6 September 2000
Green schemes branded ‘ineffectual’

By FWi staff

AGRI-ENVIRONMENTAL schemes and conservation policies are doing little to reverse the effects of intensive agriculture, claims a new report.

The British Ecological Society Land Management study says schemes are well-meant attempts to retrieve a worrying situation.

But they are poorly funded, face powerful incentives for intensification and do not address the root of the problem, claim report authors Dr Colin Hindmarch and Dr Mike Pienkowski.

The measures so far introduced deal with the consequences of environmental degradation rather than the causes.

Because of this, they are often based on muddled thinking, fail to address key issues, and are sometimes ineffective, they claim.

Intensive, high-input farming encouraged by the Common Agricultural Policy is seen as the root of the problem.

Its legacy is degraded landscapes, loss of ecological diversity, soil erosion, pollution and rural depopulation across Europe, says the report.

Site-based conservation measures, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, are singled out for particular criticism.

The society claims they are often used without complementary approaches in the surrounding countryside.

Nature conservation has been largely concerned with patching up the casualties of high-input land use, rather than dealing with the fundamental conflict between land use and biodiversity.

This puts conservation on a siege footing where it became preoccupied with ‘protected’ sites rather than the [farming] systems and processes that underpinned biodiversity.”

The report says schemes often do not cover necessary environmental work, leaving it to farmers to pick up the bill for the difference.

For conservation to really work the emphasis of policy support must be switched from intensive to low-input systems and the landscape viewed as a whole, say the authors.

Governments are urged to be more enthusiastic about using opportunities to address this available under the CAP.

A Ministry of Agriculture spokesman denied agri-environmental schemes were unattractive to farmers, saying growing numbers of producers sought agreements.

He added: We have just announced that we are putting in more money — there is going to be over a 1 billion for schemes like Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas.