Farmers lobby parliament for funding

Tree Sparrow is a rapidly declining species on Britain's farmland. Photo: Karelj (commons.wikimedia.org).
Tree Sparrow is a rapidly declining species on Britain's farmland. Photo: Karelj (commons.wikimedia.org).
Farmers from across England are lobbying the government today for more funds for their successful  conservation schemes.

The strong environmental message will be taken to Westminster later today (Wednesday 23 October) when they meet MPs to highlight the need for a greater share of funding to help threatened species, landscapes and heritage features.

Owen Paterson MP – the Environment Secretary – will have be finalising his budget in a few weeks' time, and a key decision the Secretary of State has to make is how much funding to dedicate to so-called agri-environment schemes, which fund farmers to manage their farms in wildlife-friendly and environmentally-friendly ways. With a finite amount of money available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he has the power to transfer up to 15 per cent of direct subsidies to these and other rural development schemes, and farmers attending today’s event are calling for the maximum transfer.

With many species continuing to decline this funding is needed more than ever. Figures released last week by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) revealed that the number of birds reliant on farmland have halved in number since 1970. Additionally, the State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough, in May, shows that 60 per cent of 1064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and a third of the total have declined strongly.

As well as addressing wildlife declines, agri-environment schemes can also help promote more sustainable farming and deliver wider public benefits, such as tourism and jobs. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and Conservation Grade believe these schemes are vital for competitiveness and long-term viability of the sector, as well as the encouraging the growth and vitality of rural communities.

Richard Morris, Farm Manager at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, said: “Without continued support for the cost of management and forgoing income from these areas they are likely to return to production with the resulting degradation of nature’s resource. I believe the public would want to see more investment in this ecological friendly and more sustainable type of production. We need to ensure funds to deliver these schemes that protect biodiversity, habitat and healthy living landscapes both for today, and for future generations.”

The RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper, said: “Over the last two decades, an increasing number of farmers have embraced the challenge and taken the step to enter agri-environment schemes , working hard to get results on the ground. I’m delighted we are working alongside farmers today to try and secure a better deal for these schemes in the future. Together we hope that Owen Paterson MP will keep his pledge to help wildlife and the wider environment by shifting farming budgets in favour of those farmers seeking to farm in wildlife-friendly ways.”

Today’s lobby of Parliament, includes 28 farmers, from various parts of England, along with the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust. DEFRA is expected to host a public consultation into how agricultural budgets should be spent. The RSPB is polling the public about whether the government should invest in farming that creates a countryside richer in wildlife. To vote, please click here.