I don’t quite know how I missed this much earlier in the year but it’s never too late to point out the failures of the NFU (and their friends the CLA) in this, red tractor logo week (for more on red tractors come back tomorrow).
In return for not having any regulatory requirements imposed on them when set-aside disappeared, English farmers promised to deliver a doubling of in-field Entry Level Scheme options between 2009 and 2012. This would mean increasing these options from 40,000ha to 80,000ha. This was given the inspiring name of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
It was a deal.
It looked like a good deal all round provided it was delivered. It would be a good deal for wildlife because the coverage of options such as skylark plots (tiny bare patches within cereal fields) would increase. The value of these options for wildlife is beyond dispute – they have contributed to the increase in farmland bird numbers on the RSPB’s Hope Farm.
It would be a good deal for farmers because instead of having an extra environmental regulation they could simply sign up to be paid, by the taxpayer, for doing good for wildlife on their farms. It was a carrot instead of a stick. And with the loss of set-aside, extra areas of land were available for money-making, so putting a bit back for wildlife was a reasonable thing to do (particularly because a farmer would get paid to do it).
It was a deal. If all delivered then it would be a reasonable deal. It was a deal struck by a Labour government but it was a Big Society type of approach – it was a test of whether we could rely on the good will of individuals to deliver for the environment instead of having to ‘make’ farmers do a little better for wildlife.
Farming failed to deliver. English farmers couldn’t even get it up (!) to 60,000 ha.
The taxpayer and our wildlife were short-changed again.
This is what the farmer and Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, said in February 2011:
The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) is just over one year old but has done much to raise farmers’ awareness of the environmental benefits that their land can deliver. I am grateful for the work that partners have been doing to make the CFE stronger but there is still some way to go.
Farmers cannot afford to relax. The Government is putting food production back up the agenda, but we have made it clear that this must be done alongside protecting and enhancing the environment and farmers must show they can do both. We want the campaign to be a success and don’t believe that we should regulate and impose more red tape if the farming community can achieve the same results through its own actions.
The CFE is the farming industry’s chance to demonstrate that this voluntary approach can work better than regulation and that they are best placed to decide on, and tackle, their local environmental priorities, without intervention. But if the farming community cannot step up and achieve these results voluntarily the Government will have to consider a compulsory approach to deliver these same benefits.
I will be looking carefully at the CFE’s progress during 2011 and I hope to hear more about the actions farmers are taking to protect our wildlife and justify the trust that we are placing in them.
I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t say ‘I told you so’ because I did (and I wasn’t alone) – see this blog of September 2011 and this one of October 2011, and this one of April 2012. See also this report in the Farmers Weekly of 2011, Farmers Guardian 2011, and this report in Farmers Weekly of May 2010. See this letter in the Guardian in 2009 signed by a whole range of wildlife groups.
In fact, let’s go back to July 2009 and the RSPB blog I wrote on the very day that the government decision on a voluntary approach was announced where I wrote ‘the ball is in Peter Kendall’s (the NFU President’s) court to deliver his promises to raise the enthusiasm of the farming community for saving farmland birds. And if Peter can’t deliver, then the prospect of regulation remains.’ and also ‘Defra has put a huge amount of trust in the NFU’s ability to persuade farmers to give more back to wildlife and that burden may weigh heavily on Peter Kendall’s shoulders. Every farmer I’ve met for weeks has said that they support the voluntary approach and when asked why they grin and say ‘because we won’t have to do anything different’.’.
The NFU made us a promise and they broke it.
The offer of a Guest Blog is open to the NFU – would Peter Kendall like to say ‘sorry!’?