DWT response to today's speech by Defra Secretary Michael Gove

Friday 21st July 2017

Re-creating a wildflower meadow, Green Park Farm, Avon ValleyRe-creating a wildflower meadow, Green Park Farm, Avon Valley

Some encouraging words from the new Environment Secretary today - but here's what DWT needs to see for rhetoric on wildlife to become reality.

Devon Wildlife Trust welcomes the remarks made today by new Defra secretary Michael Gove MP regarding his desire for a ‘green' Brexit. DWT has long argued for better targeted subsidies for agriculture and would support moves to link public funding for farmers to ecosystem services such as better water and air quality, healthier soils and recovering pollinators.

Such a policy is desperately required after decades of decline in Britain’s farmland wildlife, even in the beautiful landscapes of Devon. The 2016 UK State of Nature report confirmed that farmland birds had declined by 54% since 1970, while butterflies of the wider countryside have declined by 41% since 1976.

But it is important that the successful elements of current agri-environment support schemes for farmers are built on. Organisations like Devon Wildlife Trust play a crucial role in turning around species declines and supporting local farmers with expert one-to-one advice, in personal relationships built up over years.

Last year, for example, Devon Wildlife Trust staff carried out 168 landowner visits to advise on land management for greater horseshoe bats and 74 site visits in the Torridge catchment alone, to address ‘run-off’ affecting water quality for the endangered freshwater pearl mussel. Another 122 landowner visits were completed as part of flood mitigation work on north Devon’s Culm grasslands and additional work was done on farms in several river catchments as part of the South West Water-funded Upstream Thinking programme.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Manager, Ed Parr Ferris, commented:

“There is much to welcome in today’s speech by Michael Gove. But to maximise the gains to our natural environment, wildlife and rural communities of any post-Brexit plan for agricultural subsidies, it is essential that partnership working between the farming and nature conservation sectors is bolstered.

“It is also important that subsidies for environmental goods are not limited to certain areas, such as the uplands. Effective agri-environment support for farmers could help deliver wildlife-rich and productive land with healthy soils, clean water and air in all parts of the country.”

Ed Parr Ferris added:

“Such schemes also require effective environmental protections, regulation and enforcement. So we would stress how crucial is the distinction between effective, necessary regulations and so-called ‘red tape.’

“There are some fine words in today’s speech. But to turn rhetoric into reality we need to see a strong public sector, supported by farming and by wildlife experts such as DWT. If these partnerships continue to be built, then the richer farmland wildlife of the past could be seen again.”