Na­ture’s no bat­tle­ground

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Last week was Red trac­tor Week, when the NFU took to the road in a cam­paign to high­light to con­sumers best prac­tice in food and farm­ing. at the same time, some 50 en­vi­ron­ment groups com­bined to pro­duce a re­port that blames farm­ing prac­tice for the con­tin­u­ing di­min­ish­ment of Bri­tish bio­di­ver­sity (Town & Coun­try, page 50 and Agromenes, page 57).

the two fac­tions look to be en­gaged in an in­creas­ingly dis­agree­able bat­tle for the higher moral ground in readi­ness for the dis­tri­bu­tion of the trea­sury fund­ing they will both be re­liant upon from 2020 when EU sub­si­dies stop.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, coun­try­side bod­ies that were not in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in The State of Na­ture 2016 are crit­i­cal of the re­port, which, ow­ing to its scope and the fact that it’s heav­ily re­liant on a cul­ture of vol­un­teer ob­ser­va­tion, which is stronger in some parts of the coun­try than oth­ers, lacks specifics. It of­fers ran­dom sta­tis­tics, such as the fact that bats (which species?) have in­creased by 23% over 17 years, but farm­land birds have de­clined by 54% over 46 years. Some 15% of the species sur­veyed are ap­proach­ing ex­tinc­tion, but we’re not told what they are or what they need.

Surely there can be some op­ti­mism? We are told that ‘over the long term’, 44% of all species have ac­tu­ally in­creased— we can haz­ard a guess that these in­clude badgers, buz­zards, deer and mink, but there are thou­sands more—and that 50% of plants and lichens have in­creased.

the 2013 re­port, which was not as ex­ten­sive, put some blame on life­style fac­tors, such as tourism, gar­den­ing, wa­ter sports and the ren­o­va­tion of old build­ings. this lat­est one points more ac­cusatively at ‘in­ten­sive’ farm­ing, which is lazy be­cause farm­ing is patently not al­lowed to be as in­ten­sive and com­pet­i­tive as it was 40 years ago due to EU leg­is­la­tion and the cre­ation of stew­ard­ship schemes. Bri­tain’s self-suf­fi­ciency is de­creas­ing and our global com­pet­i­tive­ness is un­cer­tain.

that is not to say that all farm­ers are per­fect. Soil degra­da­tion, the spray­ing of pes­ti­cides and the spread­ing of fer­tilis­ers, the unattrac­tive pro­lif­er­a­tion of maize and unchecked run-off into rivers are all is­sues.

How­ever, un­til the en­vi­ron­men­tal lobby ac­knowl­edges that not all of their own re­serves are as pop­u­lated as they could be, that it’s im­pos­si­ble to have every species in every part of the coun­try due to a chang­ing cli­mate and an in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion and that a bal­ance of wildlife can only be achieved through man­age­ment tech­niques such as preda­tor con­trol, we sim­ply will not progress.

Na­ture is pow­er­ful enough to re­cover, as long as it’s given the op­por­tu­nity. Po­lit­i­cal point-scor­ing be­tween fac­tions that, es­sen­tially, want the same things, will de­stroy that op­por­tu­nity.

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