I’ve been thinking about the proposed CAP reform and chatting to a few people about it too.

The attempt to move towards more equal payments across the EU cannot be other than fair – probably.  This is the agricultural equivalent of the idea of contraction and convergence.  If it were decided to do the same thing within the UK as is intended across the EU, Scottish farmers would be holding out their hands for some money from English and Northern Irish farmers – that’ll be fun in a partly devolved UK.

The proposed capping of Pillar 1 payments to 300,000 euros seems to me to be a good idea and perfectly fair.  If there were a ‘Single Supermarket Payment’ supporting the sellers of food rather than the producers of food’s raw materials then would you really want Tesco to get huge payments from the taxpayer compared with your corner grocer?  Might you not say ‘Hang on! You’re a massive business and you don’t need a handout from your customers’ taxes.’.  So might it be with land owners.

The unintended collateral damage of capping is that landowning conservation organisations will be capped too.  Personally I think that is fair enough too.  Charities can’t expect to benefit from public policies which are basically wrong-headed.  The RSPB, for one, has long argued for reductions in Pillar 1 payments so I’m sure they will be happy that they are being reduced (maybe a bit more quickly for themselves than for some other farmers though).  I hope that the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts do not argue against capping just because capping does not suit their own interests.  I guess the federal nature of the Wildlife Trusts means that it is not much of an issue for them anyway.

Having compulsory Environmental Focus Areas is a good idea.  If they make up 7% of the farmed area (I bet the NFU will be lobbying like mad to get this figure lowered) then their impact on agricultural production will be very small.  Many farms will qualify already – I wonder how much of the RSPB’s Hope Farm would already qualify and how much of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Loddington project would already qualify?  Remember that hedges and small (lots of scope for argument over that!) woods all qualify to make up part of the 7% total. And given the possibility to include the least productive parts of any farm in the EFAs any impact on the economics or productivity of the farmed landscape will be negligible – surely? Whereas the biodiversity benefit could be considerable.

The criterion for who counts as an active farmer might be a bit tricky for some NGOs too – the direct payments have to be at least 5% of your non-agricultural income for you to quality.  So if, say, Vodaphone own some fields they can’t claim on them?  Not even if they own hundreds of fields because Vodaphone is a very big business?  Interesting.

If 30% of the Pillar 1 payments are for ‘green stuff‘ can you get the other two thirds if you don’t want to do the ‘green stuff’?  That’s not clear to me.

But it is interesting that being an organic farm will ‘count’ as enough ‘green stuff’ to get the Pillar 1 payments.  I wonder what happens on big, partly organic farms?

There’s plenty of scope for change and plenty of scope for consfusion at the moment.  I am a bit confused so anyone who would like to make it all clear is very welcome to leave a comment here.

Here is a well-informed commentary from IEEP.


Harriers in The Field

The November issue of The Field, that’s the one with a man in tweed with a gun and a couple of dogs (doesn’t necessarily narrow it down that much?) has some excellent articles in it.  You can get some tips on brushing up your ability to bring down high pheasants and then how to cook them, and if your blood pressure hasn’t been raised by the lead shot or the article on releasing rehabililitated foxes in the countryside then have a look at my article on pages 80-83.

Across pages 80 and 81 is a very large image of a very beautiful hen harrier and inside the article I tell of the conversation I had with Colin McClean on the Glen Tanar Estate back in late August.  That estate seems to be doing a lot of good things.

Maybe £4.20 for a copy of The Field is beyond your pocket but for that price you also get, on average, an image of one and a half guns per page,  Zara Phillips advertising… (you’ll have to buy it to see), lots of wellies and dogs and some adverts from Bidwells for the type of upland forestry (if you have a spare £4.5m+) that will have helped reduce ground-nesting bird numbers in the Scottish Borders.

I think my article is the only one to mention the fish and chip shop in Jedburgh – maybe I can start a trend…?  Or maybe not.


A grain of truth

The dry spring weather in England (while I was driving through the rain in the USA) prompted fears about the grain harvest which, it is good to record here, have proved to be largely unfounded.  As in any year there have been winners and losers across the country but the UK wheat yield is estimated to be just 4% below the 5-year average. And oilseed yields have been very good.

And the price that you get for your grain today is over two and a half times what you would have got in January 2000 – the International Grains Council’s daily grains and oilseed index stands at 274 (January 2000 was a baseline of 100).

And here is a link to an interesting blog about grain markets.

Predicting grain yields and prices seem to be at least as challenging as predicting bird numbers – although the overall trends for yields and prices is up and the overall trend for farmland birds is down.


Blogging for Nature review in Birds magazine

The latest RSPB BIRDS magazine, the one with two long-tailed tits on the cover, has a review of my book Blogging for Nature.

If you aren’t an RSPB member (why not?) then I can tell you that the review tells you to go out and buy 20 copies now for all your relatives’ Christmas presents and describes it as the best book ever.

But if you are an RSPB member then you can find out what it really says on p98 of BIRDS magazine and discover another way to get a copy aside from clicking on this link and buying the book from

Alongside the Blogging for Nature review are a bunch of other book reviews of some very nice books – mine is the cheapest thoough!


Raptor haters (?) nominated for Fields Medal

In their most recent outburst of anti-raptor letters the Daily Telegraph publishes a mathematical breakthrough deserving recognition.

A letter states ‘ There are an estimated 80,000 sparrowhawks in Britain. They require at least one kill per day. The arithmetic is simple and compelling: 80,000 multiplied by 365 equals more than 29 million dead birds a year.‘.

The Fields Medal awaits.