A blog by Rhys Evans, Policy Officer for RSPB Cymru.

On 9th July 2019 Welsh Government published their Sustainable Farming and our Land consultation which puts forward plans for how farmers will be supported in the future. This consultation follows their initial proposals contained within last year’s Brexit and our Land consultation and will run until 30th October 2019.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the consultation yet, here are some of the key points.

  • The Welsh Government are proposing a single scheme to support farmers - the Sustainable Farming Scheme.  This will include 2 support mechanisms
  • Sustainable Farming Payments that reward farmers for delivering environmental public goods (that are not currently awarded by markets) such as water quality, flood mitigation, biodiversity and storing carbon
  • Business Support Measures to support efficiency, productivity and farm profitability through offering advice, training and skills development, as well as capital investment for things like infrastructure, technology and machinery.
  • Entry to the new scheme would be via a Farm Sustainability Review carried out by the farmer and an adviser. The product of the review would be a Farm Sustainability Plan, providing access to the two types of support. 
  • The Sustainable Farming Payment would replace the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Glastir agri-environment scheme, and provide an annual income to farmers.  
  • Future support should be designed around the principle of sustainability and proposes to pursue an objective of Sustainable Land Management. The framework for new schemes will be the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
  • A multi-year transition period from current schemes to the new scheme is proposed - when this period starts, and ends, is yet to be decided due to the Brexit uncertainty.
  • The majority of the budget will likely be for delivering environmental outcomes, as this often brings economic and social outcomes, either directly or indirectly.

 A case for Change

RSPB Cymru are pleased that the Government is committed in creating a forward-thinking and sustainable farming policy that uses tax payers’ money to promote sustainable food production and reward farmers for restoring and maintaining nature.  Unsustainable farming practices driven by poorly conceived farming polices has been one of the main drivers of wildlife declines across the UK.  When we look at nature, and farmland nature in particular, the evidence shows it’s not in great shape. All our soils, apart from woodland, are degrading and many of our rivers and lakes are not meeting good status. Iconic farmland species like curlew have declined by more than 75% in the last 25 years. Natural Resources Wales has clearly stated that none of our ecosystems (our life support) are resilient.  

Farming can help provide the solution  

However, given that over 80% of Wales’ land is farmed - farmers can help provide the solution.  Indeed, many farmers across Wales are doing a great job restoring and enhancing the environment. This includes farmers like the members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) and others who show that food production and environmental management can be combined. Their experience should be used to help the farming sector adapt to change, so that sustainable farming and all the benefits it provides becomes the norm.

Maintain Agricultural Funding

Currently, the majority of the agricultural budget pays farmers based on how much land they own. We believe that this is an ineffective way of distributing public money - it is not linked to food production, efficiency or ambitious environmental and wildlife standards.  With the public purse being squeezed all the time, other sectors such as health, education and transport will be vying for a large slice of public funding.  We believe that a new agricultural policy that rewards farmers for looking after nature and the environment, whilst being supported to grow sustainable and healthy food is the best way of delivering value for taxpayer’s money.  This also provides a case for maintaining the current level of agricultural funding and securing the continuation of public funding within the sector in the long term.  

Working together

There is much to be done to design this new policy and we welcome the plans for a co-design programme to explore collaboratively how new schemes could work on the ground.  We look forward to working with the Welsh Government, farmers and other interested parties later this year to ensure that a new policy works for wildlife, farmers and rural communities.