30 November 2000
Farmers praised on environment

By FWi staff

FARMERS have played vital rôle halting decades of environmental decline in Britain, according to a senior government advisor on the countryside.

Professor John Lawton, head of the Natural Environment Research Council, issued this praise as his groups new comprehensive audit was published.

The Countryside 2000 survey found as many hedgerows were planted as were lost in the last 10 years, and that the destruction of stone walls was halted.

The survey, which covers 1990-98, also found that more ponds were made, more broadleaved woodland planted and that river quality improved.

Prof Lawton said the findings represented a “turning point” and that things were improving from a very low level.

He said most improvements were due to farmers taking positive paid action under agri-environment schemes, reports The Guardian.

“Farmers are not vandals, but economic animals. It shows that agri-environment schemes and special schemes for sensitive areas work,” he said.

“If there are incentives to manage habitats, farmers will respond.”

However, achievements were tempered by declines in the quality of grassland, downland and heath, and losses of bogs in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And plant diversity on meadows fell for the second decade in a row, which was partly attributed to nitrogen from cars, lorries and fertilisers.

The report was compiled by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology using satellite mapping and detailed field studies.