Government conservation plans need further investment, RSPB says

Ambitious plans to see farmers make further improvements to the natural environment will struggle to succeed without more financial investment, the government has been warned.

Martin Harper, RSPB head of conservation, said the government’s natural environment white paper – which was unveiled by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman in June – was a fantastic plan for restoring habitats and the environment.

But he said meeting those targets require financial investment which the government was unlikely to be able to provide.

“I don’t think there are sufficient resources to fund it,” he told audience members at a debate on the paper at the CLA Game Fair in Blenheim in Oxfordshire on Friday (22 July).

“The plans rely on funding which is currently being used on existing schemes and those schemes will already have to work harder in these austere times.”

The long-awaited white paper set out a series of measures the government planned to take in a bid to improve the environment and create a shift in how people viewed natural resources.

Plans included a review of incentives for farmers to deliver better environmental results and reform of the water abstraction regime to cope with climate change.

DEFRA said it also wanted to increase Entry Level options to tackle diffuse pollution.

Mr Harper said it was important the Entry Level Scheme worked harder to have more of an impact on the environment. “It’s frustrating that the scheme isn’t making it easier for farmers to do the right thing for farmland wildlife,” he added.

“But there will be a point where money will be necessary for the government to deliver the ambitions set out in the white paper.”

Environment minister Richard Benyon said the white paper was not “just a DEFRA think piece” and that the paper’s suggestions needed to be acted upon. “We have come through the most impossible spending review and we managed to get this [paper] to be a priority,” he added. “We want to make it work.”