Last week George (Gideon) Osborne had to do something different because it was clear that his economic policies weren’t working (he did the wrong thing, but he did have to do something) whereas there is no sign that Defra is going to do anything different even though their policies aren’t working either.
The differences between last week’s Autumn statement and last week’s announcement of the Farmland Bird Index are many – but one crucial one is that the Chancellor keeps making predictions about the economy and can be shown to be falling short of them every few months. Defra does not tell us how high (or low) the Farmland Bird Index will be next year or in five years time and so can never fall short.
The overall FBI for England edged up a little thanks to increases of generalist species but farmland specialists continue to decline and the overall picture remains utterly bleak.
It’s not as though this, and the previous, government has no policy on this subject. Hundreds of millions of pounds pour into farmers’ pockets every year through agri-environment payments that are supposed to reverse these stark declines. And they could, easily, as proved at the RSPB’s Hope Farm where farmland bird numbers have increased for years, if only Defra got off their backsides and gave the schemes a good tweaking.
When c70% of English farmland is covered by Entry Level Scheme and farmland bird numbers continue to be in free-fall then it is time for Defra to realise that its policy response is wholly inadequate. Defra is failing farmland wildlife and failing the tax payer with its bankrupt policies.
It’s all very well concentrating on CAP negotiations and the ‘big’ picture but if we are wasting agri-environment spend through our own inept policy response here in England then it really doesn’t matter too much whether funds are doubled or halved (and neither will happen).
Whereas George Osborne looks foolish because he stated his recipe for economic recovery, and its timescale, and has not delivered, Defra looks foolish because it has no recipe for ecological recovery, has set no timescale, and is not delivering.
The only part of CAP spend that demonstrably works for wildlife in England is HLS. ELS delivers very little wildlife value for insects or plants and precious little for farmland birds either. And yet it costs us, the taxpayers, as much each year as five RSPBs. Almost anyone could deliver more wildlife benefit with half a billion pounds a year than Defra do for us at the moment.
The taxpayer is being robbed, wildlife is being short-changed and Defra policy is bankrupt. Can I have my money back please?