A NEW DEADLY HARVEST

Today, one person's arable weed is another's rare plant. Poppy, cornflower, corncockle and pheasant's eye were all once common flowers which have declined dramatically since the Second World War.

Skylark, lapwing, linnet and grey partridge are all familiar farmland birds whose populations have dropped by more than 50 per cent in the past 25 years alone. And in that time, the tree sparrow has suffered an 89 per cent decline.

Forty per cent of our hedges have disappeared since 1945, 97 per cent of our flower-rich hay meadows have been destroyed, 96 per cent of our peatlands have been lost and thousands of our ponds have vanished.

Seventy-five per cent of Britain is farmed, and changes in agricultural practice have made the average field about as friendly to wildlife as the average car park.

"The biggest single factor behind the decline of Britain's biodiversity has been intensive agriculture," says Dr Simon Lyster, director general of The Wildlife Trusts. "I don't blame farmers for what has happened. I blame the system which has created the vast production subsidies which have effectively forced farmers to farm in the way they do."

"The key challenge now is to create a system whereby farmers who want to farm in a more wildlife-friendly way are not penalised financially. The agri environment programmes in Britain need to be developed and expanded, but the big prize is radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy so that enhancement of the environment is a central objective of any support system."

For example, says Dr Lyster, a farmer wishing to qualify for subsidies would have to meet certain conditions such as setting aside an agreed percentage of land for wildlife, leaving broad field margins, building "beetle banks" - green areas to attract nature's pest squad - and using less damaging chemicals in field centres.

Since the 1970s, farm subsidies paid under the CAP have given farmers significant financial incentives to continually increase production. In our remote uplands almost 75 per cent of our heather moorlands are at risk of overgrazing by sheep. Overstocking has been encouraged by a system of subsidies paid to hill farmers per head of sheep rather than on a farm acreage basis - an option The Wildlife Trusts prefer. Numbers of ground- nesting birds such as the merlin and golden plover have plummeted.

The Moorland Scheme was introduced in 1994 and pays farmers pounds 30 a head for every ewe they remove in line with stocking targets. Since its introduction, at last count only 15 English and five Welsh farmers had signed up, removing 6,000 ewes. No farmers in Northern Ireland have joined.

"Incentives to de-stock are simply not competitive with livestock subsidies and as a result farmers trying to make a livelihood have not joined," says Dr Simon Lyster.

The Wildlife Trusts demonstrate good practice on their own farms such as Wells Farm, in Oxfordshire - an arable farm which makes a profit and shows how a farm can be commercially viable and wildlife friendly at the same time. The Wildlife Trusts also work closely with hundreds of farmers and land managers, encouraging them to enter into some of the conservation grant schemes. These schemes provide annual payments for farmers willing to draw up a management agreement and care for wildlife sites sympathetically. The Ministry of Agriculture's Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas initiative are two programmes favoured by the Trusts.

In Devon, The Wildlife Trust's agricultural liaison officer has persuaded 175 farmers to join Countryside Stewardship and care for the area's unique Culm grassland. The payments range from pounds 70/pounds 100 per hectare per year for retaining ancient meadows to pounds 275 for recreating heathland and pounds 125 for a gate - but access is not a requirement.

The Wildlife Trusts are also influencing policy at home and abroad in Brussels' corridors of power. Dr Simon Lyster is a member of the Agricultural Reform Group which includes farmers and conservationists as members. He believes many farmers would welcome the chance to farm in a more environmentally sensitive way if the financial incentives were right and sees an opportunity in the next round of world trade talks. These, he says, are likely to result in massive pressure from the Americans for Europe to end its production subsidies and to replace them with something greener. The Wildlife Trusts will be pressing hard to bring about this change.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Financial Controller

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

Senior Business Development Manager

£60-70k fixed, double OTE uncapped: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Senior Bus...

Ad Operations Executive

30,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: My client is a global name within the ente...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?