Conservationists and landowners have called on the government to ensure adequate funding for agri-environment schemes.
DEFRA secretary David Miliband is due shortly to say how much money the government will allocate to its Environmental Stewardship schemes.

The RSPB and Country Land and Business Association said the success of schemes that helped tackle climate change, improved water quality and protect wildlife and landscapes hinged on the announcement.

Following a decision by Brussels last week, DEFRA could double the money available. Although such a move is unlikely, ministers have promised additional cash.

The RSPB calculates that a total of £300 million is needed annually to fund the schemes properly and allow the best projects to go ahead.

RSPB head of countryside conservation Sue Armstrong Brown said: “Adequate money for these exceptional agri-environment schemes is crucial to the future of our countryside.”

She added: “These schemes take green farming further than we have seen for more than fifty years and could contribute enormously to tackling climate change and helping farmland wildlife.”

Stone-curlews and cirl buntings are examples of birds whose numbers have risen because of conservation work on farmland funded by the schemes.

CLA president David Fursdon said such initiatives were increasingly important in light of growing public interest in the countryside.

“It is regrettable that the government has decided to reduce the rate of match funding of these environment schemes compared to the level operating for the last six years.”

Both organisations fear that if the shortfall remains, national and international targets for reversing wildlife declines and improving habitats will not be met.

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