A leading conservationist incurred farmers’ wrath by harnessing the power of the internet to question their ability to make the Campaign for the Farmed Environment a success.

At 6.18am on the morning of the campaign launch, RSPB head of conservation Mark Avery posted a link on the social networking website Twitter with the headline: “Why is the president of the NFU a little bit worried today?”

Users clicking on the weblink were redirected to Mr Avery’s RSPB weblog, hosted on the charity’s own website. The RSPB wished the campaign every success, he wrote. But it remained to be seen how many farmers would support it.

Environmental measures had great potential to benefit wildlife, said Mr Avery. But he added: “These possibilities have been open to farmers all along, so the question is – how will the campaign encourage more and more farmers to join in?”

NFU president Peter Kendall must be a bit worried about whether he could pull this off, Mr Avery suggested. It was the NFU and CLA who persuaded DEFRA down the voluntary route. “Now the ball is in their court.”

The comments brought a swift response from farmers. Responding on Twitter, Philip Gorringe wrote: “Many farmers continue to do good environmental work outside any schemes – [the] RSPB should engage with them, not alienate them.”

Another farmer, posting on Twitter as ChasTee, responded saying Mr Avery’s comments were “very short-sighted considering there is great doubt that straight [set-aside] would have given any wildlife benefits”.

Writing later, Mr Avery said he apologised if his comments seemed negative and patronising. “I was trying to say that the NFU and CLA leadership have a tricky job ahead of them – but they have our support.”

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