Leading environmental groups have united to call for the CAP to be scrapped and replaced with an entirely new system to “support positive land management”.

Wildlife and Countryside Link, which includes the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, wants existing farm support payments to be phased out and replaced with a single European Sustainable Land Management Policy.

In a new discussion document* launched in London on Monday (10 March) it suggests a three-tier system of payment, with farmers rewarded according to the extent to which they protect and improve the environment.

Food production

CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said the UK had already led the way in transferring money from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 by modulation. And he recognised that, given concerns about food security, food production was still important.

But without a more radical shift in emphasis, money for farmers and land managers to enhance landscapes, wildlife, woodlands and historic features would dry up.

NFU policy director Martin Haworth warned that, with commodity prices rising and likely to remain firm, environmentalists would have to compete with the market to persuade farmers to adopt their agenda. There were already doubts that targets for land in Entry Level Stewardship would be met.

Single farm payments

But RSPB chief executive Graham Wynn said market conditions made the current system of single farm payments even more questionable, especially since those farmers getting the most from the market were often the ones getting most taxpayer support.

Junior DEFRA minister Jeff Rooker said he agreed with many of the group’s aims, to direct more funds to environmental protection and deliver better value to taxpayers. But he warned that there was not much enthusiasm in other member states for such radical reform. And the UK government would continue to press for a cut in the overall budget.

* Beyond the Pillars: Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Policy Perspective on the Future of the CAP can be found on the CPRE website.