5 July 2002

Reward farmers who go green

By Tom Allen-Stevens

THE government has come under increasing pressure to recognise the environmental benefits arable farmers bring to the countryside.

The call follows an NFU survey which reveals British farmers are spending more time and money looking after the environment than at any other time in recent history.

NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said that farmers were working hard at considerable cost to boost their green credentials at a time when profits were on the floor.

"Arable farmers are constantly being criticised for damaging the environment," he said. "Yet our study shows that they are spending more time and money than ever protecting the countryside. They should be given credit for this."

The survey found that larger producers invest proportionately more resources in conservation than smaller farms. The average farmer spends 11 hours and £183/month on environmental work, while some larger farmers are spending up to £347/month. Around 20% of them already have detailed conservation plans.

Every one of the 2000 English and Welsh farmers who were questioned carried out some form of management of wildlife habitats, with hedgerow work coming out top at 27%.

Examples of such environmental champions, who are protecting and enhancing the landscape but receiving no payment, are pulled out in a new report from the NFU called Looking after the Landscape.

But the unions Simon Rayner, who carried out the survey, said the future for conservation work looks bleak. "Farmers are spending the money, but quite frankly cannot afford to continue. The margins are now so low, farmers cannot afford the luxuries of woodland and wildlife management."

Graham Wynne, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, criticised the NFU for not giving enough support to the policy commission on farming and food proposals on the Future of Farming. "These are exactly the farmers the proposed broad and shallow scheme is designed to help. Farmers should be rewarded for genuinely delivering environmental benefits over and above the mere cost."

Archie Montgomery, vice-chairman of the NFU parliamentary, land use and environmental committee, said the proposals were a positive step. But farmers will never receive true compensation until the RSPB and others put a value on public goods.

"The public has taken the landscape and its provision for granted for so long, its cost to farmers has never been considered. Until recently, the rewards from farming have meant most have been able to absorb it. But now the lack of profits and rise in cost of labour mean few farmers can continue to do so." &#42

Britains farmers are looking after the environment, says a new report.