An open letter to the Prime Minister from farmers, rural policy academics and wildlife NGOs

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

An open letter to the Prime Minister from farmers, rural policy academics and wildlife NGOs

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The imminent debate about the EU Budget has prompted farmers, academics and NGOs in the west country to join forces to write to the Prime Minister.  The sentiment is one which I am sure is shared by many others across the UK...

"Dear Prime Minister

In this time of austerity it’s paramount that the trillion Euro EU budget delivers real value for money. Freezing its size and securing the rebate alone will not be a successful outcome for taxpayers.

Please protect and strengthen spending that delivers real public benefits.

Here in the West Country the Common Agriculture Policy rural development funds help farmers to both protect nature and adapt their businesses – helping sustain and grow the rural economy and its communities. 

For example, on Dartmoor agri-environment (or “stewardship”) schemes are essential to hill farmers who protect and enhance this world famous landscape and the impressive array of associated public benefits, including safeguarding over 197,800 million litres of water every year and protecting 9.7million tonnes of carbon stored in the peat.  These schemes play a pivotal role in conserving wildlife and supporting livestock production. But all this is under threat if the hill farmers cannot access stewardship payments in the future.

In figures published last Wednesday we understand that, in real terms, the EU is proposing to cut spending on these schemes which could amount to over 20%.

This is indefensible. Here in the West Country this will not only be a body blow to our most cherished places and their wildlife, but to the many thousands of farmers, already struggling, who rely on this support to keep them in business. As guardians of the landscape, these farmers are doing their best to produce high quality food while providing innumerable benefits for us all.

In doing this they underpin our single biggest regional economic sector – tourism – where time and time again visitor surveys are clear – people come west because of our outstanding natural environment.

Prime Minister, we urge you in the strongest terms to fight for these schemes this week.

And please remember, nature’s loss will be the West Country’s loss.

Yours sincerely

Mr Jon Andrews, Farmer, Langdon Barton Farm, Devon

Mr Will Barnard, Farmer, Somerset Levels, Somerset

Mr Harry Barton, Chief Executive Officer, Devon Wildlife Trust

Ms Audrey Compton, Farmer, Deer Park Farm, Devon

Mr Trevor Edwards, Chief Executive Officer, Cornwall Wildlife Trust        

Mr Bob Franklin, Farmer, Trebarwith Farm, Cornwall

Mr Peter French, Farmer, Deane Farm, Devon

Mr Peter Howlett, Woodhuish Farm, Devon

Dr Matt Lobley, Co-Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter        

Mr Colin Lockwood, Farmer, Manor Farm, Cornwall

Mr Simon Nash, Chief Executive Officer, Somerset Wildlife Trust  

Ms Kate Palmer, Farmer, West Yeo Farm, Devon

Mr Tony Richardson, Regional Director, RSPB South West

Mr Robert Sloman, Farmer, Roscarrock, Cornwall

Mr Adrian Thomas, Farmer, Nanquidno Farm, Cornwall

Mr John Waldon, South West Uplands Federation          

Mr John Whetman, Farmer, Deer Park Farm, Devon

Ms Christina Williams, Farmer, Exmoor

Professor Michael Winter, Co-Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter"     

  • I think Ed Milliband has got it right: supporting Britain's European membership should not be uncritical and farming and the environment is a key area where we should be asking questions more vociferously. The latest Birds highlights what EU LIFE has done for the RSPB. LIFE has been a fantastic source of funding for the environment across Europe and shows the EU at its best. Equally, the SAC & SPA series of protected areas is absolutely vital: Martin & RSPB colleagues know all too well how UK Ministers will stop and think before attacking EU sites in a way they never would for SSSI designation alone.

    I very strongly agree with the SW alliance: targeted EU funding, especially HLS, is vital to the future of our rural environment. The issue over the EU budget is not that there ins't the money, its how its spent - because the lions share still goes to automatic payments that every farmer gets simply for farming. With world food prices soaring surely (and I know that its almost impossible to achieve politically !) we must be approaching the point where we have to pull back on funding arable agri-business which is doing fine without taxpayer's money ?

    And surely we should be much more upfront about paying for the things we actually want rather than dressing them up behind food production: the landscape farmers provide that is that backdrop to the south west's huge and vital tourist industry, water - both supplying clean water and containing the sort of floods we saw in the Levels this year - we should be paying farmers above the counter for these vital services - and, of course, the birds themselves.

    The idea we aren't part of Europe is simply a joke - and it is right that RSPB are leading in partnership with the farming community and the wider rural economy to modernise the way our EU money is spent to meet the needs of the 21st century, not the 1950s.

  • Hi, Good to see Matt Lobley name there; his work on small farm systems and their regional importance is very important to understanding the influence of farming systems and their contribution to landscape character /wildlife in England.

    The key concept here is High Natural Value areas ( I am sure you know)which run across Europe and which Dartmoor/Exmoor are a part with their culm grasslands. When I was a Dole plus 10 pound campaigner for FoE (job creation scheme) I passed motions on right to know and CAP openness through FoE and Sera conferences and key here is that small farms with patches of woodland and small field size ie more hedge are richer in wildlife value than larger farms; also that small farmers keep money in the community better than large farms (Tir Cymen/Gofal work)

    I ran out of energy and was outside the institutional structure of FoE which was GMO obsessed and I was marginalised. However the next phase was to create member country maps at a European level of CAP subsidy ; a simple tool for regional policy explanation at an EU country level of who gets what from the 50 billion Euro CAP. Then in parallel elaborate the WWF maps on EU high natural value areas; ie create interlinking maps of the European wildlife resource; then create maps of EU rural poverty and unemployment across the EU and patterns of EU rural abandonment. This all interlinks  and hits key EU policy buttons.

    This approach is always vulnerable to the lobbying power of "Big Agriculture" and clearly we are heading back to the 1960's. I urge the creation of a pan EU campaign and suggest these ideas; the small farm movement is strong in France and this is where this battle will be won or lost.