Farmers call for government backing for 'agri-environmental' schemes

PUBLISHED: 21:25 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 21:25 29 October 2013

The farmers outside the Houses of Parliament

The farmers outside the Houses of Parliament

Duncan Soar

Farmers from Crow country were part of delegation that went to Westminster last week to lobby for more funding to protect threatened species in the countryside.

Robert Law, of Thrift Farm at Therfield and Richard Morris, farm manager at Wimpole Hall home farm, were among a group of 28 farmers who met with MPs to press for a greater share of cash to be put towards countryside heritage projects,

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to finalise his budget and priorities for the countryside in the next few weeks. As part of this he will be deciding how much funding to dedicate to ‘agri-environment’ schemes, which fund farmers to manage their farms in wildlife-friendly and environmentally-friendly ways.

The farmers and the RSPB, who organised the lobby meeting, want to see as much cash as possible put towards these projects. European rules mean up to 15 per cent of all subsidies can be spent on agri-environment schemes.

Mr Morris said: “Farmers have to ensure a return from their land so that their businesses remain viable. With no other support this requires field corner to corner production. A successful alternative that has delivered huge benefits to nature are the agri-environment schemes. If farmers sign up to these, they receive income support for the land they take out of production to replant hedges, establish margins, field corners and habitats which are rich and varied.

“Without continued support for the cost of management and forgoing income from these areas they are likely to return to production with the resulting degradation of nature’s resource. I believe the public would want to see more investment in this ecological friendly and more sustainable type of production. We need to ensure funds to deliver these schemes that protect biodiversity, habitat and healthy living landscapes both for today, and for future generations.”

However, critics have questioned whether environmental projects should receive such high subsidies.

National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall said agri-environment schemes result in land being taken out of production across the country at a time when the challenge is produce more food.

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