That CAPs the year off nicely – not!

wwgbThe decision of the coalition government to reject the Secretary of State for the Environment’s recommendation of a full 15% rate of modulation for the CAP (and go for 12% instead) caps off an awful year for wildlife in England;

– glacially slow and inadequate progress on MCZs

– UK opposition to a neonic ban in the EU

– the near-extinction of the Hen Harrier in England

– biodiversity offsets still hanging in there despite being a discredited idea

– thousands of dead badgers killed for little purpose

– farmland birds still disappearing and turtle doves leading the race to UK extirpation

The CAP news was greeted thus by various organisations:

CLA:  CLA President Henry Robinson said: “We are pleased Mr Paterson has listened to the industry and moved 12 percent from Pillar One to Pillar Two rather than choosing the maximum figure allowable of 15 percent.

“He has struck a reasonable balance between supporting the environment and rural development and ensuring that farmers in England get a fair deal.”

The CLA President said it was right the Government is continuing to recognise – through investing in agri-environment schemes – the great contribution that farmers make to the environment. Mr Robinson said he was greatly encouraged by the decision to continue to support the rural growth programme through the package of proposals.

The Wildlife Trusts:  ‘Today’s announcement on agricultural funding for 2014-2020 as a missed opportunity to boost investment in wildlife-friendly and progressive farming. The Government’s decision to initially transfer only 12% from farmers’ direct payments to the budget for environmental and rural growth schemes instead of the full 15% for the full seven year period is disappointing.  Although it is a relief that the status quo is being maintained for which Defra should be congratulated, the fact remains that this is insufficient to meet the huge challenges facing the natural environment.  A unique opportunity to create benefits for our natural heritage at no extra cost has been lost.

NFU: NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: “I am delighted that Owen Paterson has decided to keep the rate of modulation below the maximum for the next four years along with a Government review to be launched in 2016 to consider the transfer rate from payments in 2018. I appreciate this was not any easy decision for the Secretary of State to make but we are pleased that he has listened to our arguments.

“I would like to thank the EFRA Select Committee and many rural MPs who have supported us in recent days.

“The reduced rate of transfer to the Rural Development budget will mean that £224million will be retained in the farming sector over the next four years.

“This issue has falsely been presented as a fight between farming and the environment. It is not. Even at nine per cent transfer the NFU has demonstrated that we could continue to meet all our on-going commitments to agri-environment programmes and have a surplus to spend on other measures. At 12 per cent there will be additional funds available and we will play our full part in determining how these might best be spent.

RSPB: Today’s funding announcement by Defra has fallen considerably short of what’s needed to recover populations of these threatened species, meaning that wildlife-friendly farming schemes are going to have work harder for wildlife as the pot available has shrunk from what was hoped.

Today’s announcement by Owen Paterson – the Environment Secretary – offers some hope for the recovery for threatened species reliant on agriculture, but success will depend on targeting the funding towards well-designed schemes to help wildlife.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: “We have received thousands of expressions of support from the public calling for a countryside richer in wildlife. This is important to the public, including many wildlife-friendly farmers.

“Today Owen Paterson and Defra have planted some of the seeds needed for the recovery for threatened species of farmland wildlife, like the skylark, marsh fritillary butterfly and turtle dove. But, as any farmer will tell you, these few seeds will need a lot of nurturing to get the greatest yield.

“While the deal falls short of what we wanted and what nature needs, we will continue to work with the large numbers of progressive farmers to help protect the farmed environment and prevent the ongoing decline of many threatened species.

“The proposals were watered down following considerable last-minute pressure placed on the Government by the National Farmers Union. The Government has made its own job of meeting its environmental commitments harder, and must re-assert its determination to ensure that a large proportion of this public money is directed towards public benefits: a healthy and vibrant countryside, rich in wildlife, to which we all have access.”

This type of response from the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB would be fine if they had a stack of victories to set beside this defeat – you can’t win them all!

