Dark Days Return: farm subsidies drive environmental destruction

You might have thought the dark days when agricultural subsidies drove the wholesale destruction of Britain’s wildlife, landscape and history, were behind us. You would be wrong.

A set of rules laid down by the European Commission govern which farmers can claim the Single Farm Payment (SFP), the foundation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and how those farmers must manage their farmland in order to be eligible for the payment.

This payment is not peanuts – many farming organisations, eg NFU claim that without single payment farmers would not be able to survive. SFP varies hugely but can be over £200 per hectare per annum. For an average size farm in England (around 60ha) this equals £12000 just to do farming. Bizarrely, SFP is more generous the larger (and more intensive) your farm is.

The EC has been stung by criticism that the CAP is hugely wasteful and they are tightening the rules on what farmland is eligible for single payment. As I have already blogged we have produced a report showing how Single Payment is being refused to farmers who are grazing highly valuable semi-natural grasslands and other habitats across Europe, because of these rules. The rules are biased in favour of farmers who have intensively managed highly productive grasslands.

The big stick that the EC can wave around has two prongs. Firstly inspectors visit farms to assess whether the farmers have correctly filled in their Single Payment forms. Even an accidental error can mean the farmer loses part or all of the SFP. If the inspectors find a systemic problem with the way SFP is being paid in a country, they can threaten that country with massive fines.

This is happening now in Ireland (both parts) and Scotland. As I mentioned last week, farmers are being forced to damage valuable wildlife habitats for fear that they will lose their Single Payment. I’ve just been sent this picture showing what is happening,

Now there are rules within “Cross Compliance” which are supposed to ensure that farmers who receive SFP keep their farmland in “Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition”. In the UK these rules include EIA for Agriculture (GAEC 5), and a requirement to protect landscape features (GAEC 140. Of course the ability to remove single payment from a farmer is a far great incentive than any set of rules for environmental protection, most of which are hardly ever enforced.

We, along with our colleagues in other wildlife organisations believe that Single Farm Payment is an anachronism, left over from the days when Governments paid farmers to increase food production at all costs (mostly environmental, but also historic and social), that does more harm than good. But it appears almost certain that SFP will survive into the next CAP after 2014.

At the very least we need to ensure that the SFP rules do not actively encourage environmental despolation, such as is going on in Northern Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, right now.

About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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4 Responses to Dark Days Return: farm subsidies drive environmental destruction

  1. Lisa Gerrard says:

    I have just discovered your blog, via the CJS job bulletin, and read this with a lot of concern. I am a post-grad student in Conservation Management and am currently looking at alternative management approaches for a heathland/acid grassland/chalk grassland site in Breckland.
    Are you able to provide details of where the photograph was taken, and what is happening?

    • milesking says:


      I published the photo on the understanding that I would not divulge where exactly it was taken, but it was in Northern Ireland.

      • milesking says:

        Hi again Lisa,

        sorry I just noticed you asked what is happening. The field although it hadn’t been surveyed, was adjacent to one that had been, which was good quality species rich grassland. So there’s a reasonable chance the field being cleared was also semi-natural, or at least semi-improved. The field had previously large hedgerows and these contravened SPS eligibility criteria (hedges are only allowed to be 4m wide). So the farmer, fearing that he would lose single payment, had reduced the large hedgerows down to very thin very low hedges. It’s also likely that other habitat features, such as field edge bramble patches, had also been removed. You can see by the big pile of cut material, how much has been cleared.

        My correspondent in Northern Ireland also said “now the farmer will be able to get in with some slurry and fertiliser..” in other words another semi-natural grassland will have been destroyed.

  2. John says:

    I have just driven through parts of Angus, Perthshire and Kincardineshire and was horrified at what I saw. Years ago I used to see hedgerows and life but now all I see is desolation with huge fields of monocultures where there used to be trees and hedges.

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