The Wildlife Trusts campaign for a countryside rich in wildlife; a rural landscape where wildlife-friendly farmers are given the support they deserve.
We advise over 5,000 farmers and landowners every year and manage 93,000 hectares of our own land, aiming to connect wildlife sites across the country and create A Living Landscape. If you would like to support our work with farmers and land managers please join your Wildlife Trust.
For more information about the work we do with farmers see a sample of case studies here.
Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
If there’s one single thing that has shaped the UK’s countryside over the last 50 years, it's the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is the EU-wide system of payments to farmers and land managers worth over £3 billion a year in the UK.
The Wildlife Trusts believe the CAP must be radically reformed to protect and restore the ecosystems on which people and wildlife depend. Linking payments from the CAP to environmental measures, such as creating flower-rich field margins for insects and farmland birds, would help restore nature across the UK.
CAP reform: towards a greener future?
Agriculture and wildlife
The current round of Common Agricultural Policy reform will shape the future of our agricultural landscapes for years to come.
More than 70% of the total land area of the UK is used for agriculture. So agricultural policy is at heart of creating a healthy environment for people and wildlife.
With the right systems in place we can protect wildlife, restore ecosystems, produce food and protect a whole range of other public ‘goods and services’ provided by the natural world, for example, clean water and healthy soils.
Agriculture is dependent on healthy ecosystems for clean water and fertile soils. Wild pollinators can increase crop yields whilst predatory insects play an important role in controlling ‘pest’ species and can reduce the need for pesticides. Healthy ecosystems purify and regulate the supply of inflowing water, which in turn can improve plant growth.
Food production cannot be seen in isolation from the need to protect and restore the ecosystems on which our food security depends.
The CAP reform proposals
The EC put forward proposals to 'green’ elements of the CAP, which are a step in the right direction.
But the proposals do not amount to a green policy for agriculture in Europe. To achieve a truly green outcome, every opportunity must be taken to link the proposed direct payments to the effective protection and enhancement of ecosystems. No payment made through the CAP should support unsustainable practices that damage ecosystems or the wildlife that underpins them.
Farmers and land managers must be provided with incentives for managing their land to deliver the range of public goods and services associated with the agricultural landscape, including cultural and social benefits.
What do The Wildlife Trusts want to see?
What’s needed is a sustainable land management policy for Europe that will steer and support agricultural and other activity to ensure that our ecosystems are protected and restored.
We would like to see farmers and land managers rewarded for doing this through payments for the ecosystem ‘services’ they deliver.
This should include:
‘Greening’ of direct payments to farmers and land managers to include ‘Ecological Focus Areas' (EFAs) - areas for nature on farms - on at least 7% of all arable farms; protection for permanent grassland, and crop rotation.
These measures would help reduce carbon emissions by discouraging the ploughing of grasslands; help reverse the decline of pollinating insects on which food production relies and bring wildlife back to barren arable landscapes. MEPs on the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee voted to weaken the European Commissions original 'greening' proposals. We are urging MEPs to restore the obligation for all farmers to undertake meaningful ‘greening’ measures to protect and enhance the environment.
Stronger requirements for farmers to keep their land in good agricultural and environmental condition.
For example, by asking them to play their part in protecting the rivers and streams that provide us with clean drinking water;
Dedicated support for nature-friendly farmers and land managers who are already protecting our special places and wildlife.
Many farmers and land managers are already farming for nature as you can see from these case studies. The CAP needs to extend support for so called ‘High Nature Value Farming’.
Public money used to maximise benefits for the natural environment.
Proposals submitted by the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament will allow farmers and land managers to be paid twice for undertaking the same environmental measures. This would reduce the amount of money available for wildlife-friendly farming. These proposals must be rejected by MEPs.
To make farming more environmentally friendly, the EC is proposing that arable farms across Europe should be required to identify Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) on 7% of their land.
Of the three proposed greening measures, Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) offer the best potential. They could be linked to new agri-environment schemes that aim to improve landscape connectivity and create ecological networks.
What counts towards an EFA?
Existing features such as trees and hedgerows can be included, so farms will not necessarily have to take 7% of land out of production. But many valuable habitats are not listed as features of an EFA - for example wildlife-friendly crop fields providing nesting sites for farmland birds.
Areas of permanent grassland cannot be included either and grassland farms will not be required to create EFAs at all. This is a lost opportunity to help protect our remaining fragments of wildlife-rich grassland - which are vanishing fast.
The current proposal does not require any management of the land within an EFA, which means that benefits for wildlife will not be as great as they could be. Using agri-environment schemes to help farmers manage their EFAs would increase benefits for wildlife.
It is important that EFAs are not changed on an annual basis. If linked to, or part of, longer-term agreements, their wildlife value and contribution to habitat restoration and ecological networks will be enhanced.
A landscape-scale approach
At the moment, there is a risk that the end result of the EFA proposal will be a scattering of isolated fragments of land for nature.
