The RSPB, alongside a Swedish accordion club and a Danish billiards club, is one of the groups highlighted in your editorial as recipients of payments through the common agricultural policy (CAP) (Rotten but here to stay, 5 July).
But while the piece features some of the unusual recipients of CAP money, the real story is what work this money pays for. Some of this is hugely important and helps benefit wildlife and the environment â€“ but often this money is being paid out to landowners with little regard for what they do to protect biodiversity and precious natural resources.
“Everybody agrees the CAP is rotten,” your piece states. “Everybody, in public, promises reform. Everybody, in private, is out for what they can get,” it goes on. But there are many out there who, like us, want to farm while being rewarded for protecting birds and other wildlife â€“ and we feel that CAP reform is essential if this is to be achieved.
There are two types of CAP funding. The vast majority of CAP expenditure goes on direct payments to farmers â€“ the single payment scheme (SPS). The rest is the part of the CAP that can and does deliver tangible benefits â€“ the agri-environment schemes. These schemes, if designed properly, address serious issues such as farmland bird declines, water quality and soil protection. These environmental benefits are not rewarded by the market and so there is a clear need for state intervention to reward their delivery. Despite this, agri-environment schemes get just 8% of theÂ CAP budget overall.
Your report comes on the back of the publication of CAP payments, which have appeared on farmsubsidy.org following new transparency rules. The site shows the RSPB receives significant sums of money from the CAP. Each year we receive about Â£750,000 in SPS payments and Â£4.2m from agri-environment schemes. We own and manage more than 140,000 hectares of land, including our own commercial farm in the Cambridgeshire countryside, and each and every pound of this money is spent with environmental delivery in mind.Â
It could well be the case that the billiards club in Denmark and the accordion club in Sweden also manage their land with environmental quality as the prime objective. However, what matters is that for the vast majority of CAP payments there is no objective. Worse still, the SPS may even be using public money to support unsustainable forms of farming.
The CAP used to be coupled to food production â€“ with disastrous consequences for the environment â€“ but now that link has been removed. So if the payments aren’t for food â€“ what are they for? The SPS is an outdated system that channels huge sums of public money with no clear purpose. It does not act as income support in any meaningful way â€“ poor farmers get the smallest payments â€“ nor is it linked to any environmental benefit.
Your leader says that one day the CAP “will collapse under the weight of its own illogicality. Sadly, there is no sign of it happening soon.” On the contrary, the CAP is our best hope of halting biodiversity loss in our countryside â€“ and financial reality means that change is now inevitable in 2013, the date set by the EU for its reform. That’s why the RSPB is lobbying with farmers who share our view that the CAP must reform or die. If we get it right, farmers, consumers and the environment can all benefit.