The Environment Secretary is due to say how much money will be paid to farmers to restore sites that store carbon and reduce flooding, manage habitats and boost numbers of stone-curlews, cirl buntings and other species that have seriously declined.
Hundreds of farmers throughout Britain have had applications for agri-environment schemes put on hold awaiting a decision in Brussels.
Farm ministers sanctioned funding last week and Defra could double the money now available. The government will not provide that much, but has promised some additional cash. The RSPB calculates that a total of £300 million is needed annually to allow farmers’ applications to go ahead.
Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, Head of Countryside Conservation at the RSPB, said: “Adequate money for these exceptional agri-environment schemes is crucial to the future of our countryside. These schemes take green farming further than we have seen for more than fifty years and could contribute enormously to tackling climate change and helping farmland wildlife.
“The decision last week to allow funds to be switched from subsidies to environmental schemes was hugely welcome and is a major step forward. At least £300 million is needed to enable the best projects to go ahead and it is essential that this is what the government provides.”
CLA President, David Fursdon, said: “We support the move towards rewarding land managers for delivering environmental services and thus it is regrettable that the government has decided to reduce the rate of match funding of these environment schemes compared to the level operating for the last six years, especially as these services are becoming increasingly important in light of climate change and growing public interest in the countryside.”
Agri-environment schemes have existed for 20 years but were considerably improved after the Curry Commission report of 2002. Now, there are basic and higher level schemes and it is the latter for which funding has been delayed.
Stone-curlews and cirl buntings are examples of birds whose numbers have risen considerably because of conservation work on farmland funded by the higher level scheme.
The initiative has also paid for improvements to Sites of Special Scientific Interest on farmland. The RSPB and CLA fear that if the shortfall remains, national and international targets for reversing wildlife declines and improving habitats will not be met.
Dr Armstrong Brown said: “This scheme has made a huge difference in a short time and has the potential to achieve so much more. Farmers are queuing up to start work and it would be a tragedy for our countryside if they were turned away before getting to the front of the queue.”
Cath Harris | alfa
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