Britain’s leading conservation organisations call on the Government to grasp a better future for the countryside

Monday 3rd October 2016

Britain’s largest nature organisations have launched their joint vision for a post-Brexit environment, farming and rural policy.

The Wildlife Trusts, WWF-UK, National Trust, and RSPB are calling for:

• A new policy for the countryside - UK Governments to work together to replace the CAP with policies that deliver high environmental standards for land management across the UK.
• The creation of an independent Policy Commission - to examine a future policy for the environment, farming and rural development and encourage an inclusive and engaging public debate.
• A joined up approach between Government policies and plans for farming and the environment - Any future environment, farming and rural development policy must work together with the Westminster Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment.
• Continuation of agri-environment schemes - All existing agri-environment schemes should be kept open until a replacement policy is fully operational.

The call comes as the UK plans for a future outside of the European Union. Major decisions will need to be made about how all governments across the UK support the environment, farming and rural development to replace the Common Agricultural Policy.

Last year, over £3.1bn was spent on the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK. Its rules directly affect how farmers look after their land. This has an impact on everything we do – from the food we eat, and the water we drink, to the air we breathe and the woods, meadows and soils we leave for future generations.

Recent data from the State of Nature report suggests that 56% of native British wildlife species are declining. With around three quarters of the UK’s landscape being farmed, the agricultural policies that influence management of our countryside could do much more to support farmers to restore nature.

The conservation organisations are calling on Government to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature, by supporting sustainable farming that not only produces great food but also rewards farmers for protecting and restoring the farmed environment.

A healthy countryside is vital and necessary for the whole country: we need good food, healthy and productive soils, clean water, protection from flooding and an attractive countryside rich in wildlife. This requires existing levels of environmental protection to be maintained or bolstered while also thinking very differently about how we support the land management we want and need in the future.

Developing the right policies to enable this is critically important and a wide range of stakeholders must be involved, the conservation charities say.

WWF-UK, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB collectively have over six million members and supporters across the United Kingdom. They own and manage 500,000 hectares of land, around half of which is actively farmed, either in hand or by one of their 2,000 tenants and graziers.

Rose O’Neill, WWF-UK, Freshwater Programme Manager commented: “It is vital to recognise that we all have a stake in the future of the British countryside. Whether we are farmers, the government, conservation groups or city dwellers, we all need to work in partnership to achieve a countryside rich in nature alongside vibrant communities and a thriving rural economy.”

Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director for Conservation commented: “As the recent State of Nature report highlighted we’ve already lost species once common to much of our countryside, and worryingly face losing much more if we don’t take action today and step up our efforts in the years ahead. We want to work with farmers to realise our shared ambition to restore UK biodiversity within a generation. We should grasp this opportunity to secure the future of the countryside and show we can deliver for both nature and farming.”

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “The public deserves great food, produced in a way that benefits wildlife whilst providing farmers with a sustainable business. But government needs to give farmers the right support, rewarding them for managing land for a full range of public benefits: wildlife, food, public access, beautiful landscapes, cultural heritage, reducing the risk of flooding and holding carbon in the soil. It’s only by changing how we support farmers that the long-term future of farming will be secured.”

Steve Trotter, Director, The Wildlife Trusts, England, commented: “People love the countryside and wildlife is a crucial part of what makes it special. The Government needs to be bold and take a radical new approach to the way public payments are used to deliver the things we need from a healthy countryside, like clean water, beautiful landscapes full of wildlife, nutritious food, healthy soils, jobs, room for people to exercise close to nature, as well as practical benefits like reduced flood risk. This is a once in a generation chance to help reverse the huge decline in wildlife and it must not be missed”.
 

Editor's notes

Our principles for developing policies for the environment, farming and rural development

1. A countryside for food, wildlife and people. Whether we earn our living from the land, live in a city or a rural community, we all have a stake in our countryside. In the coming months and years, we need an open and transparent public debate about its future, and how we can develop policies that work for everyone.

2. Nature should be abundant everywhere. We need nature across the whole of the countryside, not just in protected areas. We must halt the declines in wildlife and the wider environment, and work to restore and enhance nature at a landscape scale, ensuring that every generation leaves the environment in a better condition than they found it.

3. Public payments and new markets working hand-in-hand. Taxpayers’ money should be invested in producing public benefits that the market does not provide including healthy soils, abundant wildlife and beautiful places for people to enjoy. We need to replace the outdated CAP with a system that is fair to taxpayers, and provides value for money. In the long-term, the market needs to better complement public funding, making it profitable and rewarding to manage land sustainably for both private and public benefit.

4. Unacceptable to harm nature, and easy to help it. We need a strong legislative baseline to safeguard the natural environment that creates a fair and level playing field for farmers throughout the country. These simple rules should apply everywhere irrespective of payments, with properly resourced and effective enforcement. This should be combined with advice and a simple system for accessing the right support, making it easy for farmers and land managers to help restore and integrate nature into their business.

5. Coherence with wider policy and delivery. For environment, farming and rural development policies to succeed, steps must be taken to ensure fairness to farmers by securing more of the profit that exists in the UK’s food and farming sector. We also need much better alignment with different areas of policy such as trade, food, procurement, health and nutrition and climate change. Delivery needs to be flexible enough to meet local needs, whilst guiding action to meet our environmental ambitions at the regional and national level, through planning decisions and a new approach based on integrated mapping of ecological networks and natural assets.

Case studies

WWF-UK, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB have a breadth of case studies demonstrating bet practice in the farming world. These include:

• Nature friendly farms https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/seven-of-our-best-nature-friendly....
• WWF-UK’s partnership with Coca-Cola, working with the farming community to protect English rivers http://www.wwf.org.uk/wwf_articles.cfm?unewsid=6535

About WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

About National Trust
The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 775 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 200 million people visit our countryside properties every year, and together with 4.5 million members and over 62,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places forever, for everyone.

For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk

About The Wildlife Trusts
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.

About RSPB
The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.