Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

Nature is vital for our health and well-being. It provides us with essential services like clean water, clean air, medicine and of course our capacity to produce food.  

However, our relationship with nature is damaged. Most of us would associate the collapse of ecosystems with far reaching places such as the deforestation of the Amazon. Unfortunately, nature’s decline is also happening right here as well. The State of Nature in Wales Report tells us that one in six wildlife species face the risk of extinction (from Wales), and this loss of nature is why Natural Resources Wales’s State of Natural Resources Report highlights that none of our ecosystems, on which we depend, are resilient.  

These reports, along with numerous others, including most recently the United Nation’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, identify unsustainable agriculture and land use as one of the main drivers of environmental degradation, not just in Wales but globally. But let’s make one thing clear - we are not pointing the finger at farmers for these declines in Wales. The issue lies with poorly conceived agricultural policies and markets for food that fail to reward sustainable production. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has shaped farming in Wales for the last 50 years. This policy has focused on increasing production and yields, but it has failed to protect nature and the environment. A hidden cost of our cheap food culture is that nature often suffers as farmers try and make a living in increasingly tough economic times. In combination, this has led to more intense farming, which has led widescale loss of habitats, precipitating the decline of farmland nature and the wider environmental benefits nature provides society.     

Why do we need agricultural reform?

Unless we take action to restore nature now, it’s likely the current Covid-19 crisis will be a prelude to further, longer-term emergencies associated with climatic and ecological break down. The further loss of natural resources, such as healthy soils, clean water and pollinating insects, will greatly reduce our capacity to produce food. That’s why it’s vital that we take the opportunity presented by leaving the EU to develop new, progressive agricultural and sustainable land management policies for Wales that help drive nature’s recovery, tackle climate change and promote a sustainable food system.

Nature-friendly farming provides benefits to society. For example, by restoring areas of peatland, we're locking carbon in the ground, helping us fight climate change. Image: Nicholas Rodd (rspb-images.com)

Last year, the Welsh Government’s consultation on a new support system, Sustainable Farming and our Land, included the proposal to move away from using taxpayers’ money to pay farmers for how much land they own towards a payment system based on ‘public money for public goods’. What this means is taxpayers’ money would be used to reward farmers for securing essential environmental services like locking up carbon in the land, improving water quality, restoring and maintaining nature, boosting pollinator numbers and improving soil health. All of these services would also support food production.

Value for money 

Money that once came from the EU, such as the farming budget, will soon be the responsibility of UK governments, including its scrutiny to see how much value it delivers for the taxpayer. Public money is likely to be extremely tight in the months and years ahead, with obvious and increased demands for support from the health system and wider economies. Therefore, now more than ever, it’s essential that public support for farming and wider land management bring real benefits for the public. Using precious taxpayers’ money to help farming restore nature and become more profitable represents a fair and just use of a valuable resource in a time when every penny counts. Fortunately, many farmers like Gethin Owen and Sorcha Lewis show this approach is possible and are doing an excellent job of producing food in harmony with nature.  

RSPB Cymru continues to champion the transition to sustainable farming and land management. With the ongoing effects of Covid-19, the Brexit Transition and our Welsh Parliament elections in 2021 we will need your support to apply pressure at the right time to achieve the change needed. 

With the right policies, mechanisms and incentives in place, farming and the food system can be the solution in restoring nature and tackling the multiple crises that we currently face. Keep up to date with our monthly blog updates as we develop the story and reveal the actions that we can take to push for change.