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Skylark, Andy Hay/RSPB

In the middle of a financial crisis which is pushing Europe’s budgets to breaking point, a coalition of wildlife organisations from across Europe – including the RSPB – are today (Thursday 7th June) calling for Europe’s farming budget to provide better value for money.

With the reported loss of 300 million birds from Europe’s farmland, the continent is enduring an environmental crisis too. These crises are prompting the need for urgent and radical reform of Europe’s farming policies and today the RSPB is hosting a conference with its European partners in Brussels to get this message across to officials from Defra, the European Commission and MEPs.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the European Union’s largest single expenditure, accounting for almost half of its budget. But the RSPB believes this budget could be spent more wisely if farmers received greater funding for work which benefits the environment, landscapes and local communities.

Martin Harper, of the RSPB, said: ‘Every news bulletin across Europe contains screaming headlines about the perilous state of Europe’s finances. As Europe spends more money on farming than any other single item, we believe people across Europe will support our call to insist on the best value for money we can from this budget.

‘Europe’s farming provides much of our food, but it also maintains many of our landscapes and much of our wildlife. We’re not calling for the CAP cake to be made larger, we’re simply asking for the slice which is given to farmers to protect the environment should be made larger, as we believe this represents the best value for money.’

The RSPB’s Dr Richard Gregory, helps to monitor bird populations across the UK and Europe. He said: ‘The urgency has never been greater, especially for wildlife, where half of Europe’s 600million farmland birds have disappeared in 30 years; that’s a rate of 10 million every year. But by increasing the funds for wildlife-friendly farming, we can help farmers to put those lost Skylarks back while they continue to produce our food.’

The position for farmland birds in the UK is worrying too. Richard Gregory added: ‘It is hard to be certain but we believe there are around three million Skylarks in the UK today, and coincidentally, we estimate that we may have lost that number over the last forty years.’

The RSPB and its partners within BirdLife International are concerned the CAP only dedicates a quarter of its funding to measures which are able to benefit the environment.

Martin Harper added: ‘This share has to increase if we are to have any hope of securing a healthy countryside where communities and wildlife can thrive.’

The CAP is divided into two so-called pillars: Pillar One, which receives around three quarters of CAP funding, goes to farmers in the form of direct payments; while Pillar Two funds Rural Development, which includes wildlife-friendly farming schemes.

In the next round of CAP reform, BirdLife Europe is calling for:

• A substantial increase in funding for Rural Development Policy.

• Significantly increased, and ring-fenced, funding for targeted and well implemented environmental schemes such as agri-environment and Natura 2000, within the Rural Development Pillar of the CAP.

• Strong greening measures which improve the environmental performance of the CAP’s first Pillar.

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