03 June 1999
Reward farmers for managing countryside — RSPB

By Isabel Davies

LIVESTOCK farmers face a grim future unless they are rewarded for their role as managers of the countryside, according to a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The report, The Future of Livestock Farming in the UK, concludes that things could get even worse unless support is redirected to reflect the environmental benefits that livestock enterprises provide.

Vicki Swales, RSPB agriculture policy officer, says: “The time has come for society to recognise the wider benefits that livestock farming brings to our countryside and to financially support it accordingly.

“The farming community has traditionally been suspicious of conservationists but, ironically, it is the natural environment that may offer a lifeline to the beleaguered livestock industry.

“The message to the agricultural community is very clear: Go green or go bust.”

The RSPB wants an integrated approach to the problem and suggests the introduction of a four-tiered payment system, with a doubling of the government cash currently available for agri-environment schemes.

Tier 1 would provide a basic area payment to all livestock farmers meeting certain environmental conditions. Higher payments would then be available to those who delivered environmental benefits over and above the basic requirements.

Farmers will face increasing pressure from political, trade and economic factors, says the report. And holding on to outdated policies of the CAP and relying on production support will not serve the industry well.

It suggests that present livestock policies are working against the future well-being of the livestock industry, rural communities and the environment.

According to Graham Wynne, chief executive of the RSPB, much had been said about the crisis in agriculture. But much less attention had been drawn to the fact that there was also a crisis facing the environment, too.

There had been a failure in the past to make the link between the way in which food is produced and its true environmental and social costs.

Between 1992 and 1996 the number of livestock units in Britain fell by 14% and the report warns that, without changes in support, that trend will continue.

The RSPB also called for the development of a livestock assurance scheme which includes standards for the environment as well as animal welfare, traceability and quality.