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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 06:48 GMT 07:48 UK
Wildlife 'decline' on NI farms
Lapwing numbers have fallen in Northern Ireland
Lapwing numbers have fallen in Northern Ireland

Environmentalists have urged the government to use reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to help protect Northern Ireland's countryside.

A coalition of eight organisations, representing more than 100,000 members, said adequate funding must be found to enable two thirds of the province's Ireland farmland to enter EU agri-environmental schemes.

It called on the Department of Agriculture to provide leadership by encouraging farmers to enter into such schemes.

The group said current farm subsidies had prioritised production at the expense of the environment but changes to the CAP signalled a change in emphasis.

"We are proposing a win-win situation," said Aidan Lonergan, Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Tractor on farmland
The group said current farm subsidies were at the expense of environment
"Wildlife has suffered drastically under the previous CAP regime with catastrophic declines."

The RSPB said wildlife on farms had declined drastically over the last 30 years due to intensification.

Lapwing and yellowhammer numbers have fallen by more than 65% and the corncrake is now extinct in Northern Ireland.

In many areas of intensive farmland, there are no butterflies or grasshoppers left, and many wild flowers, including the primrose, have disappeared.

Mr Lonergan said there was a real opportunity to ensure the countryside was safeguarded for future generations.

"Agri-environment schemes or farming subsidies which give parity to the environment as well as production, are the best way of ensuring that farmers are properly rewarded for providing food while simultaneously safeguarding the environment," he said.

At the moment there are more than 7,000 farmers participating in environmentally-friendly schemes, with almost 3,000 of those in the Countryside Management Scheme.

Mr Lonergan added: "With some imagination everyone could make tremendous gains from this review of CAP. We look to the government to listen to the public and provide leadership," he added.

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13 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
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04 Jun 03  |  UK

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