Budget cuts could see £400m wiped off agri-environment funds, claim conservationists. The RSPB said the European Union was considering scrapping payments to farmers who protected vulnerable wildlife on their land.

If the cuts went ahead, they threatened to wipe out agri-environment funds targeted towards declining species, the bird charity warned.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “Our countryside has faced many threats, but this would be really savage – we’re staggered. Rewarding farmers for protecting threatened wildlife has provided a lifeline to many sensitive species, which would otherwise have ebbed away.

“If the EU continues with this plan, there is no doubt that wildlife will suffer, with the possible ultimate UK extinction of some threatened species.”

Slashing funding for farmers who take action for wildlife would be a devastating blow to the environment and the long-term future of farming. Last year, under the presidency of Jose Manuel Barroso, the EU had pledged to halt the decline in wildlife by 2020, said Mr Harper.

“If he approves this budget, the president risks erasing wildlife from the map of Europe, breaking promises and undermining decades of conservation effort.” Cuts to agri-environment funding would be totally unacceptable, Mr Harper added.

Across Europe, from Portugal to Cyprus and from Ireland to Finland, a wide range of wildlife would be affected. Bird species, such as the great bustard, which was already facing the threat of global extinction, could be lost.

The RSPB is working with its European BirdLife International partners to lobby Brussels to remove these potentially devastating cuts from the budget.

The European Union will unveil proposals for its new budget on 29 June.