Conservation groups must change their approach to save wildlife from disaster

The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) is calling on UK conservation groups to recognise that current conservation policy has significantly contributed to the catastrophic decline in wildlife on British farms.

This is because current policies ghettoised nature conservation, whilst allowing further intensification on most farmland. The State of Nature report, compiled by the RSPB, 23 other conservation groups and Rothamsted Research, provides compelling evidence that British wildlife is in serious decline, with those species most dependent on farmland suffering some of the biggest falls in numbers. Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the SFT said, “The approach of protecting small areas of land for nature conservation, while allowing unrestricted use of pesticides and other agrochemicals on 95% of farmland, failed to protect nature sufficiently, as this data now confirms so graphically. The only way to reverse these declines is through the adoption of truly sustainable farming practices, which harmoniously integrate food production with wildlife throughout the entire farmland area. There is no doubt for a moment that the advocacy of this approach was well intended, but until we understand that these misguided policies have only made an already serious situation worse, it will not be possible to reverse these declines, or even save many iconic species from extinction.” For further information contact: Patrick Holden 07774 846 858 – Richard Young 01386 853320/07919 194235 – The Sustainable Food Trust, 38 Richmond Street, Bristol, BS14TQ The Sustainable Food Trust is a registered charity

State of nature report

Notes for Editors As examples, the SFT points to the following: 1.The need for a radical change of policy is increasingly being recognised by major conservation organisations in other countries, such as Conservation International and the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US. 2. In the late 1980s, the RSPB used its influence with the Government to overturn an agreed scheme for the extensification of farming in the UK, in favour of ‘Set-aside’ – the policy of paying farmers to take a proportion of their land out of production for very short periods of time. This indirectly encouraged further hedgerow and other field margin loss, all arable rotations, with a reduced variety of agricultural crops cultivated and greater use of pesticides. The paperwork for the first of the extensification schemes, which was for beef and sheep, had even been printed and circulated to farming organisations by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. 3. The introduction of agri-environment schemes, such as the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme, supported by many conservation organisations, has used huge amounts of taxpayers’ money while bringing no appreciable benefits for wildlife. 4. Research has shown that many of the Higher Level Stewardship agreements, which can pay farmers very large amounts of money to manage land for specific wildlife benefits, have had less beneficial impacts than expected and sometimes failed completely. Such schemes have also created small pockets of conservation within very large areas of high intensification. Yet farmland birds and many insects inevitably travel over the whole countryside. 5. Many of the problems stem from high use of nitrogen fertiliser, which encourages aggressive wild plant species at the expense of more delicate ones and makes crops more prone to pests and diseases, which then require greater use of pesticides. The use of legumes in crop rotations could bring significant benefits. 6. There are many sustainable farming methods which all farmers could adopt in order to benefit wildlife.  7. Government support for organic farming in the UK is the lowest of all 27 EU member states. Organic farms have been shown to have higher numbers of farmland birds and many other wildlife species.

Images by Alastair Rae and Mike Green

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