Farmers and land managers should be encouraged and incentivised to work together to link EFAs across the landscape and increase ecological connectivity. We are urging Government to promote a strategic approach to EFAs across the landscape.
The Wildlife Trusts believe that this could be achieved by adopting a landscape-scale approach, moving away from site based thinking towards a focus on local area or farm type, and linking EFAs to agri-environment schemes.
This would help ensure delivery of the Government commitment in the Natural Environment White Paper to “maximise the contribution which Environmental Stewardship and Woodland Grant Scheme make towards promoting the multiple benefits from ecological restoration at a landscape-scale.”
Linking EFAs to agri-environment schemes
It is important to recognise the contributions already being made by farmers and land managers who are in high quality agri-environment schemes and who are already managing land for wildlife on their farms. Areas managed under appropriate agri-environment options should count towards the EFA requirement.
Looking towards the future, in England there may be scope for replacing elements of current agri-environment schemes with Pillar I greening measures. This could provide an opportunity to create and fund new agri-environment schemes, for example focussing on key habitat opportunity areas or areas where there is severe degradation of habitats, and an enhanced management scheme focussed on maintaining existing habitats and protected sites. However, further work is needed to ensure that including some elements of agri-environment schemes in EFAs does not amount to ‘greenwash’.
In the search for a solution to integrate Pillar I greening measures with Pillar II agri-environment schemes, it is essential that funding for the ‘higher level’ schemes is protected and extended so that these initiatives can deliver greater value across more of the country in the future.
Some would argue that taking land out of production to create EFAs is unacceptable when there is a need to feed a growing global population. We have urged Defra to take a considered and rational view to this debate and to properly assess the threats to food security.
Long-term food security depends on the sustainable management of our resources and the production of quality products within environmentally sustainable limits, particularly in the face of climate change. Sustainable land management must therefore be central to this round of CAP reform to protect and restore the ecosystems on which wildlife, food production and a wide range of public goods and services depend.
What do The Wildlife Trusts want to see?
This measure requires farmers to maintain existing areas of permanent grassland on their holding but could lead to serious unintended negative environmental consequences.
An inadequate definition
Permanent grassland is defined as "land used to grow grasses or other herbaceous forage naturally (self-seeded) or through cultivation (sown) and that has not been included in the crop rotation of the holding for five years or longer."
Under this measure, farmers would be prevented from converting areas defined as permanent grassland to other uses e.g. to grow crops.
The problem with the definition is that it makes no distinction between wildlife-rich, semi-natural grassland and intensive pasture, so it does nothing to protect some of our most threatened wildlife habitats.
A weak proposal
The current proposal focuses purely on maintaining the area of grassland, rather than protecting or enhancing its ecological quality. There is no requirement to bring areas into better management to maximise wildlife benefits.
A problematic baseline
Setting the baseline for this measure at 2014 presents a serious issue. There is already evidence that farmers have been pre-emptively ploughing up grassland to avoid the restrictions this measure would impose when introduced. This is causing significant ecological damage.
The baseline must be amended so that it is historic. The Wildlife Trusts have been urging Defra and statutory nature conservation organisations to urgently consider what action can be taken to prevent ploughing of valuable grasslands.
What do The Wildlife Trusts want to see?
The Wildlife Trusts believe that this measure must be enhanced to specifically protect grasslands that are important for wildlife and revised to avoid inadvertently damaging valuable grassland habitats.
It is vitally important that CAP reform proposals are revised to include other mechanisms for rewarding farmers and land managers who protect and extensively manage high value grasslands.
This measure requires farmers with arable land of 3ha or more to cultivate at least three different crops, with the main crop not exceeding 70% of the land.
Limited environmental benefits
This is a step in the right direction to an extent and we acknowledge that the proposal is designed to offset the development of monoculture. In general, increased crop diversity would bring biodiversity benefits, for example enabling farms to provide pollen for insects through most of the year.
The Wildlife Trusts are extremely concerned about a number of unintended negative environmental consequences, for example on mixed farms growing a relatively small amount of arable crops for stock feed and straw.
These farming systems are critical for the protection and restoration of farmland bird populations- with crops providing food, cover and nesting sites. The crop diversification proposal will discourage this kind of low intensity arable cropping, which supports rare plants and small mammals as well as birds. Faced with a three crop requirement, these farmers may well abandon this kind of system and instead buy in fodder crops and straw.
In addition, rather than reducing the area of an existing main crop to comply with the crop diversification measure, farmers may be tempted to bring other land into production as an additional crop. This could lead to areas of existing wildlife rich semi natural habitat being lost.
It is hard to see, given the large percentage (70%) of the main crop, how the benefits will outweigh these potentially negative consequences.
What do The Wildlife Trusts want to see?
Further thought must be given to introducing an appropriate crop rotation scheme instead of this crop diversification measure.
This would have to be designed so that it did not have the kind of unintended consequences described above (for example through a clear definition of what constitutes a ‘crop’). Including a nitrogen-fixing crop in a crop rotation scheme would bring significant benefits for soils and wildlife.