Report outlines costs for agricultural policy that gives more funding for nature, and rewards farmers for protecting the environment
The RSPB, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts have released a new report which details the funding required to meet the UK’s priorities for environmental land management, and how a new system should reward farmers for protecting the environment.
The report emphasises that taxpayer support for agriculture needs to ensure that our country’s nature is protected for future generations. It also asserts that future farming and food production in the UK should contribute to healthy, stable and productive soils, and support pollinating insects and clean water.
According to the report, the current system needs to change. If the government is serious about meeting even its existing environmental ambitions then it proposes that of the £3bn currently spent on agriculture each year, £2.3bn annually must be invested in land management that also looks after nature.
This investment represents a five-fold increase for the UK as a whole on current levels of funding for environmental land management, and is critical to helping secure the aim of restoring a healthy natural environment.
The farming sector will need to be supported in this transition to a better and more effective system. This would mean investing in new technologies to adapt to the challenges of the modern market and the needs of consumers, while supporting the recovery of our natural world and enabling species to return.
Central to a new approach to farming policies across the UK should be the premise that payments should be made for the way landowners manage the land, not how much land they have.
In practice, this means a farmer who restores hedgerows, woodland and ponds, or provides services like carbon storage, and flood prevention and alleviation – alongside continuing to farm their land – is rewarded. But a landowner who happens to own many hectares, but does nothing to give nature a helping hand, is not.
This will ensure that our nature is protected, that our farmers can continue to produce the high-quality food which we all need and enjoy, and that farming communities can continue to thrive.
Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director, National Trust, said, “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to help both wildlife and farming thrive – and we must seize it.
“Farmers recognise that public funding should be linked to delivering wider public benefits and not based on the size of land holdings.
“We’re working with our farm tenants to look at how we can support them over the coming years to produce high quality food while continuing to act as expert custodians for our beautiful countryside.
"We’re also exploring potential new income streams for farmers such as payments from private companies to slow the flow of water from their land.”
Jenna Hegarty, the RSPB's head of land use policy said, "The UK has the potential to show the world that our nation can do something that no-one else has managed to achieve: a thriving farming sector that both delivers for nature and for people.
“To achieve the UK Government’s promise of leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation, governments across the UK must move away from agricultural payments based on the size of land holdings towards a model that recognises the unique role our farmers must play in helping nature. This means investing the existing budget in a better system that works for nature, underpins farm livelihoods and benefits everyone in the UK."
Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said “We have a chance to reverse the fortunes of wildlife and the soil, water and habitats which our whole society relies upon, not least farmers themselves. The estimated cost of £2.3 billion annually will help to set us on this positive path. We need to invest now if we are to see a return of species that were once common but are now rare, the return of hedgerows for wildlife, rich soils capturing carbon and water, and woodland that is not only beautiful, but helps reduce flood risk. ”