Kendall attacks RSPB over ‘shameful’ comments

THE NFU has accused RSPB conservation director Mark Avery of making ‘shameful’ comments about the impact of farming of wildlife.

Dr Avery pointed the finger at the farmers in interviews this week to mark the launch of the RSPB’s ‘Stepping up for Nature’ campaign, which encourages Government, businesses and the public to do more to protect biodiversity.

One of the campaign’s priorities is reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to ensure it does more to help reverse the decline in farmland birds, which according to Government figures have halved since 1970.

 Dr Avery was highly critical of farmers and highlighted what he claimed was the contribution made by the CAP to the decline over the past few decades. His comments infuriated NFU president Peter Kendall.

“The NFU has a constructive engagement with the RSPB and will continue to work positively with it as a leading conservation organisation,” he said.

“But to hear the RSPB’s conservation director on television and radio yesterday morning blaming our industry for a decline in the countryside is shameful and does nothing to foster progressive dialogue with farmers. What is more, to suggest that changes to agricultural policy have led to increased fertiliser and pesticide use is completely at odds with the facts.”

Mr Kendall said the campaign ‘fails to take into account the real progress that has been achieved in the management of Britain’s farmland’ and the ‘massive changes’ already made  to the CAP.

While agreeing that more can be done across Europe to preserve biodiversity, Mr Kendall said it was unfair to ‘lay the blame solely at farming’s door for changes in farmland bird numbers’.

He pointed out that £3.9 billion of CAP money between 2007 to 2013 was going into rural development in England, the main focus of which is agri-environment schemes which enable farmers to participate in ‘positive environmental management of the countryside.  These schemes represented an ‘impressive step change’, he said..

He said there were lots of factors that influence bird numbers, including extreme weather, predators and urbanisation – as well as farming practices.

“The RSPB knows that changes to the CAP, especially the development of targeted agri-environment schemes, have also increased populations of certain scarce farmland birds like cirl buntings by a massive 130 per cent (1992-2003) and stone curlews by 87 per cent (1997-2005). Populations of farmland specialist species the goldfinch and the whitethroat have also increased,” said Mr Kendall.

He said the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, ‘which the report strangely fails to acknowledge’, has had a ‘real impact in helping farmers and growers decide how they might best retain and increase the environmental benefits provided by their farmland in a targeted and agronomically sensible way’.

Between 1990 and 2008 the use of pesticides fell by around 37 per cent, while fertiliser use dropped by a massive 40 per cent between 1998 and 2008, he said.

“These facts demonstrate that the use of inputs has declined in recent years and refute any claims from the RSPB that modern agriculture is intensifying as it is clearly not,” he said.

“What is not needed is the persistent blame-laying at farmers’ doors, or disregard for the huge achievements of years of agri-environment schemes and other voluntary activity. Farmers and growers can be relied upon to conserve the natural environment so long as we are provided with the right opportunities, information and incentives to do so,” he said.

UK farming – Environmental hero or villain? You decide

Don’t miss our next web debate, on farming and the environment, on Monday, March 21. It will be lively as NFU president Peter Kendall, Country Land and Business Association policy director Allan Buckwell and RSPB conservation director Mark Avery debate farming’s impact on conservation and how future policy should best achieve the balance between food production and the environment.

Put your questions to the panel live, and hear their views as they debate one of the most contentious issues in the industry today.

Watch from 1pm, Monday, March 21, or sign-up for an email reminder now at  www.farmersguardian.com/debate

Readers' comments (27)

  • Thank you Mr Kendall. . I for one am now getting pretty sick of these cosseted clowns who are continually running over at the mouth, making outrageous unsubstantiated claims and statements. . For example, every countryman knows that the decline in all the ground nesting birds can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of groups, including the RSPB, that follow programs based on their own prejudices rather than common sense combined with good farming practices, pest control and science. . And another thing that these 'professional conservationists' totally disregard is that very large numbers of us have been creating our own conservation areas, large and small, as part of our own personnel enjoyment of our farms and country life since time immemorial. . "Sucking eggs" springs to mind.

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  • Agri-environment schemes have not stopped the decline in farmland birds (the real specialists are declining) because farmers choose easy options that don't have much effect. farming had damaged the countryside but th RSPB has proved on its farm you can farm profitably and increase bird numbers dramatically. through techniques such as skylark plots. So let's ask Kendall why he doesn't apply these techniques on his farm. Raptors do not have an effect on bird populations in a healthy environment and studies have shown this. But trimming hedges to the ground, planting up to field boundaries producing cereal monocultures and intensively managing pasture gives no space for birds bees or flowers. Or are tMark Avery, the RSPB and raptors resonsible for the declines in flowers, butterflies and reptiles?,

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  • Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if England was just a nice big ‘park’ for twitchers and townies to come and relax in . . . meanwhile, in the real world, the UK has to remain competitive with the rest of the world at producing food at competitive prices . Perhaps the ‘real specialists’ have come to the end of the road evolution wise – no population remains static over time and the term ‘survival of the fittest’ has never been more relevant. The real answer, of course is to have less humans on the planet demanding less of it, but until we address that problem it’s goodbye biodiversity hello cheap monoculture.

