Conservation groups are warning that the UK could lose several species of bird within a decade if, as expected, billions of pounds of European funding to help farmers promote biodiversity are cut.
Under details being thrashed out as part of a rebalancing of the Common Agricultural Policy budget, some £8bn for rural development is likely to be lost, according to the RSPB. Billions more could also go under new rules allowing EU member states to divert money to food production away from schemes that protect fields and heritage sites. The RSPB said the plans would spell disaster for wildlife in England and the rest of Europe.
"It is outrageous news that President van Rompuy is asking EU leaders to cut the largest single budget for wildlife conservation in the UK," said Martin Harper, the RSPB's director of conservation. "It would be a disaster. We've seen a proposal which could have led to the pot of money for wildlife-friendly farming being cut by up to one third. The loss of wildlife from our farmed countryside is a crisis which to date no politician has faced up to. We need European leaders to recognise that funding to tackle this must not be traded away when they next come together to thrash out a deal. Our landscapes, farmers and wildlife depend on the future of this funding."
Rural development cash is used to develop agri-environment schemes that pay farmers to manage hedgerows and wildflower flowers that provide vital food and shelter for birds. The cash funded England's Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which has been credited with playing a major part in protecting wildlife. Since the first agri-environment schemes were introduced in 1987, tens of thousands of farmers and landowners have helped wildlife, according to the RSPB.