Thank farmers who love wildlife
I KNOW most farmers cringe at hearing repeatedly how modern agriculture has damaged biodiversity.
They must be fed up with hearing how we have lost 95 per cent of our traditional hay meadows, 99 per cent of lowland heaths, 80 per cent of fens and mires and 150,000 miles of hedgerows since the 1950s.
Who can blame them for being sick of being told that 60 per cent of bumblebees, 50 per cent of song thrushes, 53 per cent of skylarks, 94 per cent of tree sparrows, 72 per cent of starlings and 89 per cent of corn buntings have been lost since the 1970s – and modern farming is largely to blame?
But is it fair to label farmers the "vandals of the countryside"? I don't think so.
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True, modern farming is heavily implicated in these losses. But modern methods have been developed in response to demand. Over the last couple of generations, farmers, agronomists and plant breeders have risen to the challenge of developing and implementing techniques needed to feed an expanding population.
By the 1980s, the agricultural revolution had resulted in EU wine lakes and butter and grain mountains. Farmers were even being paid to take a percentage of their land out of production. But this is no longer the case and the need to at least maintain current levels of production continues.
And it was not really until the early 1980s that the full effects on wildlife and our natural environment became clear, by which time intensive farming had become the norm.
The present subsidy scheme has basic environmental qualifying conditions. These aren't demanding, yet some farmers still ignore them. But most do not and an increasing number have committed themselves further to voluntary schemes that encourage wildlife-friendly farming, including both whole-farm agreements and options which can be integrated into an intensive system.
So if you see wild flowers in fields, or hedges full of blossom, or snipe, curlew, song-thrushes or yellow-hammers feeding and nesting on the land, you should congratulate the landowner, because they will be doing something right for nature conservation, and something towards reversing some of the losses that have occurred.