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Greening the CAP – where did it all go wrong (and how you can still help to rescue it!)

Posted: Tuesday 26th November 2013 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Oat harvest (credit: Paul Harris/2020Vision)

The idea of ‘greening’ the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – and linking direct subsidies to farmers with mandatory environmental measures on farms – was at the heart of the 2014-2020 CAP reform proposals. So why is everything collapsing in the final stages? Helen Perkins reports from the policy front line:

Last week the EU Parliament finally endorsed the legislative acts that will reform the Common Agricultural Policy post 2013 – in doing so they were rubber stamping a series of proposals that had been argued over for several years and, finally, voted on earlier this year.  Last week this round of reform was lauded by the EU as “greener and fairer” and as “striking a better balance between food security and environmental protection”.  Perhaps our expectations of achieving a step change towards a truly greener CAP were too great, but the EU’s spin on the new CAP is a million miles away from our interpretation and the responses of other environmental organisations across Europe. 

the EU’s spin on the new CAP is a million miles away from our interpretation

Faustine Defossez from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), of which The Wildlife Trusts are a member, summed it up like this:  “The green paint that our parliamentarians have smeared over the CAP to hide an unsustainable policy will wash away long before seven years are up.”  Unfortunately she may well be right, as the good principle, proposed by the European Commission (EC) at the start of the CAP negotiations - that all farmers should take steps to raise the environmental baseline in return for 30% of their direct payments - was scuppered in the ensuing negotiations and the final CAP vote.  The 30% rule still applies but a whole host of exemptions were introduced, along with a weakening of many of the more positive elements of the original ‘greening’ measures (to enhance wildlife and create habitats on farmland) that focused on diversifying the number of crops grown on any one farm, protecting permanent grassland from being ploughed up, and identifying areas for nature on all arable farms.  The EEB has estimated that the exemptions introduced mean that 47% of EU farmland and a staggering 89% of Europe's farmers will not have to do anything above the bare minimum to benefit the environment.

We refused to give up on greening however, and encouragingly, our own Government argued that Member States should be able to deliver the greening requirements through their own tailor-made national schemes.  The EU agreed to this as long as the national schemes include measures equivalent to their basic measures.  The EU has provided a menu of possible equivalent measures that would deliver far more for the environment.  Why wouldn’t you want to place your country’s Ecological Focus Areas (areas of farmland identified for nature) where they can buffer or link to existing wildlife sites rather than choose just to plonk them anywhere?

So the door to good greening was still very much ajar and, even better, our long and painstaking stakeholder discussions with Defra suggested that the civil servants were listening and open to our ideas about what a “National Certification Scheme” for greening might look like.

But our hopes were dashed on reading Defra’s current consultation on implementing the CAP in England when it was issued three and a half weeks ago, as it seems that the Government is now “not minded to take up the option to implement greening through a National Certification Scheme containing additional greening equivalent measures”.

we think this is about “system requirements” taking precedence over the needs of the environment

Why has the Government pulled back from maximising the environmental outcomes from greening?  We think this is about “system requirements” taking precedence over the needs of the environment and the needs of farmers.  The influence of the agency that manages the payments to farmers, the Rural Payments Agency, is clear to see.  Their preference is for the lowest common denominator - keeping things as simple as possible in the name of cutting costs. It’s worth remembering that the overall CAP budget  for England is in the region of £15bn.  Any efficiency savings from  implementing the weaker greening measures will be made at the expense of effectiveness – and would miss the opportunity of delivering important environmental outcomes such as nectar resources for wild pollinators, protecting threatened habitats and conserving precious soils.  Our fear is that this “over simplification” agenda will start to creep over the whole of the CAP programme - not just greening, but the new farm environment schemes as well.  In our experience a flexible and adaptive approach, supported by local and expert advisors working with enthusiastic farmers, delivers the best environmental outcomes and the greatest return for the large amount of public money invested.

We will keep on pressing for a National Certification Scheme for greening and for well funded farm environment schemes that work for wildlife and farmers.  The Defra consultation closes on Thursday 28 November so there are just a few days left for you to help us in our campaign by emailing your local MP.

Click here - to find out what you can do to put pressure on the government to set up a greening scheme for England that really helps wildlife and farmers.

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.

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