Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Farmland birds face uncertain future

Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is worried that proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] will fail to reverse a downward trend in the farmland bird population.

The RSPB calculates that since the 1970s numbers have halved to reach an all-time low. Half of the most threatened birds across Europe are farmland ones, including the grey partridge and linnet that have respectively experienced a 90 and 57 percent fall in the UK.

Now with the European Parliament set to announce proposals for a 10% funding cut to the CAP budget the RSPB fears that agri-environment schemes will be hard hit in a move designed to protect food production subsidies. These have faced criticism in the past for encouraging surplus food to be grown that is later thrown away.

One scheme thought to be under particular danger is the Entry Level Stewardship programme that rewards farmers for, amongst other things, managing hedgerows.  A Higher Level Stewardship scheme that provides funding for more targeted environmentally friendly projects including restoring traditional farm buildings could also be cut. This would have the potential to put many smaller hill farms out of business.

Nik Shelton of the RSPB says, “that targeted agri environmental schemes have been very successful in saving threatened birds like stone curlews and cirl buntings from extinction. The decline in skylarks and lapwings, and other birds, could be reversed not by cutting the schemes but by ensuring farmers have access to information that helps them provide summer insect food, winter seed food and habitat to nest in whilst at the same time maintaining production levels.”

He claimed that on their Cambridgeshire Hope Farm the RSPB had proved this was possible.

Brian Simpson, a Labour MEP in the North West, supports the organisations’ views who says, “the schemes remain the best tool for delivery of environmental improvements. Everybody should be concerned about the falling number of birds and the Government should take a more active role in discussing a green reform of the CAP.” 

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