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Environmental stewardship is key, says European watchdog


An official report has highlighted the importance of agri-environment schemes across Europe singling out Englands wildlife friendly farming measures for top marks.

The European Court of Auditors two year long study into the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes is released today (Monday, September 19). While containing some hard-hitting recommendations for improvement, it hails the crucial role agri-environment plays in supporting farmers to introduce more sustainable and wildlife friendly practices.

The study chimes with another report compiled by the RSPB which provides examples of successful agri-environment schemes across Europe. The Seeds of Success report highlights case studies in Portugal, the Netherlands, France, Romania and the UK.

Gareth Morgan, RSPB head of countryside conservation, said: We welcome the Court of Auditors in-depth study which is further evidence of the importance of agri-environment schemes.

Funding conservation in our farmed countryside is vital if we are to reverse declines in biodiversity and many farmers have stepped up to do their bit for wildlife. In fact this report says agri-environment stewardship in England is amongst the very best in Europe something we should all be proud of.

One issue the study does raise is the need for more targeted stewardship measures which focus on protecting some of the most threatened species and habitats in our countryside. Species like cirl buntings and stone curlews rely on habitat measures put in place by farmers and their vital work must continue.

Sadly, from what we have seen of proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, EU decision makers risk undoing the progress agri-environment has made over the past twenty years.

The Court of Auditors report makes some good recommendations and these schemes must be improved so that they work harder for the environment but we must also ensure the basic level of funding is in place across all European member states. Without enough money even the best schemes in the world will fail to deliver what is needed.

A recent leaked CAP reform documents reveal that there are plans to remove the rule setting out the minimum amount countries must spend on agri-environment schemes and paves the way for Pillar 2 money to be spent in other areas.

Further leaks also reveal plans for greening the direct payment (Pillar 1) element of the CAP. This will mean farmers must put 7 per cent of their land into environmental management to be eligible for a direct payment cheque. However the RSPB has raised concerns that this measure will simply amount to greenwashing if it comes at the expense of agri-environment (Pillar II) funding.

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