But they have a stack of defeats to set beside this defeat.  It seems to me that the NGOs have become so accustomed to losing, and to being ignored by this government, that they have forgotten how to show their displeasure.  How many times have NGOs been ‘disappointed’ when they ought to be furious?  How many times have they referred to ‘lost opportunities’ when government has deliberately turned its back on the right thing to do? How many times have they sucked up the dust of defeat when they should be spitting it out at government?

If you want the support of the public then, if you can’t give us victories, at least give us passion!

And would any government, let alone the most arrogant government ever (as far as the environment is concerned), be the least bit perturbed by the response to this latest example of ignoring the NGOs?

UK wildlife NGOs – if you can’t persuade government to do the right thing then at least call them out on being the least effective government on wildlife issues that you have ever known.




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28 Replies to “That CAPs the year off nicely – not!”

  1. I agree that a furious response is required but now that the decision has been made it is also necessary to ensure that the money is spent effectively. You have talked a lot recently about targets and what success should like like and it is clear that continuing declines of farmland birds and other countryside wildlife is not a successful return on money spent from Pillar II. We should be writing to Mr Paterson via our MPs to demand that he ensures that every pound spent from the 12% will stem or reverse these declines.

    1. Jonathan – I agree there is still plenty that could go worse or better. there is always another battle to fight. Which is why one must fight as though one wants to win. Taking each defeat calmly hardly gets the troops motivated for the next time you ask them to go over the top!

  2. Just as Michael Gove wears a vote of no confidence by 99.3% of teachers as a badge of honour, and IDS sees the likes of the Trussell Trust as the enemy of opportunity, I think Paterson will be pleased with a furious response from “campaigning organisations”. Such is this lot’s disdain for little people.

    I wrote to my MP a certain Richard-Grosvenor-Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. He had nothing to say about supporting our environment, and everything to say about how hard it was for little people to understand the subtleties of CAP. He would not be drawn how the SFP inflated his farm rents.

  3. Isn’t it time for the NGO’s to co-ordinate a mass demonstration to show a loud and clear demonstration of anger and passion? The RSPB have a million members alone and I don’t know what the State of Nature Report partners total membership is but probably enough to put a crowd together?

  4. We the the general public are the ones a fault. We keep pressing hard to drive prices lower beyond the cost of growing. Hence why farmers have subsidies to survive. A 10% cut back isn’t a life or death situation for the farm .be great ful we have something as we had nothing before.

    1. That’s all very well Mick, but things aren’t as simple as you imply. For a start, many of us ordinary folk are on very low, even falling incomes and are have absolutely no choice but to shop for the very cheapest food.

      For another thing, many so-called farmers who are getting doled out massive subsidies are not getting them “to survive” as you put it, but because they are from the wealthy and powerful families who alone have the ear of government and the establishment. Obviously there are some of the smaller farmers out there who are genuine people trying to get by and do a decent job of work, but the fact is that most of the land in Britain is owned and controlled, dog-in-the-manger style, by a narrow elite who are essentially farming subsidies and fattening their wallets.

  5. Peter – you seem to forget that this lot dismissed the National Trust as “a bunch of Trotskies” (Chris Grayling) over their planning campaign.

    that said, I am increasingly coming to the view that civil disobedience is the only recourse to a government so disinterested not just in environmental matters, but anything that is about the state being part of the civic society.

    The key with any civil disobedience campaign is it has to be really carefully targeted where it hurts vested interests most, and us little people least.

  6. The only language MP’s will understand is a direct threat to their positions. We need to start to let them know our aim is to put them out of power for a generation. Write to them, publicise that people need to vote No at the next election. Yes, the little people do hold the power. Lest they forget….

  7. This matter reflects concerns I have had for some time with our wildlife NGO’s. They are up against very well funded and vociferous opposition in the NFU and the CLA even though these organisations represent a minority of people interested in the countryside.

    The NGO’s still behave as if they are the decent face of the argument and seem to never get angry. The language of their responses in edging toward the pathetic. You can bet that although the opposition may speak frightfully politely they will be up to every trick in the book to make sure they get their way.

    It really is time for our NGO’s to get into fighting mode on all wildlife issues and start talking in a language that gives their supporters some hope that things can be improved.

