Cuts strike deep into natural heart of the countryside

Friday 8th February 2013

Wildflower meadow cpt Paul HobsonWildflower meadow cpt Paul Hobson

The nature of the countryside could start to change significantly for the worse, following budget cuts agreed by EU leaders in Brussels today.

The future of many of the treasured elements of our agricultural landscapes are now at risk because European funding for conserving our countryside has been cut by more than 11% over the next seven years. 

This funding is critical to the management of some of our most precious and valuable wildlife-rich places as well as for nature-friendly farming in the wider countryside

From 2014, this could mean significant cuts to the £400 million spent annually in England on maintaining hedgerows, wildflower meadows, wetlands and other important natural habitats.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes, explains:

“This funding is critical to the management of some of our most precious and valuable wildlife-rich places as well as for nature-friendly farming in the wider countryside.  At a time when communities, governments and businesses are increasingly recognising the value of nature, this decision threatens to undo 25 years of investment in our natural heritage and so undermine nature’s recovery. 

“Despite the EU budget cuts announced today, we are calling on the Government to maintain or increase the funding available to support nature-friendly farming. They must not allow money to be shifted into direct payments that create little or no public benefit.”

The Wildlife Trusts will continue to press Government to stick to its task - as set out in the Natural Environment White Paper - to leave the natural environment in a better state than it was when the Government inherited it. Without sufficient resources it will fail.  The public will be justified in demanding to know why the Government has traded away our natural environment on this day in Brussels.

The EU budget for Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which supports nature-friendly farming, will be €84.94 billion for the period 2014-2020, a reduction of around €11 billion from the EU budget period 2007-13. 

Notes for editors:

1. The first agri-environment schemes were set up in 1987 to help conserve and improve the rural environment by encouraging environmentally-friendly farming methods.  Statistics on the environmental, social and economic benefits can be found in a Natural England report here.  Case studies from Natural England can also be found here.

2. The Wildlife Trusts own and manage 20 working farms across the UK, from lowland arable to upland hill farms.  These demonstrate wildlife-friendly farming methods with several being managed in partnership with local farmers.

3. Each year Wildlife Trusts provide advice to around 5,000 landowners on how to manage land for wildlife.  This often involves helping farmers to access agri- environment schemes and can also involve helping groups of farmers to restore and link habitats at a landscape-scale.  Read more about The Wildlife Trusts’ farmland work, including case studies here.Redshank cpt Tom Marshall

4. There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK.  All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.  We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch.  Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.  We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife.  Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors.  Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.

5. In England, there are over 52,000 agri-environment scheme agreements with farmers and landowners covering over six million hectares – almost 66% of the agricultural land in England. 

6. A report on the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes (AES) in 2009 by Natural England found that:
• 84% of the area identified as a national priority for protection and restoration that are eligible for AES are under agreement;
• Coverage of nationally important landscapes is significant (eg over of 90% of the Lake District National Park is under AES agreement);
• 41% of hedgerows in England are actively managed under AES with a further 6% having been restored in the last 10 years;
• AES generates further annual spending in the economy of between £178 million and £847 million and sustains between 1,800 and 15,000 jobs.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes