Wildlife-friendly farmers champion environment

Last week (19-20 March) farmers from across the EU travelled to Brussels to call for greater support for environmental measures in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.

Photo credit: RSPB

BirdLife International supported a group of 8 farmers from the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Latvia to visit their MEPs on the Agriculture Committee to highlight the importance of targeted agri-environment schemes in the newly-reformed CAP. Conservationists and wildlife-friendly farmers across Europe are concerned that current CAP reform proposals could mean cuts to Pillar II agri-environment schemes. Well-designed schemes have been proven to deliver benefits for wildlife.

Representing a diverse range of farming systems, participating farmers told MEPs their stories about the value of agri-environment schemes on their farms, not just for the environment, but for their farming businesses and wider society. They urged the 13 MEPs they met not just to protect the level of funding for agri-environment, but to increase it as part of the CAP reform for 2014-2020.

Gethin Owen, one of the participating UK farmers, 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”.

BirdLife were also keen to highlight to MEPs the urgent need to channel support to High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems through the CAP. Due to their production methods, these systems produce not just food but exceptional environmental benefits such as wildlife, clean water supplies and healthy soils. However, they are often economically marginalised, leading to environmental losses as farmers are forced to either intensify production or abandon farming altogether.

The proposed ‘greening’ of the CAP’s Pillar I is currently dominating the reform debate and was often raised by MEPs during meetings. Whilst there is a clear need to improve the environmental performance of Pillar I payments, BirdLife emphasised that ‘greening’ cannot replace what proven and targeted agri-environment measures can deliver.

The European Parliament will play a significant role in determining the design and funding of the next CAP, so this visit was a great opportunity to demonstrate how farmers and conservation organisations are joining forces on key issues. BirdLife is hopeful that these powerful messages from farmers will ensure that the Parliament’s negotiating position on CAP provides adequate funding and focus for invaluable agri-environment schemes and gives much needed attention to vulnerable HNV systems.