature-friendly farmers

Distant view of Cuilcagh Mountain, Co, Fermanagh

We have long fought for policies that reward farmers and other land managers to take actions for nature. Since the Second World War, farming policies have largely focused on increasing food production, and they have been remarkable successful in that aim. However, this has come at the expense of the health of our natural environment. Changes in farming have driven declines in wildlife, depleted soils, damaged rivers, and streams, polluted the air and damaged the climate. This is also bad for farming. The UK is now one of the most nature depleted nations in the world.

Whilst an increasing number of farmers are practicing nature friendly farming and would like to do more, incentives through farm subsidy systems have done too little to support them. It is vital that governments across the UK countries develop ambitious, effective and well-funded environmental land management schemes, that reward farmers for the range of public goods they deliver, such as recovering species populations, improving water quality and cutting carbon emissions. We need schemes that reward methods of food production that work with the grain of nature, but also recognise that nature needs more space to thrive.  

These schemes are not just critical to restore our natural environment they are also critical to ensure a long-term supply of healthy food and to support a vibrant farming sector and rural economy.

Hills and uplands

The UK uplands comprise a mix of internationally important habitats and species.  These wild and remote landscapes, which are typically separated from our major towns and cities, are also home to dispersed rural communities. Throughout the UK, the uplands store vast amounts of carbon (especially in peat) and play an important role in storing drinking water and moderating the downstream flow of water.  Many of the best areas are protected for wildlife with large areas also protected through national designations, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The uplands are also vitally important for our physical and mental well-being with millions of people visiting them for recreation.  Despite their importance, these areas are often in poor condition.  Through our work, we seek to improve the way the land is used, ensuring future policy better supports environmentally friendly land use and management and that environmentally damaging management practices are stopped.

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Fresh water and flooding

Flooded corner of field, RSPB Onziebust reserve

The UK’s freshwater network is made up of over 200,000km of streams and rivers, alongside groundwater stores, lakes, ponds and wetlands, which are home to a diverse range of wildlife such as water voles, otters, herons, trout and beavers and provide a lifeline for many migratory and breeding bird species including curlew and geese.

These vital habitats are home to over one third of all vertebrate species and are essential to supporting life on earth through drinking water supply, food production, photosynthesis and sanitation. However, the resilience and health of our water environment is at risk. Persistent and widespread pollution, increasing abstraction and climate change are just a few of the complex challenges faced.

To secure our future, we need to protect and restore our freshwater systems and use nature-based solutions to help adapt for the impacts of climate change including flooding and drought. Through our work we advocate for better protection and management of the freshwater environment, supported by robust monitoring, regulation and enforcement, to deliver for both nature and people.

Woodlands and forestry

Woodlands and tree rich landscapes can deliver multiple benefits for climate, nature and people. When managed sustainably, woodlands and trees provide habitats for wildlife, help regulate our air and water, store and draw down carbon and provide a source of raw materials. With increasing focus on trees as a solution to climate change, we need policies that maximise this opportunity to deliver biodiversity recovery via enhanced and reconnected woodland habitats, whilst preventing unintended consequences. The types of trees, the location and how woods are managed are important for wildlife. Securing sustainable management and more use of planted or naturally regenerated native trees in woodland expansion plans will help deliver diverse woodlands that can benefit declining wildlife like the willow tit. Protecting nature-rich open habitats like grasslands and peatlands also remains essential for species like the curlew which depend on these. The right strategic land use approach, with associated funding mechanisms, will be essential to deliver 'the right tree in the right place'.

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Policy and Insight: England and Westminster

Environmental policies created in Westminster affect England, the UK, our oversea territories, and international agreements.