Campaign for the Farmed Environment

I was present at the launch of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) in November 2009, and have been closely involved with this industry-led initiative ever since in my role as the CFE East of England coordinator.

As the Campaign celebrates its second birthday, it seems a good moment to pause and consider the achievements so far of this voluntary approach, and the work still to be done over the coming months until June 2012.

The Campaign’s key objective is to maintain or exceed the environmental benefits which were delivered by set-aside, using a smaller amount of well located and positively managed land. These benefits were seen to fit three themes:

n Resource protection

n Farmland birds

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n Farm wildlife

In presenting these themes to farmers, I have found that one or other of them resonates strongly with particular people, and has steered them towards the “key target options” in Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) or the Campaign Voluntary Measures which best fit their personal interest and their farm business. Thus shooting farms have chosen wild bird seed mix, game covers and nectar flower mixes, whereas farms with soil erosion problems or vulnerable watercourses have chosen buffer strips, winter cover crops and grass areas to prevent erosion.

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Underlying the delivery of the Campaign to date has been the range of industry partners involved from the outset, such as the NFU, CLA, FWAG, the Environment Agency and Natural England. Whilst partnership working is not new to the industry, the broad spectrum of organisations involved has helped to maintain momentum and delivery on the ground, enabling us to reach a wider target audience than might otherwise have been possible. County liaison groups, which help to steer delivery, vary in their make-up of partners; thus the Suffolk committee has been well supported by the County Council and the Essex committee by Catchment Sensitive Farming officers and the RSPB Essex Farmland Bird Project adviser; agronomists have played a vitally important role on all committees. The committees have been key in facilitating engagement with farmers locally and clarifying local farming issues; no two counties of the six within the East of England are similar!

The partners have opened the door for myself and my two colleagues in the region to attend events from crop trials to workshops to agronomy conferences, allowing the Campaign to go beyond the traditional route of preaching to the converted when it comes to Environmental Stewardship, maintaining uncropped land and other habitat management.

The targets we were set at the outset were high. Two targets related to ELS applications and renewals, and with the greatest percentage of ELS renewals due in 2010 (e.g. 39% in Essex and 43% in Suffolk), this set the Campaign the stiff objective of raising awareness and encouraging action in the first 12 months of its existence. However, the target of doubling key ELS options, for example, has now reached 66% of the total in Suffolk and 40% in Essex – and this in the face of not only shortage of time but also an unexpectedly large rise in the price of wheat, the withdrawal from funds in HLS (which contributes to the targets) and the uncertainty caused by proposals for the greening of the CAP.

In spite of the spectre of CAP reform, ELS renewals stand at 76% in the East of England (amongst the highest in the country), and new applications continue to be received. The annual payments for ELS begin to look more attractive in the face of fluctuating wheat prices, and the fact that the new CAP seems unlikely to be implemented before the spring of 2015 at the earliest means that agreements starting now will be close to completion by then; the choice between waiting more than three years to find out what happens, or receiving three to four years of payments with a possibly tougher final year seems an easy one. In addition, the government has pledged to do all it can to mitigate any disadvantages those in agri-environment schemes might experience.

The greater the support that the farming community can provide to the Campaign in terms of the uptake of ELS and voluntary measures, the stronger the argument Farming Minister Jim Paice will have in negotiations to lower the current proposed 7% “ecological focus areas” under the initial CAP proposals. There is no doubt that in the second year of the Campaign farmer awareness is very high – already 90% in February 2011. There is also more active interest, as shown by the attendance at events we have run over the two years. Whereas early events attracted small numbers, the series of recent farm walks focusing on the management of wild bird seed attracted so much interest that the Essex event had a waiting list and the Suffolk event was divided into two sessions.

Looking forward, one of the widely acknowledged successes of the Campaign has been the partnership working, and the interchange of ideas, knowledge and experience between partners working towards a single aim. It is likely that this model will be used to address some of the future challenges faced by the farming industry. A personal pleasure has been working with farmers who have hosted events, acted as Beacon Farms or allowed themselves to be used for case studies, or simply come forward for advice and help with ELS and voluntary measures, and seeing the excellent work that takes place on so many of our farms for wildlife and the environment.

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