‘Crippling misallocation’ of Pillar 2 funds must end

A prominent UK farmer has called on DEFRA to resolve a “crippling misallocation of Pillar 2 funds” and put the responsibility for solving Britain’s countryside biodiversity crisis firmly into the hands of farmers.

The government’s proposals for CAP reform went to consultation on Thursday (31 October), with DEFRA proposing to shift 15% of direct payments (Pillar 1) into rural development schemes (Pillar 2).

But Hertfordshire farmer Robert Law, of Thrift Farm, Royston, said the amount of funding diverted to Pillar 2 was irrelevant if the money was then spent on projects with no direct effect on farmland biodiversity.

“My concern is that the government has lost sight of what is important here,” said Mr Law, a Conservation Grade farmer who commits at least 10% of his 1,500ha Hertfordshire farm to environmental stewardship and woodland schemes.

“I’ve been shocked at the use of these funds to pay for armies of consultants, village halls, dog kennels, trips abroad and other ancillary projects when it should go directly to farmers, who are best placed to deliver highly-effective biodiversity schemes for taxpayers.”

Mr Law said that Conservation Grade, of which he is a board member, is an example of how agri-environment funding in the right place can enable commercial food businesses to directly support biodiversity improvements.

“These Conservation Grade habitats have resulted in a 41% increase in birds, eight times more butterflies and 30 times more small mammals; meanwhile, overall yields are unaffected and crops are bought at a market premium,” he explained.

“It’s a model that clearly works – but we need real commitment from the government to underpin a more permanent change.

“It’s time biodiversity was treated like food production and managed as efficiently – otherwise we are just rearranging deckchairs in an ever-worsening biodiversity crisis.”

Mr Law, a Farmers Weekly arable Farmer Focus writer, said much has recently been made in the media of a division between farming unions and wildlife charities, but there is significant common ground.

“All the farming unions want is for British farmers to have a level playing field with their European counterparts. Ensuring every penny in Pillar 2 goes back to supporting farmland biodiversity through efficient, farmer-delivered agri-environment schemes will achieve that, while delivering on the measures wildlife NGOs want. It’s about being focused and effective.”

The State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough in May showed 60% of 1,064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and one-third of the total has declined strongly.

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