East of England: Farmer calls for end to ‘crippling misallocation’ of Euro funds

Robert Law of Thrift Farm, Royston, a Conservation Grade farmer who commits at least 10% of his Hert

Robert Law of Thrift Farm, Royston, a Conservation Grade farmer who commits at least 10% of his Hertfordshire farm to environmental stewardship and woodland schemes - Credit: Archant

A prominent UK farmer has called on Defra to resolve a ‘crippling misallocation of Euro funds’, and put the responsibility for solving Britain’s countryside biodiversity crisis firmly into the hands of farmers.

Speaking out as the government’s proposals for Common Agriculture Policy reform went to consultation, Robert Law of Thrift Farm, Royston, a Conservation Grade farmer who commits at least 10% of his Hertfordshire farm to environmental stewardship and woodland schemes, said the amount of funding put into the ‘rural development’ pot 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,” he said. “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 those best placed to deliver highly-effective biodiversity schemes for taxpayers.”

First generation farmer Mr Law says 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 - then use this to market their products as ‘Fair to Nature’.

“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.


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“It’s a model that clearly works - but we need real commitment from the government to underpin a more permanent change in how we drive uptake of schemes like this. 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 says 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 the rural development pot 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.”

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The State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough in May, shows that 60 per cent of 1,064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and a third of the total have declined strongly.

Conservation Grade is an independent accreditation organisation operated over an area approaching 100,000 acres in the UK which promotes a system of agriculture that optimises both crop yields and biodiversity conservation.

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