The most common subject on this blog has been farming and the decline of farmland birds (and there are lots of extracts in the book of the blog).
Be in no doubt - many farmland birds have declined and they symbolise and stand for the declines in plants and insects in our farmland.
I say 'our' farmland because we British, maybe particularly we English, feel a great affinity for the countryside - it's in our literature, poetry and psyche. So although we don't own it, we feel close to it.
And although we don't own the countryside, we are pouring large amounts of our money into it in the form of grants (to carry out wildlife-friendly farming) and income support (money for being a farmer) for farmers. So I've always thought that the 'leaders' of the farming community could be just a little more grateful and eager to please the rest of us.
Farmers - they're a funny bunch. Some are lovely, some you just want to throttle - much the same as conservationists, politicians, school teachers, plumbers or any other large group of people. I can almost honestly say that some of my best friends are farmers and none of my worst enemies. Some farmers are doing loads and loads of stuff for wildlife and others are doing precious little. That's hardly surprising really.
What the RSPB has achieved at Hope Farm is an indication of what the countryside could be like and still be highly productive in food terms and yet be much more productive in wildlife terms. It's not the RSPB's job to talk to every farmer in the country and try to persuade them to 'do a Hope Farm' or at least something similar - and maybe even something better (I'm sure we don't know all the answers). No, it's not our job to do that and yet we are pouring large amounts of RSPB members' hard-earned money into doing just that. Where farmers are keen to step up for nature then the RSPB will step up to help them, if we can. We've increased the scale of this work enormously whilst I've been Conservation Director (nothing anti-farmer here, you see).
However, it will take more resources than we have, and more time than nature has, to fix everything this way. As well as that advisory work we need government to make it easier for farmers to do the very best things and more difficult to do things that don't add up to much wildlife benefit. That is a Big Government job - it's 'Big Money' and it ought to provide 'Bigger Wildlife Outputs'.
And so, what Defra needs to do is to adjust the details of the Entry Level Scheme so that it is just a little bit more testing for farmers (not very much at all - we aren't talking thumbscrews here) and a lot more productive for wildlife. Simple ask - if the Defra Ministers are reading this blog (and I'm sure that they will have this pointed out to them) - that's what I'd like as a leaving present please. But it's not for me - it's for wildlife, it's for good value from public spending and it's not against farmers.
Well you left the best till last Mark,really,really last.
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