Public says Government is failing on the natural environment

The public aren’t stupid – they have noticed that the Coalition Government is failing on its own commitments to Britain’s natural environment.   Of those surveyed, less than a quarter (23%) think the Government is doing enough to protect our landscapes and wildlife – on land and at sea.

These results come from a survey organised by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of 39 leading environmental charities.

Only 17% of the public think that the Coalition Government is the ‘greenest government ever’ – and I have serious doubts about those 17%.

If David Cameron ever gives the environment a thought these days he may be saddened to learn that only 17 per cent of people agreed that this is the ‘greenest government ever’ (and quite honestly you do wonder whether that 17% are really paying attention).

The poll finds that 84% of people think that the natural environment boosts their quality of life, with 81% wanting to see the natural environment and its wildlife protected at all costs.   (Survey conducted by Com Res).

Wildlife Link also published yesterday its own assessment of the government’s progress against its own stated commitments: Nature Check 2012.

Dr Elaine King, Director of Link, said: “The Government is keen to demonstrate leadership on the financial crisis. But leadership from David Cameron to combat the loss of our natural capital is clearly lacking and the public feels that his Government is not doing enough to protect it. The Government lags behind public opinion on the environment, as the attempt to sell off our forests demonstrated. It needs to catch up.  A healthy environment – and the public benefits it brings – is a critical part of everyone’s quality of life, not an optional add-on.

“The Government’s continued use of rhetoric that promotes growth over the environment is a worrying sign that the fragile progress made so far may not last. We want to see the Government recognise the value of nature and ensure that all departments recognise that the natural environment underpins sustainable growth.

“Our poll shows that only a third of the British public believe that the natural environment is less important than economic growth.

The relatively new Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, was good enough to attend the launch of the document in Parliament and face questions from some of the assembled leaders of the wildlife conservation and environment movement.

Mr Paterson was impressively robust in his defence of the government’s record.  His was going to be a ‘laser-like focus’ on the issues of rural jobs, the environment and diseases (I have a feeling that the third in the list might be a moveable feast depending on the events of the recent past).

He touched on the current floods and opined that building in the floodplain was ‘moronically stupid’.

Mr Paterson was robust about reforming the CAP and fighting for the good bits to stay and the bad bits to go – reassuring in one whose views are apparently that the major reform needed for the CAP is for the UK to leave it. I liked the fact that he got so animated on this subject but when he said he would look any taxpayer in the eye and defend ELS and HLS I had to speak out.

I had to hear this and so I, as a taxpayer, asked how he could defend the fact that hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ pounds went into ELS each year with precious little benefit for farmland plants, insects or birds.  We had a short sharp exchange on this but Mr Paterson did look me in the eye while it happened and I just got the impression that I did put some doubt in his mind about whether what he had said about ELS was true.

If Mr Paterson, or his Defra civil servants are glancing at this blog, and the latter certainly will be (though the Secretary of State is off to Europe this very morning to meet his 26 mates in the EU (which he apparently is keen to leave)), then he should check with Plantlife, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and the RSPB on whether ELS is working.  He really ought to do that, and fixing ELS is his job, it doesn’t depend on Europe, Scotland or anyone else – it’s his Department’s job to make those hundreds of millions of pounds work for wildlife and the taxpayer.

But on a more personal note, I think Mr Paterson will be good fun to deal with.  He appears to think that he knows all the answers from badgers to CAP reform and from floods to ash trees.  And that makes him confident and interestingly argumentative.  The NGOs need to take him on as often as possible and puncture his confidence when he has got it wrong.

It was nice to be in a room with many old friends but there were rather few MPs and Peers present.  I spotted Lord Steel (who sat down and actually was reading the report), Joan Walley hosted the meeting, Angela Smith is a reliable friend of wildlife, Simon Hart (ex Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance), Neil Parish (Somerset farmer), James Gray (keen shot), Simon Wright and Baroness Miller.  There may have been more but I didn’t spot them.  Labour were a bit thin on the ground (hint, hint!).

But I noticed another absentee.  Although WCL’s eight million collective membership was mentioned, about 4 million of them were missing.  The National Trust were not at this event – as far as I could see – and their logo is missing from this report.  Tomorrow I am going to say something nice about the National Trust but today I am unimpressed by their lack of commitment to nature conservation, and lack of commitment to their colleagues in other wildlife conservation organisations.  With FoE, WWF, WWT, Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife, Buglife, RSPB, ARC, CPRE and Butterfly Conservation in the room (and others), and playing a collaborative game, the lack of NT should not go unremarked.

