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Going, going... £15bn of public money about to be spent on farming

Posted: Wednesday 4th December 2013 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Silver studded blue butterfly cpt Phillip PreceySilver studded blue butterfly cpt Phillip Precey

Over the next week or so the Government will decide how to spend £15bn of public money across farmland in England. Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape, explains why it's vital the right decisions are made now...

Critically, the Government must determine what percentage of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget for England 2014-2020 to move from the so-called ‘Pillar 1’ budget of the CAP (£13.8bn) that goes directly to farmers with few environmental conditions attached, to the ‘Pillar 2’ or rural development budget of £1.2bn which supports wildlife-friendly farm schemes.  These schemes benefit farming, the environment and the public, and provide excellent value for public money. 

Please help us get a fair deal for wildlife-friendly farmers and for species like the beautiful silver studded blue butterfly, the skylark, the harvest mouse and the bumblebee

The Government has made clear its preference: it wants to allocate 15% of the direct payments budget - the maximum allowed by Europe - to sustaining valuable farm environment schemes.  The Wildlife Trusts support this proposal, but some people, for example the National Farmers Union, want just 9% to be transferred with a possible rise to 15% later.  The Government has done the sums, and concluded that “a 15% transfer from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 enables the delivery of much higher benefits than a 9% transfer from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2”.  See our infographic here

It is vital that the Government sticks to its intention to transfer the full amount - the recovery of our natural environment, of clean rivers, living soils, habitats for bees, barn owls, brown hares and butterflies, and therefore the long-term prospects of farming, depend on it.  If the Government caves in to pressure for a lesser amount our natural heritage will suffer and so will those farmers who want to work with, and not against, nature.

The vast majority of the £15 billion agricultural budget will still be spent on direct payments to farmers, and we’d like to see it given on condition that farmers provide some level of environmental benefit in return, via a new national scheme of ‘greening’ measures.  Unfortunately, this public money currently supports some businesses that destroy wildflower meadows and nature-rich pastures.  To give an example from just one county in England: between 2005 and 2012, 11 Local Wildlife Sites were destroyed by agricultural practices, (10 of which were destroyed through ploughing) and a further 28 have declined to such an extent that they are no longer considered to support special species and habitats.  In total around 117 hectares (or 164 football pitches) of precious habitat has been lost in this one county, and these losses have continued.  Public money should not be used to support this kind of environmental damage.  

Investing in specially designed farm environment schemes provides a win for the long-term future of farming, a win for the environment and a win for the public.  On the ground it means sustainable food production, a boost for rural tourism, improved ability to deal with flood, drought and carbon storage, better habitat for pollinators, a wildlife-rich landscape and incomes for the people who provide these benefits.  Investing in the environment in this way allows farmers to be rewarded for the wide range of benefits they provide for all of us.  

The Government’s decision will be made at the highest level and so we look to the Prime Minster to show that he still believes in taking action to leave the natural environment in a better state than he found it, as his Government committed to do in 2011.  He must act now to secure the maximum amount of funding for wildlife-friendly farming over the next seven years.

Please help us get a fair deal for wildlife-friendly farmers and for species like the beautiful silver studded blue butterfly, the skylark, the harvest mouse and the bumblebee, by contacting your MP urgently to let them know that nature matters to you, to the future of farming, and encourage your MP to convince David Cameron to make the right choice.  

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