THE DIRECTOR GENERAL of the National Trust has called on government to put the recovery and future resilience of the natural environment at the heart of the funding system that will replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Dame Helen Ghosh said reform was essential to reverse what she claimed were decades of damage to the countryside and the headlong decline of species.
Dame Helen told an audience at the National Trust Theatre at BBC Countryfile Live that the vote to leave the European Union presents an urgent opportunity to shape a new and better system for stewardship of the countryside.
“Whatever your view of Brexit, it gives us an opportunity to think again about how and why we use public money to create the countryside we want to hand on to future generations. Unless we make different choices, we will leave an environment that is less productive, less rich and less beautiful than that which we inherited.
“Taxpayers should only pay public subsidy to farmers in return for things that the market won’t pay for but are valued and needed by the public.
“We may need some kind of transition period to get there but that means payments for goods that go beyond food production – for the wildflowers, bees and butterflies that we love, for the farmland birds, now threatened, for the water meadows and meandering rivers that will help prevent the flooding of our towns, and for the rebuilding of the fertility and health of the soils on which both nature and production depend.
“In the long run, there’s no conflict between maintaining our ability to grow food and looking after the land and nature on which it depends. The first is utterly dependent on the second.
“This is not just about the subsidy system but the way the market works. Farmers should get a proper return from retailers and food manufacturers. If they are also producing clean water, unflooded streets or great holiday experiences, they should also get a proper return from the utilities or tourism industry.
“Farmers are key partners in finding solutions but this is too important to leave to governments and farmers to sort out between themselves.
“We would encourage ministers to now consult widely on the way we fund farming in a post-Brexit world and involve the public in the debate, along with organisations who have experience and insights to share.”
NFU Cymru President, Stephen James, said: “The picture the National Trust is trying to paint – that of a damaged countryside – is one that neither I nor most farmers, or visitors to the countryside, will recognise.
“Farmers manage 80% of Wales’ land area and through agri-environment schemes, such as Glastir, farmers continue to restore and establish new habitats for biodiversity. This includes over 310km of new streamside corridor; 265km of new or restored hedgerows and more and 20,000m2 of new ponds.
“Farmers take their responsibilities as custodians of the countryside seriously and most visitors to the countryside will be enjoying the natural environment and appreciating the views of rural Wales which have been created and maintained by farmers – including many of the landscapes showcased by the National Trust.
“In this debate we must not forget that food production is vital. We should not be contemplating doing anything which will undermine Welsh farming’s competitiveness or its ability to produce food. To do so would risk exporting food production out of Wales and for Wales to be a nation which relies even further on imports to feed itself.
“In our view, food security should be considered to be a legitimate political goal and public good. Welsh farmers are proud of the high standards of production, traceability of the food they produce and high animal welfare. Welsh food production is the bedrock of the food and drink sector – contributing £6.1 billion to the economy and employing 222,400 people.
“All our survey work shows that the Welsh public wants to buy more Welsh food and, interestingly, survey work also shows the Welsh public believes farmers play a beneficial role in improving the environment at the same time.”
Two of the largest beneficiaries of the current CAP regime are the National Trust, which receives £11m of subsidy each year, and the RSPB, with almost £7 million received in subsidy in 2015. Both organisations were vociferous campaigners against a reform of the CAP scheme in 2011, which would have seen them lose millions of pounds of subsidy and have their take from the scheme capped at £300K per year.
The extent to which the National Trust wants to see subsidy tied to the practices which would reap maximum benefit for itself from any subsidy system represents, potentially, special pleading by the organisation to ensure the best financial outcome for itself from any new subsidy scheme and puts down a marker as to what it would expect for itself out of such a scheme. The idea of a subsidy cut, such as that proposed by the EU in 2011, is evidently an unappealing one.
Moreover, Pillar 2 of CAP is for what’s vaguely known as ‘rural development’, which covers everything from preserving traditional farming practices and preventing the depopulation of the countryside to conservation and public access.
The Welsh Government has long taken an extraordinarily elastic view of the uses to which Pillar 2 funding can be put, and has used the payment scheme as a piggy bank to follow policies that are only connected tangentially to farming.
Last Golden Eagle of Wales found dead
WALES will no longer see the golden eagle fly through the skies after the last of its kind was found dead by a walker in Abergwesyn Valley, near Llanwrtyd Wells.
The Golden Eagle was native to Wales, Europe and North America and due to human persecution had begun to die out, the last breeding pair being found in Snowdonia in 1850. It is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere, but unfortunately Wales will not see the bird in action for a very long time.
