The CAP deal: short of what nature needs

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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

The CAP deal: short of what nature needs

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I was carol singing outside the Lodge (RSPB HQ) canteen yesterday raising money for Operation Turtle Dove when news of the Defra CAP deal emerged.  You can read our reaction here.  

Those of you who have been watching this closely will remember that the key figure to look out for was the magic 15%.  This was the maximum amount of money that governments across the UK could transfer from direct payments to rural development measures including agri-environment schemes which reward farmers for protecting the environment and recovering farmland wildlife such as... turtle dove whose population has plummeted by 93% since 1970.

Yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson revealed that Defra had gone for 12%.  This is more than Scotland who went for 9.5% but less than Wales that went for the maximum, 15%.  

The complexity of the CAP is such that even if money is transferred, not all of it goes into agri-environment.  Some money can be siphoned off to pay for other 'competitiveness' measures.  But Mr Paterson has ensured that 87% of the 12% transferred into rural development will be spent on agri-environment - which translates into about £3.1billion over the 2014-2020.

Are you keeping up?

Bear with me, there's more.

Defra had the chance to transfer more money across to support agri-enivronment, but chose not to.  Why? Because the National Farmers' Union lobbied over Mr Paterson's head and forced a compromise.  

So what's the consequence of the compromise?

If Defra had chosen to transfer 15% and dedicated 88% to agr-environment then it would have had £1.254bn to support farmers entering into new agri-environment schemes.  In the end, it has £926m.  These figures are funding available for new commitments, discounting the £2.155bn they have already committed to (which is included in the £3.1bn above).

This is still a decent amount of money which we think can do some great things for the many farmers who want to help nature.  Mr Paterson and officials deserve credit for fighting to the wire to secure this amount of money for agri-environment.  If you followed economic logic and environmental necessity, you'd go for the full 15% - as that's how you'd get the best value of taxpayers' money.  But politics and crude lobbying for private interest prevailed.  

The key will be to ensure the design of the new agri-environment scheme (which is innovatively called the New Environment Land Management Scheme) works hard for wildlife.  I am optimistic that we'll have learnt lessons from previous schemes and make the new one better.  This is the only way to turn round the fortunes for the 60% of farmland species that have declined since I was born in 1970.

But, the reality is, as the graph below shows, there is still a large gap between the cost of meeting the Government's environmental commitments (for biodiversity and for water protection) and available resources (through agri-environment schemes) to do the job.

So, in the new year, as well as getting the design of NELMS right, Defra will need to turn their attention to that other tool they have in their toolkit - regulation.  

It is worth remembering that agriculture accounts for one third of all reasons for failure for water bodies to meet good ecological status (a requirement under EU law), but only pick up 0.1% of the costs associated with clearing up the mess. 95% is picked up by water companies and the Environment Agency (i.e. the public).  

Given that £11.56 billion of taxpayers' money will now be given to farmers through the single farm payment up to 2020, it would be entirely appropriate to at least ask whether they should  pick up the bill for any pollution they cause.

Finally, many thanks to the tens of thousands of people that supported the campaign to influence the outcome of the CAP review.  We have worked closely with the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and progressive farmers throughout this long process.  The final deal, while not perfect, at least offers the potential for farmers to do great things for widlife for the rest of this decade.

Here's to more than two turtle doves in 2014.

  • Really,you would like farmers to pick up the bill for previous farmers pollution.Environment agency say that this type of pollution can come from even decades ago.Maybe you would like to be convicted of the crime of a person from a previous generation Of course all these vehicles polluting the roads have absolutely no impact,nor does the chemicals used with the tractor sprayers we see on rspb reserves.Talk about selective criticism It is also said to be a fact that even on land such as rspb reserves where no nitrogen fertilizer used there is nitrates polluting water courses from natural nitrates.

  • I'm not Owen Paterson's greatest fan but in the spirit of giving credit where its due, that we have got more than the minimum 9% seems to be down to largely to him and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank him for going into a fight where simply backing off and going with the PM & NFU would have been easier. The one and only pronouncement on farming I have ever seen from David Cameron was when he opposed the cap on maximum CAP payments to any one owner because it would constrain farm consolidation. That says it all: pure, core NFU big farmers only - and a rather sharp contrast between the farmers welfare bill and the wide range of caps being put on those on social welfare.

    The question you ask, Martin, about whether farmers should now share the costs of the ecosystem services problems the current system causes is critical because it opens up the whole question of whether it is now time to do things differently - and from that whether it is time for environmentalists to start questioning more pointedly the basis of the way we operate as opposed to making the best of a bad job, which has effectively been the approach of the last 20 years.  The economic implications are huge: the costs of pollution and flooding caused or exacerbated by present and past land use (particularly the drainage campaigns of the 60sd and 70s) probably exceeds the whole of the £950m for 'new' agri-environment. Surely it is time to cut out the middle man and move directly to managing our whole landscape for multiple benefits rather than solely food production ? My sums suggest that, as a country, we could save £1 billion per annum - and that is solely from the expenditure budget, not the wider costs to the economy of disasters like the 2007 summer flooding, estimated to have cost about £3.5 billion.    

  • A big disappointment that the full 15% transfer was not realised, but this was probably inevitable once the Prime Minister got involved with the decision making process. Great pity he didn't stand up to the NFU and leave the decision to his Environment Minister. Unfortunately the NFU always seems, to a greater or lesser extent, to oppose any sort of consideration for wildlife, a very short sighted approach.  

    However, as you say Martin, it is not "a total wreck" and at least 87% (a fairly good figure) of the RDF is to go to wildlife friendly farming.

    Once again, great work by the RSPB. I shudder to think of the result if the NFU had been left with a clear field without the vigorous RSPB lobbying campaign.

    At least, according to your graph Martin, there is a year or so to try to find ways of closing that future financial shortfall.

    As you say,the designing of the new NELMS will be very important so as to ensure that the funds allocated for wildlife friendly are used as effectively as possibly can be,something that the out going system of Entry Level Stewardship does not do very well.

    It would also be gratifying if the direct farm payments could be "moulded" or "greened" to encourage and require better support for wildlife. The example you quote Martin of creating much less pollution is a good one.

    You asked at the beginning of the week, "was this going to be a week to remember or forget?" Well, after all it is probably neither, but it probably does mean there is much more campaigning/lobbying to do to ensure the Thames Estuary airport option is finally buried deep in the Thames Estuary and that the under the newly announced CAP funding system/budget, that the very best results for wildlife are wrung out of it.