Green farm reform needed to save EU birdlife

Petitioners and campaigners from across Europe are urging the European Commission to increase protection from environmental threats for farmland birds and their habitats.

As part of the appeal, chief executive of the Royal Society of Protection for Birds (RSPB) Grahame Wynne presented the EU Commissioner for agriculture and rural development Mariann Fischer Boel a petition with over 60,000 signatories in a call for reform for agricultural policies to make the European farming industry take account of its toll on the environment.

BirdLife International also submitted a five-point manifesto to Commissioner Fischer Boel outlining the best ways for this to be achieved.

The organisation stated that introducing greener farming methods and the resulting improvements to wildlife protection would increase tax payers' return from the £39 billion annual farm subsidies, of which £3 billion is paid to UK farmers.

It revealed that nearly half of the birds found in Europe were at risk, and many of those were farmland birds, such as the sparrow or skylark, that had been threatened by habitat loss and the use of agricultural chemicals.

"The EU has set a target of halting Europe's wildlife losses by 2010, which is a daunting task unless action is taken," Mr Wynne stated. "The new Commissioner has a key role in making farming policy fulfil that promise."

Reform of Europe's agricultural policies began in 2003, but BirdLife International calls for more radical changes in its manifesto, including:

  • Greater reform of agricultural and rural policies to reward environmental protection and prevent damaging practices such as habitat destruction and insensitive pesticide use
  • Minimum environmental standards for farming, particularly for habitat protection, and the designation and protection of special sites for wildlife and prevention of water pollution
  • Sufficient financial support farming schemes that aid wildlife
  • Advisory for farmers on sustainable farmland management
  • Financial support for management and conservation of EU Natura 2000 sites and other areas of high natural value

    Many EU citizens have also sent the Commissioner electronic postcards from their country in support of the manifesto.

    "All over Europe, wetlands and marshes, flower-rich meadows and alpine pastures are disappearing, yet all of these areas harbour species which would struggle without these habitats," spokesman for BirdLife International Giovanna Pisano warned.

    "We need new agricultural policies that support the farmers who encourage wildlife on their land, and give farmers throughout all Member States an alternative to intensification."

    By Jane Kettle

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