Billions needed for farming to tackle climate change and protect nature, say conservationists

UK farming needs billions of pounds from central government if commitments to tackle climate change and protect the natural environment are to be met.

That’s the view of the RSPB, National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts who say the £3.2bn spent UK-wide on farm support and environmental payments under the EU system must be re-invested in helping farmers produce food in a way that helps nature.

If and when the UK leaves the European Union, the current EU-wide subsidy regime, which mainly pays farmers for the amount of land they have, will have to be replaced.

In England, the Government has said it wants to switch to a system which pays farmers for delivering public goods such as wildlife habitats, carbon storage and flood prevention.

Independent analysis for the three conservation charities concluded that the new proposed “environmental land management” schemes and other measures to support nature-friendly farming would cost at least £2.9bn across the UK.

The money is needed to pay farmers to help boost farmland wildlife such as lapwings, hares and pollinating insects, and create and enhance habitats including wildflower meadows, peatland and woodlands, they say.

Funding is also needed to help farmers protect soils, important for storing carbon, producing food and ensuring healthy natural systems, and cut emissions by restoring wetlands and planting trees and hedges.

That means guaranteeing funding for at least 10 years after the switch away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) system, they argue.

And they want new legislation to back up the funding with an Environment Bill containing ambitious targets to help nature recover and an Agriculture Bill, which did not become law as Parliament was prorogued, to ensure farmers are paid for delivering public goods.

Alice Groom from the RSPB said: “In the face of the climate and nature crises, every sector, including agriculture, must be supported to make the vital changes we urgently need to see.

“This research shows that we can re-invest the public money already spent on farming to deliver public goods through new nature-friendly farming policies.

“Backed by strong legislation, this will provide certainty to our farmers and land managers that they will be rewarded for the positive role they play in restoring and enhancing our natural environment.”

A spokeswoman for the Environment Department said: “When we have left the EU on October 31, we will create an ambitious new system based on paying public money for public goods.

“This will help our farmers become more profitable while sustaining our precious environment and tackling the effects of climate change.

“We fully recognise the concerns felt by farmers which is why we have already confirmed that we will maintain the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of Parliament as well as guaranteeing funding for projects that are approved by the end of 2020 as part of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

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