EU wildlife grants will be used to grow crops

Grass The EU's new rules on subsidies oblige farmers to ensure some of their land supports wild plants or animals

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Grants designed to protect the countryside have been controversially switched to pay England's farmers to grow beans and peas.

The EU's new rules on subsidies oblige farmers to ensure that some of their land supports wild plants and animals.

But during negotiations, farmers in Europe watered down the policy so planting crops that improve soil may be counted as helping wildlife.

Wildlife campaigners have expressed outrage at the move.

Member states can tighten the EU rule if they want to, but England's farmers persuaded the government this would make them uncompetitive.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that planting peas and beans in so-called Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) will qualify for full grants.

A spokesman said: "We have included Nitrogen Fixing Crops as an EFA because we want farmers to have as much flexibility as possible so they can focus on growing British food. We are supporting the environment through investing over £3bn in agri-environment schemes over the next CAP, which is more than ever before."

Today's announcement focuses on the "greening" element of the CAP, which will tie 30% of a farmer's subsidy payments to new environmental requirements.

Start Quote

We think including this measure is very positive for the environment”

End Quote Andrew Clark National Farmers Union

The RSPB's Martin Harper said: "The government has squandered this opportunity and is handing out £11bn to the farming industry in England and expecting very, very little in return."

Stephen Trotter, of The Wildlife Trusts, condemned the decision to allow grants to peas and beans: "Nitrogen-fixing crops improve the soil but don't help wildlife at all," he said. "This is bizarre. It gets more outrageous every minute I think about it. It seems that farmers just want public funds with no strings attached."

Andrew Clark of the National Farmers Union (NFU) told BBC News it was vital for the government to apply wildlife protection rules at the same levels as continental neighbours.

"Comparing nitrogen-fixing crops with permanent pasture, obviously the pasture will have greater biodiversity," he said. "But we believe a range of options should be available to farmers. Anyone with broad beans in their garden will see they are full of pollinators at the moment.

"Wildflower meadows tend to have quite a limited flowering season but some legumes are flowering from April to June, and others much later in summer. We think including this measure is very positive for the environment."

The row follows a report last week in which a group of experts warned that the Commission had failed in its attempt to "green" the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to give value to taxpayers and safeguard the countryside. The report said only strong discretionary policies by member states could protect wildlife.

Mr Trotter said: "I understand the government is not in an easy position - ministers don't want England's farmers to lose out if Europe's farmers are facing watered down rules. But we can't keep going on like this throwing public money in the knowledge that it'll all be reduced to the lowest common denominator."

Households pay roughly £400 a year towards the subsidies.

A Commission source said that encouraging farmers to grow beans would help Europe's food security by increasing the amount of protein, which in turn would help to reduce imports of soya.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Peas and beans are quite good for pollinating insects so the argument that they help the environment has another string to it... BUT surely there are already subsidies available for commercial crops is it really right and proper to divert this money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Apart from the obvious reason of preserving wildlife and natural habitat on certain proportions of farmers' land, one of the reasons these wildlife areas exist is to prevent overproduction of cash crops. So why are cash crops now being allowed?

    Utter greed. This is just a case of the farming lobby getting its way with no scrutiny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    surely we have enough national land we can use to encourage wildlife instead of paying already well off people to do nothing...

    if they say these crops help the land, then force them to plough in the harvest when ready to return the nutrients to the ground rather than making a profit

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I do not understand why farmers need to be paid an extra subsidy to grow peas and beans. There is is a market for these things and they hardly expected to hand over the crops for nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Read Farmageddon - The true cost of cheap meat

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Bent UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The market should pay for beans and peas through supply and demand. You've misunderstood economics if you have to pay someone before they'll farm a produce for sale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Here we go again. My grandad dug a trench through WW1. Now, 50 years later we are at it again with peas and beans. What does the EU care about our countryside? When I was a kid it was wheat and poppies, now all i see is rape and that's not a pretty sight. Keep your grants, EU, and spend it on bagettes or whatever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I thought the EU CAP was designed to help farmers with subsidies, and now the government and farmers want to help themselves to more EU money. I thought most of the Tories were against the EU, and want to leave, but it is alright to help themselves to EU money. This nation needs a referendum now! so we can decide. I hope The German Chancellor calls that IDIOT of a Prime Minister's BLUFF.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Since the 2ww farmers have devastated this country with pesticides, too much emphasis on animal farming and killing of wildlife if they get in their way. Its time to look after our countryside and wildlife and fight against the supermarkets strangling our farmers livelihoods with unrealistic pricing policies. Get behind our farmers by buying local, ethically produced and fairly priced produce

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    At least this will be using EU subsidy to help farmers do what they are meant to do with their land

    i.e. farm it and plant crops

    rather than paying them EU subsidy to sit back and do nothing with their land leaving it for "wildlife".

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    "Grants designed to protect the countryside may be controversially switched to pay England's farmers to grow beans and peas."

    Just English farmers? Do these proposals not affect Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish farmers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    well what do you expect, farmers are generally wealthy people, wealthy people are the ones who have the RIGHTS to say how they can ROB THE POOR. the rich take vast sums off the general population.... FOR THEMSELVES.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    "This will be the greenest government ever". Now I wonder who said that, just before the last election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Desperate for the farmers votes' - what a horrible corrupt little country we have become.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Things like this are why I can not find it within myself to condemn tax avoidance schemes.

    If they are wasting our tax money like this, I suggest that we all try hard not to pay it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    If anyone read the article on the Haber-Bosch process a few days ago, they'll be all in favour of this. We desperately need to reduce the amount of nitrogen for agriculture produced in this way - and legumes (peas, beans, etc) are by far the best hope for doing this.

    If we don't act, we're going to have all sorts of problems by 2050.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    DEFRA are the people who responded to me about my letter detailing my concerns about fracking.

    I received what I presume was a stock response which actually just overlooked all my concerns and patronised me with wording more suitable for a primary school student.

    No surprise that the dept who goes against environmental concerns for fracking would do something else equally toothless and stupid

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The fact that legumes have don’t help wildlife is rubbish. Bee and pollinators need the legume flowers, they offer habitats to a large number of invertebrates. Legumes also hold nitrogen in the soils reduces the need for artificial fertilisers, reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, it also reduce the risk of nitrogen leaching into water course have significant benefits on local ecosystems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "It seems that farmers just want public funds with no strings attached."

    Oh your are so wrong there are loads of rules and red backed up with heavy fines and even jail terms. have a look

    These rules make UK produced food more expensive but safe or do you like horse meat


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