17 May 2002

Survey blames intensive farms for meadow loss

By FWreporters

INTENSIVE farming has been blamed for a dramatic drop in meadows and wild flower grasslands in Britain, after a survey by two leading conservation groups.

The survey, called Englands Green Unpleasant Land, was prepared by the Wildlife Trusts and Plantlife to identify wildlife diversity in the countryside.

The organisations claim the findings support the need to switch subsidies away from food production towards environmental stewardship payments.

According to the report, conditions are worsening in all eight counties surveyed – Cornwall, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, Suffolk, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.

Worcestershire has lost three-quarters of its unimproved grasslands since 1975, while Derbyshire has seen more than half its meadows damaged.

In many areas losses have accelerated in recent years, claims the report. It also notes that even within designated wildlife sites lowland grassland habitats continue to be damaged and lost.

Butterflies, such as the Marsh fritillary, and wildflowers, such as Deptford pink, depend on these grasslands and are also in decline, says the survey.

Deep trouble

The report claims Marsh fritillary has declined by 55% in the past 30 years and despite conservation efforts "is in deep trouble".

The governments agri-environment schemes have had a positive effect by rewarding practices that are sympathetic to wildlife, it says. But the great potential of these initiatives must be bolstered by further reform to prevent more losses.

Martin Harper, Plantlifes conservation director, said: "It is vital that our last remaining wildlife-rich grasslands are protected. The governments agri-environment schemes have been a success in many areas, and this success must be built on to stop the tragic disappearance of what we have left."

Plantlife and The Wildlife Trusts are now calling for the urgent improvement of agri-environment schemes so more farms can participate.

The two organisations want more focus on the retention of existing unimproved grasslands and a greater employment of farmers skills and knowledge.

As part of this they suggest payments rates in schemes must be increased to reflect the true cost of grassland management.

"Payments rates are too low to persuade many farmers to enter schemes, particularly the owners of small grassland sites," says the report. &#42

The recommendation in the Curry Report on the future of farming and food to switch 20% of subsidies to environment schemes should also be implemented, it adds. &#42