 

Please take a moment to complete this Readers’ Survey – there are only 12 questions and they are all very simple (click here).

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.


37 Replies to “Public says Government is failing on the natural environment”

  1. Interesting timing. After this session you describe from yesterday, I see today the government are suggesting we will need to build on more open space in the future. Probably we do need more housing, but it seems sad that brown field sites remain undeveloped while the government targets open countryside for development.

    PS Have you blogged on ELS and HLS before and I missed it? (If so could you post a link maybe?).

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. Hugh - it feels to me as though I have been banging on about ELS and HLS daily - but I haven't! If you go back to blogs of 14 and 20 February there are some interesting ideas.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    2. Whilst I would not wish to see towns creeping ever deeper into the countryside I think we should be careful about making easy assumptions that all brown field development is good and all green field development is bad. Brown field sites often develop into highly valuable open mosaic habitats that support invertebrates and plants that are rare or threatened elsewhere and we should be seeking to protect and maintain these sites not standing aside and allowing them to become housing estates and shopping malls. On the other hand many green field sites have very little ecological interest if they have been farmed intensively and so - with due consideration for other factors such as landscape aesthetics, flood risk issues, transport and so on - they may offer the most sustainable option for housing provision in some cases. We need to have development policies that treat sites on their merits rather than following simplistic rules.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      1. No doubt you are right Jonathan, although what a damning indictment of our impoverished rural landscape. In fact I noticed, on a recent trip to RSPB Saltholme, that the rough grassland growing around much of the heavy industry surrounding this reserve seemed to support a higher density of kestrels than I was accustomed to seeing around my home on the edge of the North York moors. I suppose one could speculate that if developments included gardens alongside the new housing then the biodiversity supported in these new gardens could substantially improve on that surviving on intensively farmed land. I believe cities are already a refuge for honey bees driven from the countryside by neonicotinoid pesticides, or peregrines that survive there free from persecution. What a bizarre state of affairs that our supposedly green and pleasant land has become a toxic/dangerous no-go area for wildlife and our cities (!) provide the last toeholds for once common species.

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
        1. Hugh, I agree that our countryside should be rich with wildlife and hopefully one day we will have a government that is really seriously committed to being the greenest ever, that will put in place policies that halt the seemingly inexorable impoverishment of rural wildlife. Part of those policies though should include recognition of what is of value now and protecting it irrespective of what the previous history of the land is or how it is designated. Much brown field land is more than worthy of protection and not just because the ecological quality of farmland has declined.
          With respect to your comment about the role gardens can play I would suggest that one of the opportunities that is generally ignored when brown field sites are developed is to try and retain or replicate the habitats of interest in the landscape plans for the site. All too often nutrient rich topsoil is imported into the site which is then planted with ecologically uninteresting turf, 'lolipop' trees and so on when there might have been possibilities to retain at least some of the open mosaic habitat.

          Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  2. If a charity is not doing what it should be doing for the land why can we not take it over? The National Trust has 1/3 of the Lake District. They bought this land with our money for our benefit. Their management is nil in most cases. Sheep farming comes first. With the exception of 'Wild Ennerdale' [ http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk/ ]
    which is joint scheme with the Forestry Commission. [Again our land], United Utilities [our land given away] and Natural England [our staff] very little is being done else where.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. John - I don't know the details of what you say, but the principle of nature being let down in our name, on our land, with our money is one which I very much recognise. Thanks for your comment.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      1. Most unfair comment on the NT. Not being at a launch meeting in London does not equate with not doing conservation management on the land. The NT SSSI land is >95% in Favourable & Recovering condition as assessed by Natural England. That number is almost the same as the Wildlife Trust, RSPB & Natural England managed land (but all are higher than private land).

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
        1. Redwood - not signing up to a joint NGO report on government performance is a bit feeble though isn't it? Which was the main point I made.

          Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      2. NT appear to be going the correct direction of travel with their high peak estate (hopefully people have voiced their support like Mark in his latest excellent news blast!). I think it's only a matter of time before they look wider so I would watch this space on the sheep clad Lakes and other areas.

