Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland, blogs about the Scotland Rural Development Programme.
Boosting the budget for wildlife-friendly farming
‘More money’ is a demand that politicians hear all the time and must get pretty fed up with. But money does matter and some investments have the potential to bear fruit for many years to come. The next Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is one such long-term investment.
In my previous blog I explained that despite the SRDP budget being £190m per year it’s really not that much considering the size of Scotland and all the demands placed on it. It has been estimated that Scotland needs £444m each year to meet environmental objectives alone, never mind finding more money for other rural development needs.
So how can the SRDP budget be increased?
Option 1 – Top-up from CAP* subsidies. Scotland’s farmers take a share of £580m per year in subsidy – equivalent to approx £250 from each Scottish household – with few environmental conditions attached. In response to the recent flooding crisis, some commentators, like George Monbiot, have been questioning the benefits Society receives in return for the huge subsidies that many landowners receive from taxpayers. The argument is that subsidies should pay for land management which, protects soils, stores floodwater and creates homes for wildlife, etc... not just producing food. We want a countryside that’s enjoyable to visit, provides us with services and is fit for nature right? That’s certainly RSPB policy. But I digress.
Before Christmas we campaigned for more funds to be swapped from the subsidy budget to the SRDP budget to reward wildlife-friendly farming. Richard Lochhead the Cabinet Secretary could have transferred 15% of it but chose £9.5% and thereby starved the SRDP of an extra £200m. We were obviously disappointed. There is an opportunity in 2018 to change this decision but for the short term, it’s 9.5% and not enough.
Option 2 – Top-up with other Government money. A proportion of the SRDP budget already comes from the wider Government budget rather than CAP funds but this option would mean finding money from elsewhere. What about the massive transport budget? The 80miles of A9 to be upgraded has a budget of £3bn. One mile less of that could provide £37.5m for wildlife-friendly farming!
Option 3 – Rebalance the SRDP budget. For us, the Agri-Environment-Climate (AEC) scheme within the SRDP is the key scheme as it pays farmers and nature reserve managers to help nature. It has a budget of £48m per year (25% of the total) but we calculate it needs at the very least £60m per year. The AEC scheme supports land managers to create wet areas for lapwing, mow grass in a corncrake-friendly way and plant seed crops for corn buntings....and much more. This scheme can have many real benefits. Smaller SRDP schemes to advise farmers, and help them work together can increase the effectiveness of the AEC scheme, and Forestry Grants are also good in part for wildlife too.
So what gives (that phrase is becoming a common theme in these blogs)? The biggest share of the SRDP funding pot goes to the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS). LFASS is a bit like a top-up subsidy for hill farmers but it is poorly targeted, has little environmental benefit and is poor value for money. Reducing its budget and targeting it better to the most vulnerable farmers is a real option and would allow a transfer to the AEC scheme which provides better value for money and value for the environment.
In reality, Option 3 is the most plausible option now. But in case we can’t persuade Ministers, we need to ensure that the limited funding works as hard as it can for wildlife-friendly farming. More next time.
Jenny Tweedie, RSPB Media & Communications Officer, tells us about a FREE open day to celebrate improvements at our Lochwinnoch reserve.
An even better home for nature at RSPB Lochwinnoch
Photo by Zul Bhatia.
There’s a bit of a do happening at RSPB Lochwinnoch this weekend. It’s to celebrate the work that’s been happening over the last few years, to make the reserve a better home for nature, and a better place for the people who love that nature.
For those who don’t know it, Lochwinnoch is situated within Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park in Renfrewshire, and it’s part of one of the last few remaining wetlands in the west of Scotland. But over the last 250 years or so, the floodplain around Lochwinnoch had seen a lot of changes, with water-courses being diverted through man-made channels, leaving wildlife restricted.
Plans to improve the situation have taken years, and the work itself was delayed by the discovery of salmon and brook lamprey, both protected species of fish that weren’t even known to be on the reserve.
