02 February 1999
‘Pay farmers for protecting wildlife’

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS should be paid up to £200/ha for maintaining the environment, according to two new reports published today (Tuesday) by The Wildlife Trusts.

The organisation calls for £1.6 billion a year to be redirected from existing production subsidies to be used to finance a single UK-wide agri-environment scheme.

Of the current £3 billion or so of public money spent on agriculture in the UK, only £100m goes to agri-environment projects, the trusts point out.

In the short term, environmental conditions should be attached to all production subsidies, concludes the first report Farming for All our Futures.

In the longer term, the system should be completely revamped so that farmers are paid only for the provision of social or environmental benefits.

In its second paper, the trusts provide a blueprint for action it believes should be taken beyond the current Agenda 2000 reforms.

Farmers should be given the choice of different options so they can select their farming practices under a voluntary scheme.

Those complying only with environmental regulations and legislation would receive no public money.

But payments of up to £200/ha (£80.94/acre) would be available to those prepared to maintain or create wildlife habitats on at least 10% of their farm.

Farmers who take a middle line and comply with basic environmental conditions, such as maintaining hedges, would receive a £35/ha (£14.16/acre) payment.

John Cousins, the Wildlife Trusts director of agricultural policy, said the scheme offered a policy three to five years down the line.

He was critical of the governments current attitude to agricultural reform.

“The UK says it wants environmental and social subsidies but we are getting nowhere with other EU countries,” he said.

“Unless ministers do more to make themselves heard in Europe, the result will be a disaster for wildlife and not much better for farmers.”