15 December 1995

CAP changes needed to hit biodiversity targets

By Tony McDougal

FUNDAMENTAL changes to the CAP, targeting more cash at environmental support, is needed if the UKs biodiversity plan to save endangered species and habitats is to succeed.

The UK Biodiversity Steering Group, launched last year by the government, announced plans at a conference this week to protect 400 of the UKs most threatened species and 38 habitats over the next 15 years.

The estimated additional cost of implementing the habitat plans alone will be £12.9m in 1997, rising to £37.2m by 2010. These will cover managing public sector land, land management scheme payments to private landowners, and land purchase costs.

Costings for species plans range from an estimated £3.8m in 1997 to just £2.4m in 2010, of which the government is expected to pay half.

The steering group also proposed the creation of a UK biodiversity database, at an initial cost of £2m over four years, which would standardise and improve access to the data needed to monitor proposed targets.

John Plowman, chairman of the Biodiversity steering group, said that while progress could be obtained through the current CAP agri-environment package, Countryside Commission and English Nature schemes, changes to the CAP would improve biodiversity prospects.

Need to be involved

Mark Thomasin-Foster, incoming chairman of the Country Landowners Associations environment and water committee, said farmers and landowners needed to be involved, informed and have incentives if they were to play a sizeable part in the plan.

Mr Thomasin-Foster, who runs a 300ha (750-acre) Essex arable farm, and who spoke at Wednes-days conference, said there were practical areas where farmers could help improve the environment. "There are great opportunities to improve arable field boundaries and headlands. Further ahead, there is the possibility of CAP reform and a decoupling of payments away from production."

Oliver Doubleday, chairman of the NFUs parliamentary, land use and environment committee, added that some of the greatest environmental losses in the past had been due to inappropriate farm management and the lack of economic incentives.

"One example where we have insidiously lost biodiversity has been in the cleaning of cereal seed, which has led to a loss of traditional flowers," he added.

Graham Wynne, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, called for better targeting of cereal subsidies.