Challenging a cheap shot from a charity

I had what young people call a “WTF* moment” a couple of weeks ago.

I was sitting in front of my computer, running through my vast selection of weather forecast sites, desperately seeking that dry spell that would allow me to get just a bit more winter wheat in the ground. Reluctantly, I clicked on the BBC page, and immediately was distracted by a news headline: “Farmers could get paid twice over for ‘greening’.”

It was – to my surprise – a reasonably accurate account of some of the new proposals for the CAP. The problem? Wheat prices making “green” schemes less attractive. The solution: boost funds for green schemes. But the ideas have not met with much approval from “green campaigners”. One quote in particular had me spluttering “WTF” and broadcasting my Crunchy Nut cornflakes all over the screen: “Citizens don’t understand why many farmers are receiving blank cheques while destroying the environment.” This 1980s-style anti-farmer gem was from Tony Long, of the WWF.

The WWF? No way – as young people say. The cuddly campaigners dedicated to saving animals? The heart-warming charity that I’m sure I joined when I was about seven, swayed by their tear-jerking sob stories of vanishing pandas? Could they, would they, really come up with such clichéd anti-farming nonsense?

I fired off an email or two to the WWF, hoping to contact Mr Long. He very kindly came back to me and confirmed that, yes, they could, they would and they did. He directed me to the press release from which that quote had been taken. A lively but civilised discussion via the information superhighway ensued.

I challenged Mr Long to produce evidence that farmers were destroying the environment, since our farms (which, after all, is our name for the environment) wouldn’t produce much if we destroyed them. I pointed out that we have never had blank cheques – (those that the payee fills in). I chided him for using the term citizens; in the UK we are subjects. In summary, I suggested that the original quote was at best inaccurate and at worst a cheap, headline-grabbing shot – as shown by the BBC’s gleeful reprinting of it.

Mr Long’s replies were simple. He could produce evidence of farmers destroying the environment and claimed the current CAP proposals were, in effect, “promissory” notes. I asked him to send me the evidence (yet to arrive), and suggested that blank cheques and promissory notes were exact opposites. We agreed to differ.

In the meantime, I did some research into the WWF. No longer are they the simple animal charity, funded by voluntary subscriptions. Their noble policy of conservation has to share equal billing with climate change and good old sustainability. And nowadays they rake in vast funds from numerous aid agencies and government grants. The European Policy Office – where Mr Long is director – has been consistently receiving about €600,000/year from the European Commission.

So perhaps it’s not so odd that they are squealing about increased funds for farmers. Tough times are coming. EU “citizens” are beginning, belatedly, to wake up to the financial scandal that is the EU. Money will soon be getting tight. To keep up the incentive for green schemes, funding might have to be cut somewhere else. Could the previously unemptying money trough at which NGOs such as the WWF have been gorging – at taxpayers’ expense – be about to run dry? Young “citizens” have another mini-phrase for that: ROTFLMAO*.

* For an explanation of what these acronyms stand for, ask someone under 25…

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of a National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire.

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