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  3. 81% of the public want to see the natural environment and its wildlife protected at all costs? Forgive the healthy scepticism Mark, but I don't quite believe this (I'm not sure I actually entirely agree with the statement!). Also, I would be surprised if as much as 17% of the general population actually remembered that this governement had claimed to be the 'greenest ever'. Our perennial problem as conservationists is getting enough of the general population to really properly care and be well-informed of what is happening to our natural environment, and pressurise government for change.

    Good to hear Owen Patterson talking about the 'moronically stupid' nature of building in floodplains. I wonder if he mentioned that most of our floodplains and rivers have been drained and engineered over decades to basically convey water off them as quickly as possible for farming? No-one else seems to be mentioning it.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  4. The Nature Check report went on for >17,500 words (excluding the refs) and only one of these was "soil". No taking governments to task for ignoring - nay - kicking into touch, any concern over the abused matrix which underpins everything. Arthur Fallowfield knew the importance of it.

    Invertebrates.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  5. Oh come on those poll figures are a joke,so far out to sound silly,we live right out in the sticks and even here the result would be 84% do not give a hoot about nature so the result would certainly be worse in towns.These poll firms massage the customers egos to get more business.Of course if you did the poll with loaded questions on RSPB reserves you could end with their results.Anyone who believes these results ought to work with 50 workers in any small business and do a poll there.
    I do of course even though disbelieving the poll results wish they were true.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  6. Totally agree with your comment Dennis, sounds like a "Yes Minister" job to me. In my experience the overwhelming majority of the population cares about trains that run on time and the cost of fuel etc. and gives very little thought if any to wildlife or conservation. I represent a very small rural ward as a DCllr and not once in all my time in the job has anyone raised an environmental issue except wind farms which they all hate !

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. Dennis/Julian - bit surprised you believe so firmly that the majority of people don't care about the environment, though you speak from experience and I don't. But I do know that membership of conservation charities dwarfs that of political parties. Perhaps those who care are more likely to respond positively to a request to complete a survey rather than simply tell ComRes to take a running jump; the 81% "at all costs" seems a bit high, but presumably these polling firms are reasonably careful about how they design and carry out these surveys aren't they?

      My gut feeling is as I put it in a comment on an earlier post on this blog, that the majority of the wider public are worried about the environment, thoroughly fed up with wildlife being continually short changed and would be thrilled if a government ever decided to show convincing leadership in this area. I seem to remember Mrs Thatcher briefly catching this mood in a couple of speeches in about 1988 (without actually then doing much about it).

      If the country cared that much about trains that run on time surely we'd have had a revolution by now!! In fact I'd put the railways in a similar category to the environment as a great national treasure surviving (just) in the face of political meddling, failure and outright hostility through successive govts.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  7. MK,respect anyones point of view but the number of people who belong to conservation charities if we ignore the NT as most of those joined to look round stately homes cheaply,my guess is even some join RSPB to go dog walking free then the actual number out of a population of 60 million is very low%.Plus of course some like Mark probably overlap by being members say of 6 organisations.
    Can tell you out of 50 employees where I worked part time in the countryside only 2 of us interested in environment and wildlife,my guess is that is about the state of affairs in the whole population,in fact probably worse than that in towns.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  8. This helps to put things into context: http://wheredoesmymoneygo.org/bubbletree-map.html#/~/grand-total--2010-. This page suggests about 1% of GDP (£5bn out of a total of £502bn is spent on 'the environment'. But look a bit closer: http://wheredoesmymoneygo.org/bubbletree-map.html#/~/grand-total--2010-/the-environment. Of the £5bn, £1.8bn is spent on 'admin' (budgets for parts of Defra, parts of EA, NE and CCW I think?) £420m on things undefined (?) and approx £400m on undefined 'research'. The rest seems to be pollution control. So it's probably safe to say that less than half of 1% of GDP goes on the conservation aspects of managing wildlife unless I am missing something? We spend many times more on Culture http://wheredoesmymoneygo.org/bubbletree-map.html#/~/grand-total--2010-/culture.