But with 9000 tons of earth now moved, major re-landscaping work completed, new pools in place, and an old burn diverted over 100 years ago, now re-connected to its original state, the habitat works are finally finished. There’s also been some improvements inside the reserve’s visitor centre, resulting in a better all-round experience, and in particular creating a wide open viewing space to help people enjoy all the new wildlife.
After (photo by Ivor Wilson).
They’ve not been disappointed. The excavated channels and extended main pond in the Aird Meadow have attracted huge numbers of birds, including unprecedented flocks of snipe and lapwings. Whooper swans can now be seen in clear view of the visitor centre, joined by teals, wigeons, gadwall, garganey and goosander. Rarer birds such as a smew, scaup, spotted crake, and even kingfishers have all been seen, and a lucky few have even managed to catch a glimpse of an otter taking advantage of the new habitat.
And the fish? Well they’re doing well too, with initial surveys showing good numbers of salmon and trout, and clear indications of ‘nesting’ by the brook lampreys, which means that they’re breeding.
All this (apart from the fish) can be seen this Saturday, with a free open day at Lochwinnoch from 11am-4pm. You can take part in the sponsored birdwatch, take a guided walk, or just come along and enjoy the spring wildlife. If you can’t make it this weekend, then the reserve is open every day, and runs regular events throughout the year. It’s easy to get to by train, as it’s about a five minute walk from Lochwinnoch station, and there’s even an RSPB shop, so you can stock up on things to give nature a home in your own garden.
So why not come along some time soon, and see the results of a lot of hard work.
Funding for the project was kindly allocated by WREN in 2010 through its Biodiversity Action Fund. WREN is a not for profit business that awards grants to community, environmental and heritage projects across the UK from funds donated by FCC Environment as part of a voluntary environmental tax credit scheme called the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF).
Senior Land Use Policy Officer, Jim Densham, is asking everyone to imagine being a lapwing.
A guide to being a lapwing
Photo by Steve Round (rspb-images.com).
Imagine you are a lapwing. What do you enjoy as a lapwing? What do you eat, where do you nest, how do you find your food? Here’s the simple guide to being a lapwing. Each spring you look for an open field and you make a nest on the ground, no more than a scrape in the earth. You lay a few eggs and when the chicks hatch they follow you to wet areas to feed on insects. You like grass which is not too long (a few cm high) and of course you really fear a tractor with a mower attachment. In the late summer or autumn when your chicks have fledged, you flock with other lapwings.
Like many farmland birds, lapwings aren’t very adaptable. You can’t plonk them in a small enclosed silage field and expect them to nest in a hedge. They have evolved to specific conditions which are best for them to thrive and raise the next generation. The trouble is that humans have massively changed the farmed landscape in the past 50 years and more, and there aren’t that many undisturbed fields to nest in or wet fields in which to find insect food. It is now up to us all to make sure lapwings can find the habitats and the conditions they prefer. If we don’t, this charismatic bird, known by many as the peewit, could disappear from our countryside altogether.
Photo by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
Thankfully, the Agri-Environment-Climate (AEC) scheme of the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is one way that we can help the lapwing. The AEC scheme aims to help Scotland’s wildlife and has the potential to pay a farmer or crofter to manage their land in just the way that lapwings like it. Over recent decades RSPB researchers have observed the particular needs of the lapwing and identified farming methods that are more lapwing friendly. This knowledge has been used to develop Options in previous SRDP schemes which farmers and crofters could choose to adopt on their land – such as the Open Grazed or Wet Grassland for Wildlife option. We now need these options to continue into the next scheme.
Like options to benefit the lapwing, there are many other options that we have helped to develop which benefit a variety of species and habitats in our countryside as well as options designed to support other objectives, such as improving water quality or business competition. RSPB Scotland is now working to ensure that quality wildlife focussed options remain central in the scheme and don’t get watered down or swamped by less effective ones.
The limited SRDP budget must continue to pay for what has been tried and tested, and must be used to deliver real results for birds like the lapwing. The knowledge we’ve built up must be carried forward and limited funds must be spent on things that work.
You can go back to being a human now.