Remember the European Commission’s much vaunted proposals to “green” the Common Agricultural Policy?
The idea was that, to show the European public (who pay for the farming subsidies the CAP hands out) that their money really was being spent on public goods, such as the environment, 30% of that subsidy would be tied to activities which deliver environmental benefits. What lofty aims, what idealism!
Greening is now a zombie policy, dead man walking. The permanent pasture rule, which was going to prevent conversion of grassland over 5 years old (laughingly called Permanent Pasture by the Commission) from being turned into arable, was a milksop from the word go. Permanent Pasture can mean anything from Alvar which has never seen a plough, through to a crop of stubble turnips. In the UK it’s mostly perennial rye-grass. So preventing its conversion to arable is a landscape-action, little related to biodiversity.
The aim was that this silly rule would apply at the farm level. Now this has been watered back down to its current meaningless level, in that it will only apply at the Country or Regional scale. So all those fields (some very wildlife-rich) that were ploughed by panicking farmers were for nothing. There’s a lesson in there about how to apply a Regulation.
Now we hear that the 3 crop rule will cause farmers no trouble at all.
That just leaves Ecological Focus Areas. These will not apply to farmers which are predominantly pastoral, so that excludes around half the agricultural area in England, and more than half across the UK. If you have more than 15ha of arable, then 5% of the arable area must have some sort of environmental benefit. Expect to see a few strips of bird and bee food along arable field edges.
So after about five years of wrangling and hundreds of thousands of hours of effort from conservation and sustainability groups – the opportunity to convert 30% of the £3Bn a year UK CAP budget into real environment benefits has been comprehensively culled.
There are only two unions operating in England which have any real clout these days – and ironically neither of them strike. The Police Federation and the National Farmers Union. Well done NFU, you’ve more than earned your subs this time round.