    This suggests that the public really don't generally give a hoot about wildlife?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  9. Since we seem to be talking about polls/poll results and those who do and don't love/care for the countryside and wildlife I wouldn't mind pointing a few things out. Polls and statistics can be spun very easily to represent the view point of anyone very easily. Look no further then on this blog and how the CA tried to spin the statistics in reference to Lead and chocolate! I'm not sure Dennis people join the RSPB just to walk there dogs for free, 1)the membership makes it not free 2)most RSPB reserves don't allow dogs on them.
    Dennis as for people not caring/caring about the countryside, though I think I have to take you out of the don't care, have you read the RSPB article on Birdguides when they surveyed the farmers about what they would do if farming subsides were removed for wildlife schemes? The figures broke down as such 96% think enviroment work would be impared, 51% said the work would be impacted severly, 7% would stop all together and only 4% said their work would not be effected. So given the statements that have been made I have two questions 1) Are "farmers" care/so call care for the enviroment is only linked to payment? No payment no work, or as I've see, get payment do some work for a year or so then once government have stopped looking to make sure the payment was justified, stop any further work2) Was the RSPB poll mentioned in the article also "fixed"? Bearing in mind the only people asked in the survey were the farmers who took part in the scheme

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  10. Adam/Dennis, just to cheer you up a bit (and me) I've just got back in from a Council meeting, not going to say which one as we all have to respect our anonymity here (only God/Mark knows who we are !) and our District has allocated budget to trees and especially Ash management into this coming round. I was amazed especially when things from Central Government in terms of support grant are being cut year on year by 7%. Maybe the Forestry Commision issue earlier this year touched a nerve ?

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  11. Douglas,
    On your comment on farmers and environmental subsidies; farms are businesses and subsidies are part of that mix between output and costs.
    You can make a case for no subsidies, which is fine by me, but you have to accept that prices and output would be affected. You can't just say that because the majority of farmers say that removing stewardship funding would alter the balance on their farms between conservation and production (not that they are necessarily mutually exclusive) means that 96% don't care. They care but they still have to run a profitable business just like anyone else and have responsibilities to family/employees (the bank !) and so on.
    Personally I hate this whole subsidy issue as it’s such an easy and misunderstood subject to have a crack at agriculture with. Unfortunately it’s a system which spans not only us in the UK but most of the major agricultural exporting blocks and unless you can get general agreement on limiting or removing them we’re stuck with the subsidies and the associated cost structure that goes with it.
    Still look on the bright side, they do give NGO’s an input as a major stakeholder group in determining the outcomes (something I think they have done very badly I might say from a farmers perspective).

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. Julian I think it too can be to easy to slate farmers, I have a few friends who are farmers and they have to put up with very long hours, hard graft and even then have to deal with numpties stealing stuff off of their farms. But there have been a couple of things I've noticed recently, farmers who have been given money to do set asides, restore hedgerows, dig out/make bigger ponds and done things for Skylarks, I've seen the farms once a survey had been carried REVERSE everything they've done, and I can take you personally to them farms so you can see for yourself, on one farm he had started work to re-establish some old hedgerows, a year later them hedgerows have gone and it's now ine big field, I can take you to one that backs onto a nature reserve, in the first two years a fantastic set aside, it was sown with seeds for winter and producded some fantastic results however now it's gone and the winter crop the farmer has planted goes right up to the road. For every bad example I can think of, I'm sure you can and I think of good examples. However I take your point about output/profit/pricing etc. It frightens me when I talk to my friend and the difference between profit and massive loss on his farm can be so small, yet if output was reducded and prices for food in supermarkets go up then surely there would be alot less waste of food, and price rises can only be a good thing for a farmer.
      However the fact remains the survey carried out by the RSPB says 96% think their enviromental work would be impared, and I understand you saying things are tight enough down on the farm and I wouldn't expect the work to be carried out for free, but how did we get into this situation of declining wildlife on farms in the first place?

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  12. Dr Elaine Smith praises the Govt’s reaction to the ash tree pathogen (tree action)

    She spent many, many years with the Badger Trust (NFBG) refining her doctorate in ‘obfuscation’ regarding the other pathogen Ask her tp publish her paper!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  13. Hi Mark

    Yep - Dr Elaine King (or Smith as I call her)

    Vegetarian? Don't know! But she did a very good job of 'obfuscating' (with Ben Bradshaw's help) - a good job for the Trust but an awful job for meles meles - bless it!

    A dedicated single species charity such as NFBG / BT should put first the species and not the gravy train donations supporting the officers jobs - which - the BT - still continues to this very day. Very sad!

