With its green pastures, rolling hills and rugged highlands, Wales may seem like a lush country brimming with wildlife. However, look closer, and you’ll see that this is not quite the case.
Sadly, Wales is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. A third of Welsh birds are declining, and one in 14 species is under risk of extinction. Evidence shows that farmland nature is doing particularly badly. Our soils are degrading, and many of our rivers and lakes are not clean. One reason for this, alongside climate change and invasive non-native species, is that past farming policies, like the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), have encouraged unsustainable farming practices in many parts of Wales that have played a part in these declines.
However, we view farmers and farming as the solution. Almost 90% of Wales is farmed, therefore farmers that work the land are one of our best hopes of tackling both the mounting ecological and climate crises that we all face. Many farmers, like the members of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, are doing a great job of producing food and looking after nature and the wider environment. With the right help, their approach and other like them, could be adopted by farmers across Wales
This is why we are very pleased that the Welsh Government plans to introduce a new Sustainable Farming Scheme that puts nature and the environment at its heart.
Recognise and Reward Farmer’s Environmental Work
This new scheme will comprise of two broad types of support. Sustainable Farm Payments will use public money to pay farmers for delivering environmental benefits, also known as ’public goods’. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, public goods are things that benefit society but can’t be bought at the shop till. Think of thriving wildlife, clean air and water, healthy soils and protection from floods and climate change. These are all vital services that we as a society need to survive, and farmers are in a fantastic position to provide them to us. We very much welcome this approach, and we firmly believe that farmers who help sustain nature and protect environmental resources should be fully rewarded for this work.
The scheme would also help farmers to make their business more profitable and sustainable through Business Development Measures. A criticism of the CAP is its failure to build a resilient and strong economy within the farming sector. Around 80% of farmers depend on CAP as income support. A new scheme that supports farmers by giving business advice and training, or investing in new technologies, infrastructure and farm equipment will help improve efficiency and profitability.
A Sustainable Future for Farming
These proposals will help farms thrive as businesses by promoting the production of high-quality, sustainable food and rewarding farmers for looking after nature and the wider environment for the benefit of all. Furthermore, this vision for a new policy will be based on Wales’s ground-breaking environmental legislation. It will help ensure a sustainable farming industry, where high quality food is produced, rural communities thrive, and where wildlife flourishes.
To see this new direction for farming in Wales is a welcoming sign, but there is much to be done to make it work for farmers, nature and the environment. This can only be achieved if we all, from policy makers to farmers to conservationists, work together.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654