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Poor deal for English farming

A 'wasted opportunity' for the environment.

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At a time when Government budgets are under increasing stress and scrutiny and the environment and wildlife are facing tremendous pressures, the RSPB is highlighting the ‘poor’ deal announced by Defra today (Tuesday 10 June, 2014), which shows that of the £11bn to be spent on direct subsidies to farmers in England, very little will have any environmental benefit.

Defra has today announced their final decisions on some of the key elements of the Common Agricultural Policy.  Today’s announcement focuses on the so-called ‘greening’ element, which will tie 30 per cent of a farmer’s subsidy payments to new environmental requirements. However, the deal has been so watered down by lobbying from vested interests that it’s become a ‘wasted opportunity’.

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: “Today’s announcement is a wasted opportunity. When push came to shove the Government wasn’t prepared to stand by its commitment to incorporate wider benefits for society and the environment into support for farmers.”

The RSPB is highlighting that Defra – the Government’s environment department – could have done far more to ensure funding was spent more wisely. There are many challenges facing England’s environment including: climate change, an erosion of wildlife, including economically-vital pollinators, and other factors, such as flooding.

Martin Harper added: “The Government talks a good talk, but in this case they failed to join up their policies when they had the chance. Today’s decision misses the chance deliver their own ambitions around the Natural Environment White Paper and the England Biodiversity Strategy, which commits to being the first generation to pass on the natural environment in an enhanced state to the next.”

The RSPB believes with imagination and courage Defra could have used this funding much more wisely and made great strides in tackling the environmental challenges we face. For example, Ecological Focus Areas  – a Greening measure which will require farms growing crops to manage a small percentage of their land for environmental benefit – could have been a flagship measure to help ailing populations of pollinating insects, by providing pollen and nectar. 

Martin Harper added: “Instead, the Government has squandered this opportunity and is handing out £11bn to the farming industry in England and expecting very, very little in return. Without decent green measures, particularly Ecological Focus Areas that actually deliver for wildlife, the Government’s new Pollinator Strategy – anticipated in autumn – will be toothless.”

The focus of getting anything back for the public’s investment in agricultural payments will now focus on the much smaller Rural Development part of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Abi Bunker is the RSPB’s head of agricultural policy. Commenting on the environmental challenges facing English farming, she said: “We salute those progressive farmers who realise the importance of tackling environmental challenges and are putting their shoulders to the wheel to save threatened species. With so much squandered cash, society must now get best value for money from those, sadly, much smaller elements of the English farming budget where environmental gains can be made, especially through Agri-environment schemes.

“The new ‘greening’ measures should have provided environmental gains across all England’s farmland. But, instead, it will add no value at all. Given the crisis facing our countryside, and the fact that Agri-environment budgets remain woefully inadequate, this feels totally wrong.”

Following today’s announcement the RSPB calls on the Government to:

–           make good on its promise to shift the maximum amount of funding from subsidies to agri-environment schemes at the earliest opportunity;

–           ensure that the remaining rules and regulations linked to subsidy payments provide some level of environmental protection.

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