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