Wildlife-friendly farmers take their fight to Brussels


A group of farmers from the UK and across the Europe will be travelling to Brussels this week to call for greater support for wildlife conservation measures in the countryside. Farmers from Norfolk, Wales and Northern Ireland will be meeting MEPs on Monday and Tuesday to highlight the importance of targeted agri-environment schemes in the newly reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They will be joined by farmers from the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Latvia and the Czech Republic. Conservationists and wildlife-friendly farmers across Europe are concerned that current proposals for the CAP could mean cuts to agri-environment schemes. The plans also completely fail to introduce a vital lifeline for farming practices in areas such as the uplands that deliver outstanding benefits for both wildlife and people — known as 'High Nature Value' farming systems.

Farmland bird populations have fallen by 50% since 1970 and it is only by protecting wildlife-rich farming systems and encouraging more uptake of science-backed conservation measures on farmland that species like Lapwings, Skylarks and Grey Partridges will bounce back. Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: "There is a very real and looming threat to many countryside birds. Without proper support through the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers across the UK will not be able to put in place the measures needed to protect birds and other wildlife. High Nature Value farming systems already provide a range of vital services for society, including maintaining some of Europe's most threatened habitats and species, contributing to soil carbon storage and the protection of water resources. However, such systems are economically fragile and many farmers face a stark choice between intensifying production or abandoning farming altogether. We work with hundreds of farmers across the UK who are creating space for nature on their land, and they are concerned about where these reforms are taking us. This group of farmers are taking their concerns directly to the political decision-makers in Brussels. I'm sure that after hearing how passionate they are about our countryside and native wildlife, the MEPs they are meeting will have a better understanding of the importance of funding for farmland conservation measures as well as for High Nature Value farming areas. Much has been made of the 'greening' proposals laid out in the new CAP, and whilst very much needed, they cannot replace what proven and targeted agri-environment measures can deliver."

Skylark, Dingle Marshes SWT, Suffolk (Photo: John Richardson)

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Agri-environment schemes include wildflower margins to boost insect numbers, plots in fields for Skylarks to forage in and over-winter stubble to provide food for wildlife during the coldest months. Well-designed schemes have been proven to work for wildlife. One of the farmers travelling to Brussels on Monday is Gethin Owen, whose farm in Abergele, North Wales. is home to large numbers of threatened farmland birds. He said: "As a farmer I have a duty to care for the countryside, and that means making sure that wildlife can thrive. The measures I have put in place on my land have made a real difference and this winter my land has been teeming with birds as a result. But modern farming is a business like any other and in order to continue providing these measures we farmers must be supported. Visiting Brussels to take this message direct to decision-makers is a great way for farmers who care about wildlife to make our voice heard. I just hope they listen to what we are telling them and push for a new Common Agricultural Policy that supports farmers, wildlife and the wider environment."

Written by: RSPB