    I am concerned for the future. With the Labour cock-ups still high in people’s minds and the pathetic patronising show of the current administration what is left? If UKIP are the alternative then maybe I will emigrate.

  8. Whilst many of you burn with NFU-like fury and indignation, there are some important points to bear in mind:

    1. The situation is to be be reviewed in 2016, with the intention of moving to a 15% rate of modulation in the final two years of the CAP period.

    2. ELS is now closed for new applications, HLS will remain open under a transitional arrangement only for 2014 but at a much reduced capacity. It appears that the successor to Env Stewardship, the snappily named New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) is unlikely to be fully rolled out before 2016 so the rate of modulation in 2015 is, to all intents and purposes, meaningless. There won’t be much to spend the money on until well into 2016.

    3. Jonathan Wallaces point regarding the need to ensure that pillar 2 funds are spent to best effect cannot be overstated. There is currently large amount of ‘fat on the bone’ in this respect.

    4. The Pillar 1 requirements for crop rotation and ‘Ecological Focus Areas’ will bring about improvements to the biodiversity of arable farmland outwith those brought about by Pillar 2.

    5. Look at the rates of modulation that some of our EU neighbours have opted for; Scotland: 9.5%, France: 3%, Germany: 4.5%, Italy: 0%. You can see why some English farmers argue they are being placed at a competitive disadvantage with farmers in other EU countries.

    I won’t ever claim to be a fan of Owen Paterson, I certainly have never voted for his party – nor the one on the opposite of the house. However in this instance with all things considered, particularly the framework that he has had to operate under, I feel that OP has done a reasonably good job.

    1. Ernest, not sure I’d have full confidence that the ‘review’ will lead to an increase to the higher rate, but maybe.

      As for greening and EFA, I honestly can’t see that delivering any real benefit; it’ll certainly be less than the modest benefit derived from ELS.

      The frustration is that we do know how to deliver wildlife benefits in arable systems – a few % of farmed area delivered for wildlife to a high standard goes a long way; the trick is to get the incentive right – farmers need to think of their environmental delivery as a crop that delivers an income. That is, to reward on the basis of quality of delivery.

  9. All the evidence points, unlikely though it may seem, to Owen Paterson being the main advocate for 15%, beaten back by No 10 and NFU. Why ? Well, I suspect its because he’s MP for a constituency with a lot of less favoured area in it – and farmers in LFAs do better from agri-environment because they’ve got more wildlife and can do more good things without seriously impacting their farming. In a way, that sums up the whole issue: CAP was meant to support rural living & employment. It has done neither, rather funding the farms most likely to succeed. Whether propping up food production was ever the right way to keep people in remoter rural areas has always been questionable.

    Looking at the bigger picture, first, its not just us: world agriculture is underpinned by the USA, the land of the free & neoliberal ‘let capitalism rip’ and yet it’s agriculture is hugely, spectacularly subsidised – probably the main justification for European subsidies . These subsidies have been pivotal to world trade talks over decades – the west demand everyone opens up their markets but won’t budge from farming subsidies that undoubtedly undermine agriculture across the third world. Go beyond that and bear in mind that farming subsidies are one area of public funding that has suffered no cuts whatsoever through the recession. Politicians will claim its because it’s European funding but could it also be that its funding to some of the richest people in this country ?

    But we won’t get anywhere by moaning and getting cross. The only way through this is to project a different vision for our countryside and its funding – we need to be arguing convincingly on our own ground, not endlessly disputing farming policies that are patently time expired and, beyond that, we need to do it with our European partners who face just the same issues, only bigger if you are trying to keep people living in mountain Europe or managing flood risk in the Rhine estuary.

    1. “All the evidence points, unlikely though it may seem, to Owen Paterson being the main advocate for 15%, beaten back by No 10 and NFU. Why ? Well, I suspect its because he’s MP for a constituency with a lot of less favoured area in it – and farmers in LFAs do better from agri-environment because they’ve got more wildlife and can do more good things without seriously impacting their farming”

      As far as I know only a small proportion (approx. 10% ?) of OP’s constituency is classed as LFA. The vast majority of his constituency is dominated by productive lowland farmland, of which the dominant sectors are intensive dairy and intensive beef, hence his particular interest in badgers. If keeping the farmers in his constituency happy was his main policy driver, then I’m sure he’d be more likely to listen to the wealthier lowland gentlemen farmers than the upland sheep men.

