FWAG

The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group is ‘expected to go into administration in the coming days’.

Henry Lucas the FWAG Chair of Trustees has written to a range of organisations giving them the bad news.

FWAG is a little over 40 years old and has been a respected part of the wildlife and farming scene since it was set up.  Now with 88 regional advisors, for many years it has been an important part of the delivery of agri-environment schemes.

FWAG has had financial difficulties before and was bankrolled by the RSPB many years back but the impacts of the comprehensive spending review and the need to compete for limited funding have been the straws that broke this camel’s back.

FWAG will be missed, but at a time when agri-environemnt funding is essential to some farmers’ businesses and when Pillar 1 of the CAP is expected to be ‘greened’ it seems likely that something will manage to fill some of the gap left by this county-based, farmer-friendly organisation.  It has already been suggested to me that a Wildlife Trust/RSPB partnership should step in.  Watch this space!

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19 Replies to “FWAG”

  1. Payments for doing HLS/LLS would have helped the kitty for FWAG but most of that work has been drawn back into DEFRA/Natural England staff who are the advisers now any way. More unemployment in the countryside!

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  2. Hmmm. This is concerning news. The big society has just got a little bit smaller and support for wildife friendly farming weaker. In different times perhaps we should expect the Government's delivery agency, Natural England, to step into the breach.

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    1. Robin - welcome! Yes, in different times but we are in indifferent times where government has slashed resources for anture conservation and muzzled its statutory agencies..

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  3. Mark, Such a pity. I was part of one of the first FWAG schemes on a farm in North Wiltshire way back in 1973. This was run through the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester and looking back on it was probably quite basic in what it was doing. But it was doing something for the big society of its day, even if it was only counting birds. I am sure FWAG has developed considerably since those days and there will be a gap that will have to be filled. Is this just the start of a consolidation of conservation bodies as you were discussing the other day.

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    1. Bob - I agree. A great pity. It's difficult to make money commercially out of helping to deliver public goods such as nature conservation - particularly when times are hard. This wasn't a consolidation I had considered but I'd be surprised if the ground weren't slipping under the feet of other smallish conservation organisations too.

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  4. Everything is being cut,what I find impossible to understand is how our politicians allowed us to get in this mess of massive debt to make it necessary.The income from taxes on fuels one way or another must be at least 50% of final price which should have earned us billions of £s leaving us in a financially healthy position similar to Norway.There would then have been no need for all these cuts.Think te last 60 years should have ended with the best financial period of british history.

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  5. Mark, It is terribly sad news and as a FWAG adviser myself I am one that has been affected by this. However, don't be surprised if the FWAG name rises 'Phoenix-like' from the ashes very soon in different parts of the country. The dedication and determination of staff and farmers alike, will make sure that FWAG continues in some form.

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  6. In most parts of England, FWAG have provided an important service by offering sound, practical, environmental advice which is framed in a farm business context. It is this pragmatism that has set FWAG apart from other environmental charities and has enabled FWAG to engage and influence many 1000s of farm businesses that otherwise would have not engaged with advisers from other less farming orientated organisations.

    At a local level FWAG have some outstanding advisers, some of the best and most respected in the farming industry. If FWAG do disappear (and I sincerely hope that this will not be the case) they will leave a huge void that will be enormously difficult to fill and whilst the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts have their relative strengths, I doubt that they can ever replace FWAG.

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    1. Joe W - welcome and of course you are right. Some would say that FWAG was (is) just a little too close to what farmers like and just a little too distant from what nature needs at times, but as I say, I agree with the general thrust of what you say.

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  7. Having been away birding in North Norfolk I had missed this disastrousbut not unexpected news and so I apologise for turning up late.

    I have spent a great deal of my life promoting and working with FWAG which I always regarded as a natural bridge between the farming community and nature conservation. Once again we are faced with the difficulties of having a top down organisation taking resources from the most successful county FWAGs.

    I have seen this unsustainable practice from all sides. I sat on the Executive of Suffolk FWAG for many years and here the organisation has always been extremely successful and more than paid its way.

    I was also Chairman of FWAG Cymru for a few years where Wales was starved of resources and assistance from the centre but has managed to develop into a profit making unit by sheer doggedness and hard work.

    I was also a Trustee for FWAG Nationally and this is where the real problem lies. The writing was on the wall during my time but well meaning and well connected people were not up to making the difficult decisions necessary to change the system sufficiently to enable the FWAG to move forward. I became very frustrated and stepped down as I felt I could not make any difference to their ways.

    What we are left with is merely that the Centre has crashed (which is the charity) even after taking all the profits from the very successful county FWAGs with their huge amount of experience. What is essential is for the best of the county FWAGs to be reconstituted in some way and run with the local support that they have always enjoyed.

    The demise of National FWAG is not just down to Government cuts but also naive management and a structure that weakened the very strength of the organisation - that is the county and devolved country activists.

    The loss of the large number of capable staff and advisors will be a major disaster at a time when their efforts are needed more than ever.

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  8. Mark, your response to Joe W is interesting, the whole point about FWAG is that it has to be closer to farming; one very good way to judge the success of a FWAG Adviser is if the ‘conservationists’ think there is too much farming and the farmers think there is too much conservation! Its Advisers are often working with farmers who initially want to keep what is familiar (as we all do); the adviser's skill is turning that want to match what nature needs; sometimes it can take an hour, sometimes years - in fact it really never stops as we all learn more about the complexities of the farming/conservation mix.

    The threat of the loss of the FWAG service, however, should ring loud warning bells in the farming industry; the need for FWAG’s thinking is as strong now as when it started 40-odd years ago. Those of us who have been around this particular block a few times will know that this is not likely to be the end of FWAG, certainly not its philosophy; those involved with FWAG, volunteers and staff alike are a particularly stubborn bunch.

    Now is not the time to rake over what went wrong, although many of Derek Moore’s points have much truth in them. Much more important is to make sure that people work together to ensure that such a valuable guide to a vital industry survives - both farmers and the conservation movement need it. But that doesn’t mean that the organisation in the future will look the same as it has in recent years.

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    1. Richard - welcome and it's nice to hear from you on this subject that you know so well. Your suggestion for how to judge a good FWAG adviser is probably spot on! thank you for your views.

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  9. Having worked as a FWAG for adviser for nearly 5 years, I can fully endorse Derek's very sound explanation for FWAG's demise. I was so disenchanted with the weak and inffective leadership that eminated from FWAG HQ, that I felt compelled to leave and start my own consultancy. I left in 2005 as, even back then, the writing was on the wall.

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    1. Joe W - thank you for your views which are clearly strongly held. I can't comment on whether or not they are completely fair but they do appear to be informed. And I'm happy to accept differing views too on this blog. No citicism of you, but your critical comments are about as critical as I feel I could post here because although you don't name names (and thank you for that) you come close to criticising individuals and that is not what this blog is for (and if it is then i'll do it and take the consequences).

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  10. Mark - fair enough, point taken and Richard Knight (for whom I have the highest regard) is right in stating that now is not the time for raking over the ashes of what went wrong. I hope he is right about FWAG surviving in one form or another and I wish all of the FWAG advisers across England the best of luck in keeping things going.

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  11. Hmm. I can't say that I'm surprised; the writing has been on the wall for some time, and the demise of the Scottish wing of FWAG was a shot across their bows. It's a pity for all concerned, of course, but in my experience they were always more about maximising income for farmers rather than striking that delicate balance between profitability and environmental gains or sustainability. Maybe as you suggest, Mark, some good will come of this from an environmental perspective at least with the emergence of a WT/RSPB led initiative to fill the vacuum. Something with a commercial head on its shoulders (a singular failing of poor old FWAG), but an environmental focus. It'd need the right people at the helm for it to succeed...

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