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EU CAP proposals: green rhetoric must not become green wash

Last modified: 18 November 2010

Ears of barley

Image: Andy Hay

Proposals for a major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) need to include more effective measures to protect threatened wildlife.

That is the warning from the RSPB today as the European Commission officially launches its proposals for CAP reform after 2013.

While the document does signal a positive move towards linking the basic farm subsidy payment with environmental commitments, it fails to highlight support for vital agri environment schemes which are essential for threatened wildlife and rural communities.

The new plans appear to remove the obligation for EU Member States to have a national Agri Environment Scheme. The UK schemes pay thousands of farmers to put in place targeted measures on their land such as field margins, over winter stubble and skylark plots.

Gareth Morgan, RSPB head of countryside policy, said: “Despite some commendable green language, we need to see more tangible measures to ensure the CAP protects the natural environment whilst supporting farmers to produce food more sustainably.

“The RSPB strongly welcomes moves by the European Commission to get more for the environment from CAP payments by linking basic farm support to environmental commitments such as fallow land and crop rotation. But yet again the fundamental rationale for these payments remains unclear.  

“Whilst this is an important shift towards the 'public money for public goods’ philosophy that should govern all CAP payments, the remainder of the proposals shy away from robust reform of the policy whilst introducing some potentially very damaging additions.

“This early step needs to be turned into much more - in fact, we need to sprint towards green reform if we are to tackle the many environmental challenges facing us. Biodiversity loss, climate change, resource degradation - all these require concerted action from farmers and land managers, backed up by strong public investment and support.

“The most startling omission is the role of agri-environment schemes which reward farmers for environmentally friendly practices. Such schemes must continue to play a key role in the next CAP as they form the backbone of a more sustainable farming sector. It is only with targeted measures like these that we can halt the devastating declines in farmland birds and other wildlife across Europe.

“The document's environmental rhetoric is commendable, but the European Commission must now back this up with specific proposals to ensure green ambition does not become green wash.”

Despite the claim from Brussels that all payments should be linked to environmental - as well as economic - criteria, three of the five proposed payments contain no environmental dimension. Critics say that in a time of fiscal constraint and increased scrutiny on public spend, payments that deliver little for wider society cannot be justified. 

Another positive move from the document’s authors is the explicit reference to High Nature Value Farming and the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, but this welcome inclusion is not backed by clear measures for support. 

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