30 July 2001
‘Farmers to benefit from wildlife plan’

By Alistair Driver

EUROPES biggest conservation charity claims farmers will benefit if ministers pursue proposals to return an area larger than London to wildlife.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds has called for 162,000ha (400,000 acres) of the UKs wildlife habitats to be restored by 2020.

In a report published on Monday (30 July), the RSPB challenges the government to up its targets for regenerating habitats.

It wants to bring back wildlife such as bitterns, black grouse, avocets, sand lizards and pine martens over an area bigger than Greater London.

The Futurescapes report highlights “catastrophic” losses of Britains richest wildlife habitats, but insists they can be restored at a low cost to the public.

RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge told FARMERS WEEKLY that foot-and-mouth disease has created an environment for change.

“The foot-and-mouth crisis has made everybody realise that there has to be radical change in the way farmers operate.”

Britains uplands have been overstocked, said Mr Madge.

The crisis, and particularly the loss of export markets, has now presented an opportunity to push for reform of the way they are farmed.

But the organisation is not calling for a wholesale shift in land use away from commercial farming, Mr Madge insisted.

Much of the land targeted is not currently farmed, he added.

Farmers would benefit from a shift in land use if the subsidy system was changed accordingly, and businesses would be made more viable, said Mr Madge.

The RSPB argues that regenerating wildlife can boost local economies by attracting tourists to the area.

Mr Madge said farmers who manage water resources on their land to boost wildlife could also be paid by the government to boost flood defences.

Report author Gwyn Williams said it would cost 20 million a year on top of current nature conservation budgets to deliver the vision outlined in Futurescapes.

“For less than 50p per year for every adult in Britain we can once more enjoy the rich landscapes enjoyed by our forefathers,” he said.