Put farming for nature at the top of the agenda

Thursday 28th February 2013

cow in fieldCow in field, credit Amy Lewis

Restoring a healthy natural environment, with pollinating insects, clean water and good soils, is crucial for food production now and in the future.

That’s why, ahead of one of the most significant votes ever held in the European Parliament, The Wildlife Trusts are urging everyone to press their MEPs to support real reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

For the first time the 73 MEPs of the UK have the opportunity to vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), expected on Wednesday 13 March 2013.

Ahead of the vote, non-Governmental organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are today launching a public campaign enabling people to lobby their Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to ensure the CAP is reformed, and nature-friendly farming is given the recognition and support it urgently needs.

Farmers and landowners are in the front line of halting and reversing the decline of many of our native plants and animals and the places in which they live

Farmers and landowners are in the front line of halting and reversing the decline of many of our native plants and animals and the places in which they live.  The CAP drives land management decisions and practices across Europe and therefore the health and richness of our natural environment.  It represents around 40% of current EU spending, including more than £3billion annual expenditure in the UK.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: 

“If there’s one single thing that has shaped the UK’s countryside over the last 50 years, not always for the better, it's the Common Agricultural Policy.  We believe it must be radically reformed to protect and restore the ecosystems on which people and wildlife depend.  Making sure payments from CAP support environmental measures, such as creating flower-rich field margins for insects and farmland birds, will help restore nature across the UK.  It is vital that MEPs hear the voice of their constituents and make the CAP count for a Living Landscape.”

Columnist  Charles Clover wrote in The Sunday Times on 24 February: 

“There is one hope: that the European Parliament – voting for the first time as an equal partner of the council of ministers – can administer the kind of shock to the system it did last month when it voted overwhelmingly for a drastic reform of European fisheries policy.  We owe it to our children to give it a try.  We also owe it to forebears, whose harmonious way of living with nature and producing food is fast slipping away.”

Some high quality agri-environment schemes, such as England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, have shown what can be done to protect and restore nature in our agricultural landscapes – from hedgerows and wildflower meadows to wetlands and other wild places.  But their coverage has been limited. The new CAP must ensure that all farmers and land managers are able to play their part in farming for nature. 

From Thursday 28 February, please lobby your MEP to ensure the CAP is reformed and nature-friendly farming is put back on the agenda, via www.wildlifetrusts.org

The Wildlife Trusts are asking Members of the European Parliament to vote to:
1. Ensure all farmers and land managers undertake ‘greening’ measures that will help protect and restore nature in return for direct payments from the CAP
2. Reject double subsidies where a landowner or manager would be paid twice for the same activity to ensure that public money is not wasted
3. Reintroduce requirements for farmers and land managers to comply with EU  environmental regulation, such as the Water Framework Directive which ensures our rivers are clean and healthy
4. Provide dedicated support for nature-friendly farmers and land managers

For more on The Wildlife Trusts’ approach to the CAP, visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/CAP

Notes for editors:

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the EU-wide system of payments to farmers and land managers worth over £3 billion a year in the UK.  Agri-environment spending, funded under Pillar 2 of the CAP, totalled £400 million in England last year.  In England, there are more than 52,000 such scheme agreements with farmers and landowners covering more than six million hectares – almost 66% of the agricultural land in England.  Coverage of nationally important landscapes is significant (for example, 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 six percent 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.
• The Pastures New project involves 11 farms, brought together by Dorset Wildlife Trust, in a collective landscape-scale Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement.  None qualified for HLS funding individually.  It has brought great benefits to the farms concerned.  Creating a single HLS agreement spanning several landowners has ensured the future management of core habitat areas.
• The Avon Wildflower Grasslands project has similarly capitalised on HLS for funding grassland management and restoration work: 14 HLS agreements now cover more than 600 hectares.

With its new powers on CAP, the European Parliament has a historic opportunity to reform the CAP and ensure that farmers and land managers are rewarded for the delivery of environmental public goods.  TWT believe that CAP reform should:
• Link direct payments (Pillar 1) to the delivery of public goods through mandatory ‘greening’ measures.. In particular, Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) could be used to protect, expand and link areas of natural value and be applied flexibly to different farming systems across the EU;
• Protect at least 50% of rural development expenditure (Pillar 2) for agri-environment schemes to ensure our most valuable countryside is managed sensitively. Agri-environment schemes are the primary means for delivering environmentally-friendly land management in the UK and are vital for delivering global, European and UK biodiversity targets;

Why do we need to reform the CAP?
Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is required to restore the natural environment and secure the long-term future of food production in Europe.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment has demonstrated the value of ecosystem services for a sustainable economy.  TWT believe that linking direct payments to environmental outcomes can help reverse the decline in the quality of our natural environment and the ecosystem services it provides.

What are Ecological Focus Areas?
One of the ‘greening’ measures originally proposed by the European Commission was for 7% of land to be defined as Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs).  EFAs might include natural features such as woodland, peat bogs, rivers and hedgerows that deliver environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity.  TWT believe that, if applied correctly, they could contribute to extending the connectivity of natural features across both an individual land-holding and on a landscape-scale.  However, we are very concerned at proposals to exempt farms in agri-environment schemes from ‘greening’ measures such as EFA’s and to weaken these measures.  This will not raise the environmental baseline across Europe and be poor value for money if double funded from both Pillars.

Why is Rural Development expenditure (Pillar 2) so important?
Between 2007 and 2013, Rural Development Programmes provided the largest source of funding in the UK for enhancing priority habitats and species.  It is vital that this funding is retained if we are to reverse the decline of wildlife across agricultural landscapes.  TWT believe that at least 50% of funding in Pillar 2 should be ring-fenced for agri-environment schemes to ensure Member States continue to prioritise delivery of environmental benefits.  We also support flexibility to move funds from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 but not vice versa.

How do we address transition to a new Common Agricultural Policy?
TWT are concerned that CAP reform negotiations will cause a hiatus in the availability of agri-environment schemes in the UK.  This will have serious consequences for some of our most valuable natural habitats.  The EU institutions and the UK Government must urgently develop transition arrangements to ensure that agri-environment schemes continue to be available without disruption.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes