The week before last the EU adopted a biodiversity strategy which says many good things. but let’s just concentrate on agriculture for a moment.
Here are some highlights about agriculture (I’ve highlighted some bits for you):
- 58. Recalls that over half of the EU’s territory is managed by farmers, that farmland delivers important ecosystem services and has considerable socio-economic value, and that funding for the CAP represents a significant part of the EU budget; stresses that the CAP is not confined to the aim of food provision and rural development, but is a crucial tool for biodiversity, conservation, mitigation of climate change, and maintenance of ecosystem services; notes that the CAP already includes measures aimed at environmental protection, such as decoupling, cross-compliance and agri-environment measures; considers it regrettable, however, that these measures have so far failed to halt the overall decline in biodiversity in the EU and that farmland biodiversity is in continued decline; calls, therefore, for a reorientation of the CAP towards the provision of compensation to farmers for the delivery of public goods, since the market is currently failing to integrate the economic value of the important public goods agriculture can deliver;59. Emphasises the connection between water management and biodiversity as an essential component for sustaining life and for sustainable development;60. Stresses the need to move from a means-based approach to a results-based approachin order to assess the effectiveness of the instruments applied;61. Calls for the greening of Pillar I of the CAPin order to ensure the conservation of biodiversity in the wider farmed landscape, improve connectivity and adapt to the effects of climate change; welcomes the Commission’s CAP reform proposal, which provides for a ‘greening’ of the CAP through the allocation of Pillar I payments to a package of basic good practices applied at farm level, including crop rotation and diversification, permanent pasture and a minimum ‘ecological focus area’; underlines that such greening measures need to be workable and must not create unnecessary bureaucracy; reiterates its call for area-based support for the Natura 2000 network under the direct payment scheme; believes that resource-efficient, environment- and climate-friendly agricultural practices will ensure both the sustainability of agricultural businesses and long-term food security, and recognises that the CAP should play a significant role in achieving this;62. Calls for ‘greening’ practices to be geared to agricultural diversity in the various Member States, taking into account, for example, the specific situation of Mediterranean countries, which is not addressed by the proposed thresholds in relation to the diversification of crops and land of ecological importance; notes that assembled crops, permanent crops (olive groves, vineyards, apple orchards) and rice crops are some examples of practices that should be compatible with ‘greening’, given the high ecological and conservation value of some of these agricultural systems;63. Maintains that assistance to public and private actors working to protect forest biodiversity in terms of species, habitats and ecosystem services must be increased under the new CAP, and eligibility extended to areas connecting Natura 2000 sites;64. Calls for all CAP payments, including those made from 2014, to be underpinned by robust cross-compliance rules which help to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, covering the Birds and Habitats Directives (without watering down the current standards applicable from 2007 to 2013), pesticides and biocides legislation and the Water Framework Directive(8); calls for simple and transparent rules for those affected;
65. Calls for a strengthening of Pillar II and for drastic improvements in all Member States to the environmental focus of that pillar and to the effectiveness of its agri-environmental measures, including through minimum mandatory spending on environmental measures – such as agri-environmental measures, Natura 2000 and forest environment measures – and support for High Nature Value and organic farming; underlines that the environmental measures under the two pillars should be mutually reinforcing;
66. Acknowledges the critical report of the European Court of Auditors on agri-environment schemes; notes that very limited environmental objectives have been met with the EUR 22.2 billion available for 2007-2013; urges the Commission to ensure that future agri-environmental subsidies are approved only under strict environmental criteria;
67. Draws attention to the fact that the increase in demand for agricultural fuels and the consequent intensification of pressure for their production in developing countries are threatening biodiversity, particularly in developing countries, owing to the degradation and conversion of habitats and ecosystems such as wetlands and forests, among others;
68. Takes the view that the inspection of agricultural practices should be strengthened in order to prevent biodiversity loss; maintains, in particular, that discharges of slurry should be controlled and even prohibited in the most sensitive areas in order to preserve ecosystems;
69. Calls for the EIP (European Innovation Partnership) in the agricultural field to be given an agro-ecological focus in order to enhance the ecological performance of production systems;
70. Encourages the Commission and the Member States to explore the phenomenon of land abandonment in some parts of Europe as a potential opportunity to rewild large parts of the landscape as major wilderness areas, thus supporting the targeted maintenance of biodiversity and avoiding desertification whilst providing new socio-economic opportunities for rural development; stresses, however, the need to respect existing land ownership; also underlines that European farmers play an important role as ‘guardians’ of the landscape;
