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Greening the Cap Monday, 22 February, 1999, 19:24 GMT
Another chance for wildlife
Since 1945, more than a quarter of British lakes and ponds have gone
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Greening the Cap
If you ask a green campaigner what the common agricultural policy has achieved, don't expect to hear about Europe's self-sufficiency in basic foods, or about farmers' living standards.

You will probably hear a litany of other CAP achievements. In Britain, it runs something like this:

  • since 1971, farmland skylarks have declined by 61%, lapwings by 63%, and song thrushes by 70%
  • in the same period, corn bunting populations have fallen by 80%, grey partridges by 86%, and tree sparrows by 89%
  • between 1975 and 1995 fungicide use rose six times, and the percentage of crops treated with herbicides doubled
  • since the start of the CAP, we have lost 45% of our ancient woodlands, and almost 50,000 kms of hedgerows
  • between 1945 and 1990, we lost more than a quarter of our lakes and ponds
  • in the 12 years to 1990, the number of plant species in arable fields fell by 30%.

Those are the headline charges against the CAP. There are others.

The skylark - on the way out
Rural employment and population are dwindling, meaning poorer services for those who stay on in the countryside.

Topsoil is being lost as winds blow where they will across the prairies where hedges used to provide breaks.

Water is being contaminated as chemicals and slurry run off the fields.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says the CAP "has been disastrous for the countryside, wildlife and the environment".

The World Wide Fund for Nature says that "throughout Europe, the biological, landscape and cultural diversity of rural areas continues to deteriorate".

Agreement on solutions

Much of this, it says, "stems from outdated policy objectives which strive to solve yesterday's problems without facing today's challenges".

If the problems seem obvious enough, what about the remedies ?

Rural services are deteriorating
The Wildlife Trusts, the national co-ordinating body for the 46 county trusts, has called for a four-tier scheme of support "which would pay farmers to help wildlife, with a scale of awards to reflect the amount of environmental work undertaken on each farm".

The Trusts estimate the cost of the scheme at about 1.6 billion a year, just over half the annual cost of the CAP.

Their proposal, to pay farmers for being good stewards of the environment rather than just food producers, is shared in essentials by other groups.

The RSPB wants both - "change so that farmers are encouraged to manage the countryside and run their farms in ways that encourage wildlife as well as producing enough food".

It says at least 25% of CAP payments should be made, not as subsidies for producing food (which is often unwanted), but as investment in people and the environment.

And it says the subsidies that continue should have environmental conditions attached "to ensure that there are some basic benefits from mainstream agriculture".

WWF wants 75% of the CAP, in the long term, to go to "ecologically sound sustainable development programmes".

And farmers who do not meet basic environmental standards should get no subsidies at all, it says.

See also:

02 Feb 99 | Science/Nature
23 Feb 99 | Greening the Cap
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