Cuts strike deep into natural heart of the countryside
The state of the countryside could worsen significantly, following budget cuts agreed by EU leaders in Brussels. 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. 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 at The Wildlife Trusts, 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 RSPB declared the budget a regressive deal for wildlife that has seen potentially huge cuts for payments for wildlife-friendly farming. Martin Harper is the RSPB's Conservation Director. Commenting on the budget outcome, he said: "Wildlife across Europe will pay a heavy price for this terribly regressive deal, and we're bound to see further declines in some species whose numbers have crashed. Since the 1980s Europe has lost 300 million farmland birds; how many more will we lose over the next seven years? This is a bad deal for Europe's wildlife, providing flexibility for a race to the bottom. But there is hope for the UK, a country which has led the way in investing in wildlife-friendly farming. The Secretary of State Owen Paterson, and his counterparts in the devolved administrations, now need to take the necessary decisions to make good on their environmental promises. This is nothing less than those 30,000 RSPB supporters who contacted David Cameron this week would expect. This means using the flexibility to shift as much funding as possible from direct payments into Rural Development, the bit of the CAP that can really drive more sustainable farming."
In the UK, the RSPB hopes that Owen Paterson and his colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will show leadership and use their powers wisely to ensure that as much funding as possible will go towards those farmers and land managers who provide the greatest benefits for wildlife and the countryside. Other EU leaders will certainly need an example to follow. More than 30,000 RSPB supporters lobbied David Cameron to vote for Nature at the European Budget meeting by voting for a favourable outcome for wildlife.
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 their natural environment on this day in Brussels.