MEPs urged to help support wildlife-friendly farming
Environmentalists are urging European politicians to seize their "last chance" to back wildlife-friendly farming and vulnerable Westcountry species such as the lapwing and skylark.
MEPs are to vote today on reforms to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which will ultimately impact on the subsidies farmers in the region will receive – and for what.
The Wildlife Trusts, the body which represents the 47 trusts in the UK including those in Devon and Cornwall, said requiring farmers to take more environmentally-friendly measures in order to receive subsidies and ensuring enough funding for schemes to manage land to help wildlife were key to reversing the declines in farmland species. It is supporting efforts to "green" the subsidies paid to farmers by requiring them to keep 7% of their land as "ecological focus areas" for nature and putting in other measures to protect landscapes such as grasslands.
Paul Wilkinson, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "We must do much more to reverse the degradation of natural habitats like marshlands and meadows, and halt the decline of species associated with farmland landscapes such as skylark and lapwing.
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"Maintaining and connecting valuable natural features and habitats, on every farm, is not too much to ask for the over £40 billion spent on the Common Agricultural Policy every year.
"The vote on Wednesday is the last chance for MEPs to help support nature friendly farming – the future of our countryside depends on it."
Conservationists are supporting amendments which would allow more funding to be moved from direct subsidies to paying for voluntary environmental land management schemes.
Farmers and landowners are concerned that pressures to greater "green" payments will disadvantage the UK industry. Defra has already successfully negotiated the powers to switch money from direct payments to the rural development envelope which could widen gaps in payment levels further.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU), which has formed a coalition to fight the issues with the Country Land and Business Association and the Tenant Farmers Association, also fear that other "greening" measures preferred by the Government with hit the industry.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond has called for the reforms to deliver "simplicity, fairness, competitiveness and productivity". He said: "We need to make bigger strides to reduce unnecessary red tape in the future CAP.
"We are also urging MEPs to reject the excessive use of trade distorting coupled support payments that unfortunately the majority of agriculture committee MEPs supported and to minimise the powers that would see the gap in payment levels potentially widen further, leaving UK farmers at a competitive disadvantage were Defra to make use of the powers that it is fighting so hard to gain."