East: Wildlife-friendly farmers lobby Government on funding for agri-environment schemes

East Anglian flora. Eastern region farmers are in Westminster today to lobby for a greater share of

East Anglian flora. Eastern region farmers are in Westminster today to lobby for a greater share of funding to help threatened species, landscapes and heritage features - Credit: Archant

Farmers from across the Eastern Region are among a group at Westminster today to lobby MPs over funding to help threatened species, landscapes and heritage features.

The meeting comes as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson MP finalises his budget and priorities for the future of the countryside.

One of his key decisions will be how much funding to dedicate to so-called agri-environment schemes, which fund farmers to manage their farms in wildlife-friendly and environmentally-friendly ways. With a finite amount of money available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he has the power to transfer up to 15% of direct subsidies to these and other rural development schemes, and farmers attending today’s event are calling for the maximum transfer.

Among the group is Alison and Andrew Bond of Bryher Beef Farm, Clacton on Sea.

Richard Morris Farm Manager at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire said: “Farmers have to ensure a return from their land so that their businesses remain viable. With no other support this requires field corner to corner production. A successful alternative that has delivered huge benefits to nature are the agri-environment schemes. If farmers sign up to these, they receive income support for the land they take out of production to replant hedges, establish margins, field corners and habitats which are rich and varied.

“Without continued support for the cost of management and forgoing income from these areas they are likely to return to production with the resulting degradation of nature’s resource. I believe the public would want to see more investment in this ecological friendly and more sustainable type of production. We need to ensure funds to deliver these schemes that protect biodiversity, habitat and healthy living landscapes both for today, and for future generations.”

Simon Tonkin, Senior Conservation Officer for RSPB in the Eastern Region added: “Due to the dominance of agriculture in the east, looking after farm wildlife is of pivotal importance. Farming practices can impact both positively and negatively on our farm wildlife and wildlife friendly farmers make a real difference.”

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Martin Harper, conservation group the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “Three-quarters of England is farmed, and that means farmers have a huge responsibility to look after a great proportion of our wildlife, landscapes and cultural heritage.

“Over the last two decades, an increasing number of farmers have embraced the challenge and taken the step to enter agri-environment schemes , working hard to get results on the ground. I’m delighted we are working alongside farmers today to try and secure a better deal for these schemes in the future.

“Together we hope that Owen Paterson MP will keep his pledge to help wildlife and the wider environment by shifting farming budgets in favour of those farmers seeking to farm in wildlife-friendly ways.”