Agri-environment schemes need to be improved to stop the decline in biodiversity, according to a report by a group of MPs.

The Environmental Audit Committee said government would fail to meet its 2010 targets to halt biodiversity loss.

While progress had been made “in some respects”, new targets needed to be drawn up to reverse the loss of biodiversity, the committee’s report, Halting biodiversity loss, said.

To do this, government would have to look beyond “traditional conservation policies” and look at ecosystems, the report added.

However the NFU hit back at the report, claiming farmers were already playing a key role in increasing food production whilst looking after the countryside.

Paul Temple, NFU vice president, said he recognised farmers needed to do more than just adopting Environmental Stewardship agreements.

“But it is also important that a comprehensive and universally recognised suite of indicators are used to recognise progress across the environmental spectrum,” he said.

Mr Temple said farmers had taken a number of steps to improve biodiversity, including:

  • 515,000km of hedgerows and another 90,000km of stone walls in England and Wales
  • 92% of farmers have hedges on their farms and 82% cut them at specific times to avoid nesting birds
  • 53% of cereal farmers have used beetle banks or field margin management to encourage natural predators
  • 72% of the agricultural managed Sites of Special Scientific Interest were in favourable or recovering condition in 2007
  • Farmers in England are growing wild bird seed mixtures on more than 5000ha
  • The rapid decline in otter numbers from the 1950s to 1970s, with pollution of watercourses being one of the contributory factors, now appears to have halted and sightings are being reported in former habitats.