      I suspect the main reason OP was an advocate of a 15% rate of inter-pillar transfer is more to do with the fact many of his landowning set have made good use of CSS and HLS over the years. Non-farming landowners can enter their land into in a high-paying ELS/HLS agreement, claim the SPS payments and then also some additional income by letting their land on a summer grazing licence to a neighbouring farmer. It can add up to a very decent annual income, whilst at the same time they also enjoy the benefit of capital appreciation on their land, attractive farmland to exercise the horses, wild bird seed mix plots for the shoot and nobody spraying any chemicals or spreading foul smelling slurry too close their homes. The wildlife usually flourishes as well. Why wouldn’t he be pushing for 15% modulation ?

    2. As a cynic I thought it was cute for OP to argue for 15%, possibly knowing it would be moderated in cabinet, but giving him the figleaf of being able to say he’d advocated the higher number.

      I agree with others on here. It’s time for the wildlife/conservation lobby to get more political and more vocal. And to be honest, it’s not really about the difference between 12 and 15 pc modulation. Part of this is about PR, language and mobilising the base; part is about getting beyond sites and species and initiating a proper debated about ecosystem costs and benefits, and how these relate to intensive land management.

  10. Disputing of farming policy detail, needless to say, has it’s place but is there enough consensus generally to sanction the need for demonstration on a large scale and well target civil disobedience? I do believe there is popular support (a large majority I suspect) for the prioritisation of nature conservation to ensure a halt to further decline in the UK’s biodiversity but that popular support needs to nucleate around a simple clear message and any activism needs to be targeted specifically to cause maximum disruption. Mobilisation of that nature would only be required to work effectively on one or two occasions- the threat of it afterwards would be sufficient to ensure a long term commitment (by any future government) . Not sure it’s entirely fair to say the NGO’s are pathetic- many passionate and hard working individuals have worked themselves to exhaustion. Maybe the necessary period of amicable negotiation and reason has passed (and failed) and now its time for a bit of a push?

    1. Maybe time to start to boycott British farm produce. It’d certainly catch the NFU’s attention (and hence the government’s) if the great British public put their money where their mouth is. It needn’t even be an environmentally bad thing to do – after all, New Zealand lamb for example has a lower carbon footprint (even after shipping to the UK) than upland or island farmed Scottish lamb. (True fact this, many thanks to the Scottish Agricultural College for the study that backfired on HIE who’d commissioned a study to prove Scottish lamb’s green credentials…)

      Mass civil disobedience needn’t mean taking to the streets. All we’d have to do is court some publicity in the media (easily done) and embrace the non-EU food producers for a month or two. As it stands, anyone who cares about the environment is dismissed as a bunny-hugger by the farming community, at worst an irritation and at best a bit of a joke. (“You don’t understand agriculture, you’re not one of us”, they say. Well, I do, and I come from a farming background. I just chose to renounce it). Time perhaps to show that even bunnies have teeth, and can choose where to buy their carrots from.

        1. And to you, Mark. Hopefully our paths will cross in the new year, maybe with you coming to visit you-know-where!

          Meanwhile, I can judge the efficacy of my suggestions by the number of dislikes they garner! I am really liking the idea of time-limited buy-British embargos. Unpatriotic? Absolutely not. I am extremely proud of our nation’s (sadly denuded) wildlife, and would like to see more done for it. Farmers are (and I believe this expression has seen the light of day once or twice) custodians of biodiversity. I want to speak up for biodiversity, and I think we need to get the agricultural industry (and the politicians’) attention. Saying “enough of this nonsense” and “we’re very disappointed” is water off a duck’s back with these people. Let’s hit ’em where it hurts. In their bank balances.

  11. With all this talk of merging DEFRA with Natural England, it seems DEFRA has already merged with the NFU, they seem to have identical aims and policies….