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  14. Douglas,yes sadly those 96% of farmers saying that less environmental money would affect their environmental farming,it is all about money completely,to be fair they could not make a workable profit in most cases if it was cut.
    Very much doubt if hardly any farm makes what would be considered a decent return on capital invested.
    I will assume if Mark thinks differently knowing Hope Farm profits and capital invested he would contradict me.Of course the land buildings and house if there is one or more have to be valued at market value today against the RSPBs % share of profit.My guess 2 to 3%.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  15. Douglas,we got into declining wildlife on farms as a result of Ministry during the war to avoid probably almost starvation begging (forcing)farmers into more production and after the war this emphasis on production was carried on by all governments with subsidies as I assume we had not the money after the war effort to buy food.As happens it became good farm practice to increase yields and farmers became proud of productive farming and in a way it became a habit.Of course money came into it but it was mainly pride and to be fair it was not known the damage it was doing to wildlife.Farmers did however stop the general public from starvation rations so no way will I blame them but we are now between a rock and a hard place where if general public want farmers to farm how the G P demand then they have to pay for it one way or another just like anything else they demand the pay for.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. Dennis you forgot two other factors 1) human greed for which farmers can't be blamed 2) Over dependence on pesticides and other chemials some of which we don't know the true long term effects.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  16. Douglas/Dennis

    Yes I agree with you on your comments but arable returns are getting a lot better at the moment with wheat trading at contact highs. Bit of a downer with the floods and a very wet summer with the UK only producing 13mt grain which us well down on last years drought even. Winter plantings are also at record lows for winter wheat do I'd expect to see market pressures keep cereal prices well up in the short to medium term which I think will soften the blow when the Tier II cuts come in as far as Stewardship is concerned.

    On one of the points about removing set aside or wild bird cover beside the reserve it whatever it was don't forget that crops rotate and that you can't keep growing wild bird cover in the same place year after year. The ELS (such as it is) does allow for this and in fact it was about the only agronomist point they got right on the whole scheme.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  17. Julian,do not want to appear to defend farmers over everything as for sure it has taken time to get more wildlife friendly but lots are now embracing it although I feel it is obviously money led with most of them but to change from a generation brought up where production was god to a generation more for wildlife is quite a big change.
    Think although I can understand the critics of ELS and am partly one myself some is a bit unfair as for instance I believe it more or less forces farmers who enter to cut hedges every second year thus giving more berries for birds,really important this year.It may also encourage them into higher schemes so it may not be as bad as some suggest.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  18. Dear Mark – I hope you don’t mind some comments from a Defra civil servant. You are right that some of us occasionally glance at your blog!

    The evidence on the value for money from Entry Level Stewardship is much more positive than you suggest. This study by the Food and Environment Research Agency and Newcastle University found positive cost benefit ratios for Entry Level Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship:

    http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/economics/foodfarm/reports/documents/estimatingthewildlife.pdf

    So for every pound invested, we get up to three pounds in benefits relating to wildlife, landscape and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Since the study didn’t look at beneficial effects on water, soil and air quality, this is very likely to be an under-estimate.

    There is also, I think, some evidence that Entry Level Stewardship options are having positive effects for farmland birds.

    (Reported here? http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02161.x/abstract )

    Nonetheless we are keen to improve our agri-environment schemes all the time and we have been working this year on some enhancements. The Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) project has resulted in five new ELS options and changes to some others. These changes make sure that we can get even more benefits out of the scheme. The project is also trialling some things to inform choices we will have to make for the next wave of agri-environment schemes, including more directed option choices in ELS. We are also excited about the fact that this coming winter Environmental Stewardship will provide winter feeding options to encourage more farmers to provide food for birds through the “hungry gap.” We think this could make a big difference.

    Of course we have some big choices to make in the current round of CAP reform about how we do agri-environment in the future. If invited, I'd happily do a guest blog on that here in a few months' time as part of our consultation effort! (Hopefully by then I'll also have worked out how to do hyperlinks in the comments section...)

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    1. Arik - you are very welcome here. Thank you for your comment. And a Guest Blog would also be welcome.

      I'll have a look at both of your links - the first is to a 500+ page document, and the second requires me to pay, so it might take me a while. It looks as though the second paper lumps ELS and HLS together though - is that right?

      I welcome the 'hungry gap' change. Everything does seem rather slow though, particularly because Messrs Benyon and Paice (remember him?) were both moaning about ELS as Shadow Ministers, are both land-managers, and should know how to fix these things.