71. Warns that various species and habitats which are highly valued from a conservation perspective, including those protected by EU legislation, are dependent on agri-environmental systems in which the presence of human beings is a key factor; highlights, in this connection, the importance of halting and reversing land abandonment; advocates increased support for small and medium-scale farming, family-based farming and extensive farming, which promote proper conservation of natural resources;
72. Calls on the Commission, in the context of the new CAP reform, to step up its efforts in support of agricultural sectors which make a proven contribution to preserving biodiversity, and in particular the bee-keeping sector; points out that wild and domesticated insects such as bees account for 80 % of the pollination of flowering plants, and that the decline with which they are threatened represents an enormous challenge for our societies, whose agricultural production, and therefore food, depends in large part on the pollination of flowering plants; stresses, therefore, that particular attention should be paid to apiculture in the measures to be taken to protect biodiversity;
73. Emphasises the importance of halting and reversing the reduction in species diversity and crop varieties, which leads to an erosion of the genetic basis on which human and animal nutrition depends; advocates the need to promote the use of traditional agricultural varieties specific to certain regions; calls for appropriate legislation and incentives for the maintenance and further development of diversity in farm genetic resources, e.g. locally adapted breeds and varieties;
74. Stresses the need for more effective cooperation at European level in the field of scientific and applied research regarding the diversity of animal and plant genetic resources in order to ensure their conservation, improve their ability to adapt to climate change, and promote their effective take-up in genetic improvement programmes;
Well that’s pretty good, I would say. Although don’t hold your breath because it may never happen. It won’t be popular with farming unions across the EU and they have an awful lot of clout (on how your money is given to them – bizarre isn’t it?).
Here at home the improvements to agri-environment schemes to which Agriculture Minister Jim Paice alluded last week are to be found on the Natural England website. These include a reduction in points for those options that are less environmentally productive and an increase for those that are more productive. This should tilt the playing field a little bit in the right direction at no real detriment to farmers.
These changes may help wildlife a bit, but don’t be fooled into thinking that because they are in the right direction that means that everything is fine; that’s like assuming that you are already home after you’ve taken two steps on the walk after missing the last bus. This blog understands that there were even better options put to the Minister, particularly concerning grassland management options EK2 and EK3 (which are very popular ones at the moment), which he did not approve.
Still, any progress is to be welcomed although, as the European Biodiversity Policy says, and as the Minister said last week, it’s no use judging success by ‘means’ we need to see the right ‘ends’ being delivered.
Slow progress is being made on helping farmers to choose the best combinations of available ELS measures for wildlife. Two approaches will be trialled: ‘Option Bundles’ and ‘Split Lists’. Option bundles are like the Set Menus in a Chinese Restaurant (so you might choose the ‘farmland bird’ bundle) and split lists are, to continue the menu analogy, more like having to choose a starter (from one list), and a main course (from another list) and a dessert (from another list) to ensure a balanced meal. Either approach could work but it seems like it is taking a whole election cycle for Defra to make some pretty small and much-needed changes to ensure better spending of taxpayers’ money. Again it’s progress but we are still far from home.
However, in a document seen by this blog coming out of the EU which is a working paper on Greening Instruments, Member States seem to be thinking of very limp ways to green Pillar 1 payments. From what I have seen it would be possible for any farmer who has more than 50% of his (or her) farm as grassland, or whose farm is certified under a scheme (such as, perhaps, even the Red Tractor Scheme which has little environmental content) to sail through the ‘green’ criterion for Pillar 1 payments. Such measures would not green Pillar 1 to any great extent, and would not do wildlife (any harm but nor would they do it) any good. Let’s hope that the final agreement is much much better than this.
Whenever you are told that progress is being made you should ask whether it is fast enough, big enough and radical enough. And that’s why having sensible outcome targets is so important – it prevents Ministers, civil servants or the rest of us from getting away with saying that things are getting better is good enough if things are still bad. Remember last year’s Breeding Bird Survey results (announced last year and covering up to 2010) were at their lowest recorded level since 1970. Things can only get better – can’t they?
And a last reminder – today is your last chance to vote for your favourite and least favourite wildlife NGO – results tomorrow.[registration_form]