Posted: Friday 1st November 2013 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger
We need to find a place for nature in our farmland landscapes (photo: Paul Harris/2020Vision)
Yesterday’s publication of Defra’s consultation on how the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be implemented in England marks the endgame of a long and complex process of meetings and discussions - writes Helen Perkins. The government is now facing some big decisions and it is important to now remember why we need CAP funding to be deployed to best effect to support farming with nature.
For the last two years, we, along with other groups from the farming and environmental sectors, have been attending Defra stakeholder meetings and submitting papers to Defra on the implementation of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy in England. Our key points have focused on the need to “mainstream” environmental land management; moving away from a cultural divide between farming and conservation so that a value for ‘public goods’, in addition to food, is embedded within farm management. Given that 69% of land in England is farmed, it is vital to ensure that the non-food ‘products’ which derive from the way we manage land, such as biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage and flood risk management, can be sustained, and that the role that farmers play in protecting these is appropriately rewarded through the public purse. This makes sense to the public and it makes sense to farmers, especially as the condition of our land and freshwater will determine whether future farming is sustainable.
Despite the lengthy stakeholder processes however, decisions made by the Heads of State, Agriculture Ministers and MEPs of Europe’s Member States on CAP earlier this year have left Defra little room for manouvre - or have they?
We have arrived at decision time. And there won’t be another opportunity like this to influence the outlook for nature on farms in England for at least seven years (the next round of CAP reform is scheduled for 2020).
Big Decision 1 - 15% modulation
The Government can now choose whether to boost the reduced budget for rural development by moving the maximum amount allowed by Europe (15%) from the budget which supports direct payments to farmers, into the rural development pot (so-called ‘modulation’). Without this transfer of funding the future viability of farm environment schemes will be seriously compromised. Fortunately Defra are supportive of a 15% transfer.
Big Decision 2 - max allocation of rural development budget to farm environment schemes
Having agreed its amount for the rural development budget the Government will then choose whether to allocate between 78-88% of the rural development budget to farm environment schemes: the kind of schemes that are critical to delivery of our ambition for Living Landscapes with more space for nature and healthy farmland ecosystems (read more on our farmland conservation work here). Defra’s thinking on the architecture of the new farm environment schemes has evolved positively - especially with the idea of introducing a co-ordinated landscape-scale element in the new scheme which would enable farmers to work together to deliver one co-ordinated environment scheme across a larger area). But the reality of course is that the extent of the budget will determine how much can be achieved – end of story.
Big Decision 3 - improve 'greening' so it really works for nature
we cannot support the Government’s timid proposals on greening
The Government can also choose whether to improve the very basic and weak environmental (‘greening’) measures agreed by MEPs, that will be linked to 30% of the direct payments that farmers receive in the form of their basic payments, or whether to deliver the absolute bare minimum required by Europe. We believe that some of the greening measures could be made to work much better for farmers and the environment, and that we should start to make those improvements now with a view to developing them over the duration of the seven year CAP programme and beyond. If we have a low level of ambition for greening there is a risk that the very principle of linking payments made to farmers to environmental outcomes will be abandoned next time around – this is a very real concern.
We support the Government’s preference for modulating 15% from the direct payments pot to the rural development budget, and we want to see as much of the rural development budget spent on farm environment schemes as possible - at least 80%. But we cannot support the Government’s timid proposals on greening. We want to see the environmental baseline raised across the whole of the farmed landscape, enabling the money that will be spent on the more targeted environmental schemes to go further, enabling our precious wildlife rich grasslands to be conserved and enabling remaining fragmented habitats to be linked across landscapes to benefit wildlife like bees and other pollinating insects, and the farming systems that depend on them.
The Defra consulation, which runs until Thursday 28th November is available here:
Government consultations can be utterly impenetrable – this one isn’t too bad but it’s still a dense technical document. Next week we’ll be providing some guidance for people who want to respond to the consultation or contact their MPs about it.
Helen Perkins is Living Landscape Development Manager at The Wildlife Trusts. She's been working at the place where nature conservation and farming meet for much of her career.