      There is more to wildlife than just farmland birds, but farmland bird numbers are not soaring thanks to the hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money going into ELS each year. i wonder what the next Farmland Bird Index change will show? And for most wildlife that isn't a bird, I haven't heard Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife or others praising ELS to high heaven - have you?

      Thanks very much for your comment. Please keep coming back.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    2. Arik - I haven't read your first reference yet, and actually I haven't read the second either as $42 to get access to it for 24 hours seemed a bit steep to me.

      However, this reference on the website of the authors' own organisation is useful reading. http://www.bto.org/science/latest-research/els-story

      1. My criticisms were of ELS not HLS - and this paper looks at ELS and HLS together, not separately. How much of the 'benefit' was from HLS and how much from ELS?

      2. This reference suggests that the 'benefit' of >60% of English farmland being under environmental Stewardship is that 7 seed-eating birds ahve had their declines slowed a little. For the price of several hundred million pounds a year that is a pretty modest 'benefit' for farmland birds, let alone for wildlife as a whole.

      3. The farmland bird index during the period covered by this study continued to fall - here is the link on your own Defra website http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/statistics/foodfarm/enviro/observatory/indicators/d/de5_data.htm

      Yes the prescriptions work - we all know that - but the scheme doesn't work because not enough farmers are sufficiently encouraged by the scheme design to take up the most effective options. There is nothing wrong with the biology behind the prescriptions - the fault is with Defra for the scheme's implementation.

      I do have to read the other document but your SoS still should not be able to look me or any other taxpayer in the eye and say that ELS is delivering for farmland wildlife for all the hundreds of millions of pounds going into it. It quite simply isn't.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
      1. Thanks, Mark - The options which are reported as working for farmland birds, leaving stubble overwinter and planting wild bird seed crops in field margins, are ELS options.

        The MESME project worked up ways for shifting options uptake to provide even better value. Some of Julian's comments below, I think demonstrate, that there was a balance to be struck between changing the scheme and not disrupting the work of people who are putting Environmental Stewardship measures in place too much.

        We had help and support by people in many organisations, inlcuding for example the RSPB and the NFU, in trying to strike that balance.

        The winter feeding option was designed on the basis of evidence that it works for farmland birds and that they find the food.

        As I said, the current round of CAP reform is an opportunity to look again at our agri-environment schemes.

        Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  19. Arik,

    As a farmer with several ELS and HLS schemes I read your comments with a great deal of interest.
    I'm pleased you think that Defra think that they are getting value for money and personally, regardless of the many failings in both schemes in terms of practical implementation on the ground, we will continue with them for the foreseeable future.
    As far as the MESME project goes it has in my opinion been a disaster and very badly consulted on at ground level. Without going into vast detail there are two changes to the ELS options which are very regrettable. One is the failure to sufficiently recognise the value/cost ratio between wild bird cover options and the general field corner or grass buffer strip options. The other is one you refer to in your post which is the winter feeding option where farmers are paid to feed grain over the winter. Has it ever occurred to anyone how the taxpayer is going to react when they find out that released pheasants are benefactors of this ? From a farmer’s perspective it looks as if we are going to be criticised from all directions both for failure to take up the scheme or from profiteering from adopting it.
    I can’t say how disappointed we are with the revised scheme both in terms of the above and also in the fact that the boundary options have been cut so drastically, (hardly a great way of rewarding those who kept their hedges maintained in the past) Going back to my opening point we will renew wherever possible but I do feel that the constant moving of the goalposts combined with a very heavy handed RPA inspectorate will discourage a significant number of both renewals and first timers and an opportunity to improve the scheme has been sadly lost.
    As a general observation on the whole stewardship issue you have to ask why such a massively costly and bureaucratic ELS and HLS scheme was ever adopted in the first place ? The previous ESA and Countryside Stewardship schemes were a model of simplicity and were a pleasure to administer in comparison to the old IACS system which ran alongside it. Now the Single Farm Payment scheme is up and running, which is now quite straightforward, the bureaucratic burden has been moved to the stewardship schemes. I would imagine that the old RPA inspectors who did IACS are delighted with their new role (or at least the one who spent six days measuring the length of every hedge in the scheme, to the nearest meter, was during our last inspection). At a time of possible severe cuts to the Tier 2 budget it seems madness to carry on with such an overwhelmingly complicated voluntary scheme surely ? A total replacement is needed in my opinion.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.