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  • Twtichers are not always concerned about biodiversity but all birdwatchers are and you should thank your lucky stars that they record such changes in the countryside. Many farmers do good work to help balance nature and production and it is possible to do so - hats off to them. But Kendall is the first - in the teeth of clear scientific evidence - to deny that there is a problem. We don't want to make the countryside into a park but the public demands for the money it pays farmers a better landscape and space for nature. You clearly do not know that the RSPB and other organisations (CRT ,National Trust, English Nature etc) are calling for small but important changes to land management that will produce dramatic results. Far from being farmer bashers they are out to demonstrate that their methods work and if applied wholesale would halt this appalling desrtification of the countryside.

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  • "But trimming hedges to the ground, planting up to field boundaries producing cereal monocultures and intensively managing pasture gives no space for birds bees or flowers."

    "Raptors do not have an effect on bird populations in a healthy environment and studies have shown this." . Only in your dreams.

    Get out in the real world Dave. Plant a few buddleia and investigate a few more ponds. . You've been brainwashed. . Most of our countryside has NOT been sprayed or intensively farmed. . Some of it is in fact very neglected, like our roads, and has just been allowed to grow ragwort, bramble and thistle. . There are more wild species out there now than ever there were. . I am concerned about the cuckoo though. . But with ground feeders like dunnocks and ground nesting birds like meadow pippets, and a refusal to accept the predation of the increased raptor numbers maybe we should not be surprised.

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  • So lets look at the real world Charles. Linnet, tree sparrow, bullfinch, reed bunting, corn bunting, yellow hammer, song thrush have declined so catastrophically they are now virtually extinct from some counties. Where they do hang on you'll often find raptors because raptors are signs of healthy not unhealthy habitats. Landowners deny this because they are interested in game birds - which some raptors do eat. In another post you say raptors are responsible for the decline in skylarks when the real problem is the cultivation of winter crops and the shortage of insects and seeds caused by intensive farming. No raptor is responsible for this decline. Sparrowhawks take woodland birds, kestrels mammals, buzzards mammals carrion and worms and red kites largely carrion, young crows, rooks and pigeons. There are more raptors now because we try to protect them, but although their increase has happened at teh same time as declines in some wild birds they are not the cause. Both pastures and crops are much more intensively farmed now and the countryside in general much less varied(I have half a century's experience of the countryside) and not just birds but insects, reptiles and amphibians and flowers have declinesd worringly. Raptors are not responsible for this decline. The reasons are complex but farming practices have played the most significant role in this.

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  • "Landowners deny this because they are interested in game birds."

    Only a very small minority are into game birds. . A bit of rough shooting and vermin control is all that concerns the majority. . A neighbour of mine over 25 years ago used to have his racing pigeons. . Then all this nonsense started and he was afraid to control the sparrow hawks. . Both Magpies and Sparrow hawks are deadly. . They target bird tables, and Magpies will strip any garden of any nesting birds. . When we were young we were always told, "If you see a Magpies nest, blast it with both barrels.", that way there were always plenty of other nests to discover and watch over. . Yes when we were young, we didn't mug old ladies. . We dared to climb and get a rooks egg or a herons egg. . What nonsense you speak to support your hypothesis. . The Skylarks have disappeared from areas that have never seen any cultivation in their entire existence and there hasn't been any intensive farming for hundreds of miles. . But what there is now, is a dearth of buzzards, sparrow hawks, kestrels, magpies and damned badgers. . Raptors? . protect them? . Why? . . There was never a problem. . Badgers; protect them. . Why? . .There was never a problem. . The problems you highlight now are mostly the ones that you have created.

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  • I didn't hear the TV interview, but I did hear an RSPB spokesperson on Farming Today (can't remember his name, don't think it was MA). I have read the RSPB campaign pages. I didn't hear or read any blame being put on farmers. I did hear and read a huge recognition that farmers are the stewards of our countryside, that they hold the future of our wildlife in their hands. Why is that a surprise or offensive? I see the RSPB fighting to get wildlife-friendly practices better rewarded. Why would any farmer complain about that? I am happy for the RSPB to continue to support farmers in this way. I am also happy for them to keep researching wildlife-friendly and economically sensible practices on their Hope Farm. I don't expect the farmers in my village to spend their time or money doing that research. It makes sense that wildlife experts provide that help. All this energy and hatred that is spread just masks the reality - it seems to me that the RSPB and farmers largely want the same things. I see the RSPB recognising the good that farmers do for wildlife far more than the NFU recognises the good the RSPB does for farmers.

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  • "I see the RSPB recognising the good that farmers do for wildlife far more than the NFU recognises the good the RSPB does for farmers."

    You cannot be serious!

    30 years ago maybe. . We were all on the same side then, and they weren't continually pointing their finger.

    Do you really think Mr Kendall would have spoken out he he hadn't felt severely provoked?

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  • H Parsons - I think you have hit the nail on the head.
    The RSPB does not criticize all farmers but it does say that many more farmers could do more - and be rewarded fpr doing so - and it suggets that the leadership of the NFU will not accept what is so obvious to everyone else - including most farmers - that changes in farming practices are the most important factor - but not the only factor - in the huge decline in once common flowers, insects birds reptiles and amphibians. The RSPB have pioneered simple ways to help skylarks (among many other birds and animals) in arable fields. The question is why don't more farmers take up these measures if they stand to be compensated for doing so? The other question is this: how Charles can magpies and raptors be responsible for the wholesale decline in wild flowers insects birds and raptiles that we are witnessing in the farmed landscape?

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