...some time in the future, when the RSPB announces that it is embarking on an ambitious campaign to make the world richer in nature, the NFU will respond as follows: 

'We welcome this campaign.   As stewards of the countryside, farmers are alarmed at the big declines in farmland birds that indicate wider declines in wildlife as a whole.  We are pleased that the RSPB works so closely with farmers carrying out free surveys for thousands of NFU members at the RSPB's expense, providing a network of advisors delivering free advice for farmers, working very closely with those farmers lucky enough to have the rarer farmland birds such as cirl buntings and stone curlews on their land and we often walk, almost hand in hand, into meetings with government ministers to ask for better designed and more effective agri-environment schemes so that millions of pounds of taxpayers' money can deliver more wildlife.  We will always be grateful to the RSPB and other wildlife NGOs for campaigning during the Comprehensive Spending Review to protect the funding for agri-environment schemes when the NFU was silent on the matter.  We recognise that the RSPB doesn't just talk about these issues, it puts its money where its mouth is and its Hope Farm project has shown beyond doubt that modern arable farming can deliver increasing farmland bird numbers if farmers do the right things.  Thats why NFU office holders are all implementing such proven measures on their own land and we are all hoping to win the prestigious Nature of Farming Award.  We are going to step up for nature with the RSPB.'.

  • Great comments all - thank you very much.

    Nyati - welcome to the RSPB Community and to this blog.

    Buffalo Bill - we don't want bad farmers - look at Hope Farm and its growing wheat yields and rapidly growing bird populations.  You do farmers and conservation a disservice if you suggest we cannot have more wildlife in the countryside without 'poor' farming.  I'm so glad that it isn't true.  

  • Buffalo Bill is quite correct - not necessarily bad farmers, but different farming?  Iif you look back to the apparently heady days of farmland birds we all grew predominantly spring cereals.  Winter varieties were a product of policy and then research that wanted greater production from the early seventies.  If you look to Eastern European new member states, you will see the identical game being played out all over again.

  • We are always hearing about the decline of farmland bird numbers from the 60s but we have to recognise that bird numbers in the 60s were in a totally unrealistic state inadvertantly created by farmers. Back then farmers and land managers strictly controlled the foxes, rapters and other predators that are now decimating ground nesting birds. At the same time farming was still quite basic with lots of grain being left in the fields due to weaker cereal varieties and more rudimentary machinery. There were much more weeds providing seeds for birds too.

        If we allow for these factors we might argue that bird numbers are closer to their natural state now than they were then. As an example of this, a farm not far from us is always months late in sowing crops and usually only get half of it combined before winter, the remainder lands on the ground. They have one of the highest consentrations of cornbuntings in the country and are beloved by the RSPB. The RSPB also used pictures of a nearby farm where turnips had been allowed to go to seed and were arguing that this was an ideal habitat for birds. Essentially what the RSPB wants is bad farmers.

  • Hi Bob---I for one always look forward to your two penny worth whether agreeing or opposing what I think,this time think you summed it up perfectly,well said.

  • There are some big lessons here - none moreso than from the Forestry fiasco. Yes, the times they are a -changing.

    Its tough, responsible gamekeepers, but you are going to go on getting tarred with the brush of the worst of your profession until they stop illegal killing - and you are probably the only people who can make that happen. In 1988 the whole of forestry was smeared by what went on in the far north of Scotland and 20 years later the Flow Country is raised time and time again - people like Sir Simon jenkins of the National Trust still haven't realised that things have moved on.

    We could have thr ight farming right now - and my calculations suggest we'd probably save a £billion a year without touching farmer's (already depleted) incomes - how ? Simply by getting our values right - asking (nicely, through the grants schemes) farmers to absorb our flood waters and protect our drinking water through low/nutrient free farming in targeted areas of our countryside. We should buy these services through a combination of the existing grants - especially single farm payment, rather than the huge expense of buying out existing practises as at present - and through the savings going back to land managers - a cool £800m for stripping nutrients from drinking water - and in 2007 the cost to the nation of the summer floods was more than the whole of agricultural subsidy.

    Our countryside is completely siloed by competing interests - we've got to get out and work together for multi-benefit solutions because there isn't room for sector by sector carve ups. That is what the Forestry Commission did to achieve its dramatic comeback from 1988 and a complete loss of public support. Its the townies who signed the petition - there's only about 100,000 of us employed in the countryside these days ! - its the townies who pay for land management and we ignore their views at out peril.