DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has raised eyebrows after putting her name to a letter which blames intensive agriculture for the loss of biodiversity.
Mrs Spelman was one of 15 environmental ministers from across the EU who signed an open letter setting out the challenges of reversing biodiversity loss.
The letter, which appeared in the Times of Malta on Monday (2 May), lists intensive production as one of the “well-known” causes of biodiversity loss.
“The destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats – for example as a result of conversion, intensification of production systems or construction – over-exploitation of natural resources, the spread of invasive alien species and pollution,” it adds.
The letter came as the European Commission published a communication on biodiversity.
The document, which set out plans to maximise the amount of farmland covered by biodiversity schemes under the CAP, pointed out there were many factors which caused biodiversity damage.
While “greening policy measures” should be stepped up to prevent biodiversity loss, the 16-page communication said the CAP provided “unique opportunities” to help farmers tackle biodiversity problems.
Through direct payments, agriculture could deliver environmental public goods that went beyond cross-compliance measures, it added.
The NFU said it was surprised Mrs Spelman and the other environment ministers had gone further than the commission in laying the blame for biodiversity damage at the door of intensive farming.
The letter’s criticism of intensive production threatened to conflict with DEFRA’s business plan, the union added.
“One of DEFRA’s chief ambitions was to promote increased domestic food production,” Julie Robinson, from the NFU’s Westminster office, said.
“It’s difficult to see how that can be achieved on this small island without more intensive production and the real challenge is how to do both – more production and more biodiversity,” she added.