A proposal put forward by three major conservation charities to pump almost £3 billion into ‘nature-friendly farming’ has received a cautious welcome from industry.
The figure, just less than the current annual UK Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget of £3.2bn, followed new research which revealed at least £2.9bn would be needed to help UK farmers support nature and tackle climate change.
The RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts, who own thousands of hectares of British farmland between them, said the money would boost wildlife such as lapwings, hares and pollinating insects, while creating and enhancing habitats, protecting soils and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But the group said only a long-term financial commitment from Government would ensure these shared aims were delivered.
Patrick Begg, National Trust outdoors and natural resources director, said: “We hope Ministers will take it on board and guarantee this money for farmers not just for the next one or two years, but at least the next decade.”
Uplands Alliance chairwoman Julia Aglionby agreed securing a budget of at least £3 billion was ‘absolutely critical’.
“This is the minimum that is required to secure the future of our countryside,” she said, adding there was a desire for 25-year schemes from some farmers.
“No one wants to be tied in knots but a long term approach is welcome. We find 10-year schemes in the uplands go very quickly and a lot of habitats are slow growing so they take time to adjust.
“For all this to work we need landlords to be supportive and allow farmers to be more resilient so they can produce high quality, high welfare food alongside enhanced biodiversity and carbon storage."
Chairman of the Exmoor National Park, Robin Milton, said: “There is a distinct feeling that everyone is out bidding for a share of the pie at the moment.
“We have to sit down and make sure we have a properly collaborative policy for the future because otherwise we will not have people left there farming - especially not young people.
“Farming can mean good environmental management, but not solely.”
Mr Milton added he would be ‘a little concerned’ to hand over the direction of the budget to environmental organisations.
“Because if we are going to base it around nature-friendly farming, then to remove that direction away and into the hands of these large environmental charities, would be counter-productive,” he said.
Arable farmer and Farmers Guardian’s 2016 arable innovator of the year, Jonathan Boaz, said previous Government policies had failed farmers.
He said: “It is all about long-term commitment and it is the lack of that which has been the problem. We have had funding to rip out hedges and funding to put them back again.”
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said farmers recognised the need to work with environmental groups to deliver a sustainable farming system but that caring for the environment should go ‘hand-in-hand’ with food production.
The CLA said while it welcomed the model as a starting point, it thought an additional £200m a year was required to increase productivity, skills and knowledge throughout the post-Brexit transition.
A Defra spokesperson added: “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.”