The female bird of prey was being watched and followed by the presenter of Spring Watch, Iolo Williams, and will appear in the last episode of the latest show ‘Iolo: The Last Wilderness of Wales.’
The company behind the television show which captures the highlights of Welsh wildlife, Aden Productions, commented on the extinction of the Golden Eagle. Taking to twitter, a statement read:
“Our whole crew was shocked and saddened to hear about the demise of our beloved Cambrians golden eagle, the last golden eagle to fly wild in Wales. We hope our final episode of Iolo: The Last Wilderness of Wales is a fitting tribute to her.”
It is still not known how the female bird died, leaving questions for bird lovers, but plans are being made by the Eagle Reintroduction Wales project to reintroduce the bird of prey back into Welsh wildlife is under way. However, it is explained that this is not a simple process. They will firstly need Natural Resource Wales to issue a license which does take time.
The Golden Eagle has not left the UK completely and can still be found in the far North of Scotland.
Big Farmland Bird Count returns
JIM EGAN has sent out a rallying cry for people to pick up their binoculars and go bird-spotting for the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) which returns on Friday, February 8.
The passionate organiser of the count, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), is urging farmers, land managers, gamekeepers and all wildlife enthusiasts to spend 30 minutes recording what species they see on their patch of land from February 8th to the 17th.
Your support will help identify the farmland birds that are flourishing due to good conservation methods and ones in need of most support.
“It would be fantastic to see even more farmers to take part in the count this year,” said Jim.
“Counting birds on farms is a great way to recognise what species are there as well as being an opportunity to take time out and see the benefits of work such as wild seed mix and supplementary feeding.
“Taking part and submitting results enables us at GWCT to shout about the important conservation work many farmers are doing.
“We want landowners to be proud of their efforts. We will make sure that the public and policymakers hear about what can be achieved on Britain’s farms. The BFBC is a very positive way to showcase what can be achieved.”
Backing this vital citizen-science project, running for the sixth successive year, is the NFU, which is this year’s sponsor.
President Minette Batters is vowing her support to the count by going bird-watching on her farm in Downton, Wiltshire.
She will be joined on day one with GWCT biodiversity advisor Pete Thompson, an advocate of the count, both of whom will be ready with their binoculars, notepads and sharpened pencils, recording what they see.
“I am delighted to be taking part in this year’s GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count which the NFU is pleased to be sponsoring for the very first time,” she said.
“It’s becoming an important national event where thousands of farmers and growers around the country are able to take stock of and importantly, take pride in what they find on their land.
“The NFU supports initiatives like the Big Farmland Bird Count as without sound management of the environment, enhancement of habitats, protection of wildlife and support for pollinators and soils, we do not have farming businesses.
“So, I would encourage all farmers to take part, and also remember to submit your records to the GWCT, so we can pull together a vital national snapshot of the state of the nation when it comes to farmland birds.”
A record-breaking 1,000 people took part in last year’s count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.
A total of 25 red-listed species were recorded, with five appearing in the 25 most commonly seen species list. These include fieldfares, starlings, house sparrows, song thrushes and yellowhammers. The most plentiful of these were fieldfares and starlings, which were seen on nearly 40% of the farms taking part.
At the end of the count, the results will be analysed by the Trust. All participants will receive a report on the national results once they have been collated.
New Flock and Herd Health Officers
HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has appointed two new Flock and Herd Health Officers to its ambitious five-year Red Meat Development Programme, designed to equip Wales’s lamb and beef industry for a changing future.
The posts are key to delivering the programme’s commitment to helping farmers achieve on-farm efficiency and drive best practice in proactive animal health planning.
The programme is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
Lowri Reed hails from a farming background near Llanon in central Ceredigion, whereas Lowri Williams is from Llanfihangel y Creuddyn near Aberystwyth, and is a graduate in Animal Management and Welfare from Harper Adams University.
Dr Rebekah Stuart, the coordinator of the Flock and Herd Health Project at HCC, said: “We’re delighted to have recruited two officers with experience and knowledge of agriculture and flock management to this important strand of work.
“There are few things that can have as great an impact on the efficiency and bottom line of a livestock enterprise as a proactive and coordinated approach to animal health and eradicating disease.
“The project will help farmers to work with vets to put health plans in place and monitor their effectiveness. Since opening an initial expression of interest window late last year at the Winter Fair, we’re encouraged by how many farmers are keen to be involved. We look forward to working with them to put this exciting project into action.”
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