  12. Can someone tell me whether all this talk about UK farmers getting £400 from each taxpayer is actually accurate or does that money go to EU and then dished out with money from other EU members to each individual country,if it does we must be funding wildlife in Europe not just the UK so that £400 figure would be a complete red herring.
    In my opinion sadly all those interested party’s in Mark’s blog speak with their own interests in mind and blow everybody else,they also speak with a bit of a forked tongue,where for instance was the rspb when e-petition desperately needed pushing,perhaps in Governments pocket,now they can carry on about farmland birds.
    While I do think that 3% was deserved for better wildlife we could actually do much better than the 3% benefit if we cultivated better relationships with majority of farmers.

  13. Neil,think you would find it hard to find a farmer who thinks DEFRA on his side,buy a farm and see.

  14. As illustrated during your poll for Nature MP of the year, the one thing Owen Paterson has achieved is cross political attention, (abroad as well as at home), to issues which had for a long time become stagnated. The very unconservative attack on planning will result in an interesting election next time round and as the damage to the wider rural economy is realised by biodiversity offsetting, the relaxing of ALL planning constraints for development in the peri urban communities as well as the removal of the few remaining natural elements in urban landscapes due to budget restrictions, whilst swathes of brownfield land are left abandoned, Owen Paterson and his Ministry colleagues have created a legacy which can only be improved upon. Let’s hope when, as it must be, improved upon it will avoid the obvious pitfalls leading to an Environment vs Farming polarisation and start to listen to the myriad of other interests – that point the way to success by way of the real solutions that exist in combining economically viable land management whilst reversing downward trends in biodiversity.

  15. With experience of more than one NGO. But one in particular. (WT)
    I’m amazed that anyone has mentioned the phrase “Time for direct action”.
    As those at the top of many NGO’s speak and act like those uncaring polititions being criticized here.
    In my experience chief exec’s of our NGO’s do not think like us normal folk, there not prepared to fight to protect our local wildlife and the environment but isn’t that how it should be?

    For sure they will never take positive action to protect our wildlife. Not at the expense of upsetting good old Joe public. (they pay the wage bill). Especially as they know in reality Joe public only wants somewhere nice to visit on a sunny day, or to walk the dog a few hundred yards till Its done its business.

    Talk of confrontation is a little worrying (necessary now) but should be a last resort but fear not folks as none of our NGO’s will ever consider let alone speak of any form of direct action. However late in the day it is and no matter how few Turtle Doves & Cuckoo we don’t see return to our shores in 2014. Sad really!

    1. I agree Derick. My experience of many of these NGOs is that they have become far too much colonised by careerists who see the environmental sector as a milch-cow that also nicely massages their personal image. You only have to look through the lists of Boards of Trustees to see that most of them are the County’s wealthy establishment. Such people do not intend to rock the boat … and they will move to exclude any that might.

      Looking through the comments on this post I’m particularly struck by the fact that half a dozen people seem to be marking others’ comments down but don’t seem able to summon the moral courage to actually put their objections to those comments in writing, suggesting that their objections are based not on fact and evidence but on some kind of vested interest.

      It would be very interesting to see some of the socio-economic issues raised by commenters here addressed in more detail.

  16. Dearly wishing that the RSPB had people writing press releases who were prepared to bare their teeth and inject a little venom. I know, we’re in a ‘Nature of Farming’ time of politically correct cooperation between the interests of conservation and agriculture, but it feels as if the pendulum has swung too far… It’s all mealy-mouthed appeasement and polite expressions of disappointment.

    Cooperation is, manifestly, only getting conservation so far. Farmers vote with their feet – or rather, their bank balance – and in many cases are only prepared to adopt wildlife-friendly practices when they’re paid to do so. Fair enough. They’re going to do them anyway as long as the money’s on offer. Meanwhile, perhaps it’s time for conservation’s political lobbyists to get a little more radical, a little more vocal, a little more muscular. Applying some hard, gritty pressure and expressing some righteous anger is long overdue. Heaven knows doing so has never hurt the NFU!

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