Wildlife lifeline could be lost if subsidies to farmers are axed

editorial image

CUTS to farming subsidies could have a disatrous effect on wildlife in the Rye and Battle area says the RSPB.

The wildlife conservation body says local farmers have played a vital role as custodians of wildlife and that projects, such as setting land aside for meadows has helkped protect and bolster many endangered species.

Gareth Harris, RSPB South East Farmland Conservation Advisor, said: “For the last 25 years, many Sussex farmers have become wildlife champions and have rallied to the plight of some of our most threatened species by creating the conditions they need to survive.

“Using payments for wildlife-friendly farming – known as agri-environment schemes – some of these ‘champions’ have reversed population crashes of those species most in trouble and some species, including the tree sparrow, now largely depend on wildlife-friendly farmers for their future survival in the UK.

“But just as conservationists and farmers are celebrating the 25th anniversary of these schemes and what they have achieved, the RSPB is fearful that cuts to European and domestic budgets mean the axe could be wielded close to this wildlife lifeline – potentially slashing the largest single budget for wildlife conservation in the UK.”

David Cameron will be attending the European Heads of State meeting in Brussels – on 22-23 November - to discuss the future of the EU’s budget, including the amount of money spent on agriculture.

Gareth Harris said; ““We know that budgets are strained, but rewarding farmers for greater all-round environmental responsibility is excellent value for money, supporting farmland wildlife as well as improving water quality, land management and food production. The abundance of wildlife on these farms is simply an indicator of the health of the countryside.”

“Farmland wildlife is struggling as the populations of many species of birds, butterflies and bees continue to decline across the UK. The RSPB is concerned that the size of the budget for wildlife-friendly farming is already too small and in some parts of the UK funding for vital conservation projects has run out.

“The challenges facing wildlife are massive, and we believe an already unacceptably low share of EU funding goes to wildlife-friendly farming, especially when less than £7 out of every £100 spent on agriculture funds wildlife conservation. To consider further cuts is deeply misguided; we need more farmers helping wildlife, not less.

Species that have benfitted from farming conservation methods include silver-washed fritillary butterflies, glow worms, woodpeckers, dormice, wild honey bees and bumblebees.

Farmer Roland Brown said:“These schemes have been successful, allowing wildlife-friendly management for the sustained periods that vulnerable target species need to recover.”