Find out why the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is critical to the state of our countryside:
Find out about:
all farms need to have well managed Ecological Focus Areas that link with each other
Farmland birds are estimated to need an additional 65,000 ha of certain types of priority habitat to reverse current declines. Moreover the time lag between habitat loss and extinctions means that England is carrying a species extinction debt.
Agri-environment schemes can help farmland birds to recover, but the high quality schemes, such as Higher Level Stewardship in England, need to be extended to more areas and all farms need to have well managed Ecological Focus Areas that link with each other to create ecological networks. Many birds rely on insects for food at some stage in their lifecycles. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must ensure that farmers and land managers strictly comply with regulations, such as the EU Pesticides Directive, that will help protect insects from harmful chemicals and support must be given to farmers who farm organically.
The Environment Agency has reported that, in England, 82% of rivers, 53% of lakes and 75% of groundwaters are ‘at risk’ from pollutants like nitrate and phosphorous which originate from agricultural practices. This kind of pollution is referred to as ‘diffuse’ as it is often hard to pinpoint.
Governments must enforce current regulation – making pollutors pay
Diffuse water pollution has been identified as adversely affecting 145 Sites of Special Scientific Interest covering an area of 14,226 ha across England. The EU Water Framework Directive requires that all Member States to bring rivers and other waterbodies into ‘good ecological status’ by 2015 or 2027 at the latest. In England and Wales only 28% of surface water bodies (rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters) are currently at good status.
In return for public money provided through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers and land managers must do more to protect rivers and other waterbodies from pollution and Governments must enforce current regulation – making pollutors pay. But in addition, in some areas for the country, for example in the uplands, where farming as an occupation is marginal, we need to find new ways of supporting farmers who provide us with non-agricultural goods and services like clean water or carbon sequestration.
The CAP must prioritise protection and restoration of our natural environment
The production of food from agriculture increased dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century, but other ecosystem services such as those relating to air, water and soils quality have declined. These declines, coupled with losses in wildlife such as insects and farmland birds, put the long-term sustainability of food production at risk. We cannot separate food production from the protection and restoration of the ecosystems on which our food security depends. The CAP must prioritise protection and restoration of our natural environment - for wildlife and people. All farmers and land managers must do their bit for nature, with more farmers given the support that will enable them to go the extra mile and deliver specific environmental outcomes. Bringing about this change across the farmed landscape must be planned strategically to get the best results for farmers and wildlife.
Agri-environment schemes have helped farmers to protect and extend wildlife-rich grasslands
The losses of wildlife-rich grasslands as a consequence of agricultural intensification have been substantial. For example, in England 97% of species rich grasslands were lost between 1930-1984. We have also lost 81% of our historic grazing marshes and are currently losing one species of flowering plant per county every two years.
In recent years, good quality agri-environment schemes have helped farmers to protect and extend some of the fragments of wildlife-rich grassland remaining. But the level of funding for agri-environment schemes is now under threat. The CAP must make sure that funding is increased, not decreased, by ring fencing an appropriate element of the CAP budget for high quality voluntary schemes.
CAP proposals could help restore habitat for insects across the farmed landscape
The farmed landscape is critical for insects - for example, over 1500 insects have been recorded at some time living or feeding in hedgerows. But insects are extremely vulnerable to some of our agricultural practices – for example intensification of cereal production includes use of herbicides to remove weeds and insecticides to stop damage to crops. In addition, an increased separation of our landscape into monocultures is damaging a whole range of invertebrates like spiders, ground beetles and bumblebees, which benefit from a mosaic of habitats such as where a cereal field with a margin of wildflowers lies adjacent to an ancient hedgerow or woodland. The loss of habitats for insects impacts seriously on bird populations.
Many butterflies continue to decline, with over 75% of UK butterflies showing a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels. However, targeted work to deliver habitat improvements for butterflies is starting to reverse the decline of some species in some areas. It is vital that this work is now scaled-up with CAP funding for high quality agri-environment schemes increased, not decreased.
CAP proposals to green direct payments in combination with high quality and well funded voluntary agri-environment schemes could really help restore habitat mosaics for insects across the farmed landscape, but action is also needed to reduce the use of use of harmful chemicals.