Who takes the flak when "farming for the environment"
schemes fail to deliver?
Ardlarach, Letterfinlay, Spean Bridge, Inverness-shire
Founder of PEOPLE TOO
Filed 30 Nov 05
According to the environmental industry, what
the public wants to see are removal of the link between food production
and subsidies, and a new style of farming that will have environmental
benefits at its heart. For the moment, they have won the argument
and farmers are being transformed into habitat managers.
Scottish farmers are capable of taking on this
new role and making a great success of it. The danger, however,
is that their practical skills and local knowledge are subject to
interference from outside agencies, like Scottish Natural Heritage
(SNH) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) ,
who impose their theories on the new land management schemes and
hold the purse strings. There appears to be an absence of sound
practice and properly scrutinised targets in the new regime. The
example below is one of many, where public money has been directed
by the single-interest self-styled experts in wildlife management
without much success.
Founder of PEOPLE TOO organisation
photo ©kimpton Graphics
The question is who will ultimately take
the flak for such expensive failures? Since SNHs post-2000
management schemes, for example, are voluntary and not compulsory,
the farming community must wake up to the danger of its reputation
being savaged once again in the future when it emerges that substantial
amounts of public money have been paid out with very little to show
for it. The main defence against this happening is to ensure that
controls over the maintenance and improvement of biodiversity are
devolved away from centralised academic and single-interest organisations
right down to farm level and back into the hands of the people on
The point has been made by at least one seasoned
agricultural commentator that some farmers will receive new subsidies
for doing very little and that the general public will take a dim
view of this (1). The public may also take
a dim view of farming for the environment when they
realise how little it delivers and at what expense.
Land management payments for moorland birds in
Orkney are 20 years old, with £500,000 being recently allocated
by Scottish Natural Heritage (2). The general
public and farmers should be demanding to see positive results in
terms of hen harrier numbers.
According to SNH (3),
when the Orkney moors were designated SSSIs in 1973, there were
51 breeding female harriers. Numbers rose to 95 in 1978 then by
1981 fell to about their 1973 level of 57. SNHs predecessor,
the Nature Conservancy Council, stepped in and offered management
schemes to local farmers in the mid-1980s (4).
SNHs figures show that following the introduction of this
publicly-funded conservation management, hen harrier numbers were
not much increased by 1989 at 62 nests and then fell to 24 breeding
females by 1996. The 2004 survey identified 41 nesting sites, still
below the 1973 level.
Not only is this public expenditure achieving
nothing, it looks like it has reached the stage of paying for earlier
mistakes made by the so-called experts when they intervened in the
1980s (5). Who is asking them to deliver
value-for-money and public benefits?
Mrs Kirsty Macleod
1. This is the view expressed
recently by Joe Watson, who is the Business Editor of the Press
2. Press and Journal report (21/11/05)
: Hen-harrier scheme offers farmers a share of £500,000.
3. The figures that follow were
given by Sue Agnew, Orkney Hen Harrier Scheme, Project Officer for
SNH in a letter to K Macleod, 17th Dec, 2004. The exact text reads
: The SSSIs comprising the Orkney Mainland Moors SPA (Special
Protection Area classified under the 1979 EC Birds Directive)
were mostly designated in 1973 for their biological features, including
moorland breeding birds such as the hen harrier. At this time, it
was estimated that there was a population of 51 breeding females.
By 1978 there was a peak of 95 breeding females, but by 1981 this
had declined to 57, and the next national hen harrier survey in
1989 located 62 nests. By 1996, this figure had declined, yet again,
to 24 breeding females. The population remained low during the 1990s,
and it is only in the past few years we have seen an increase to
the most recent survey in 2004, where 41 nesting sites were identified.
4. An extract from SNH Facts
and Figures 2003/4, forwarded by S Agnew, details annual payments
amounting to £120,000 to 18 farmers and paid out under management
schemes mostly established in the mid-1980s with a projected lifespan
of 20-25 years. More recent SNH payments have been given to other
farmers in order to include land adjacent to the SSSI/SPA moorland
5. Where the conservation-style
1980s management may have gone wrong is merely hinted
at in Sue Agnew of SNHs letter :
In some areas, the density of heather is such that new
management is desirable to retain a variety of heather heights
on the hill ground.
According to the Press and Journal report of 21/11/05,
it is only
recent research (that has) identified a shortage of prey
(for hen harriers) in the areas around their nesting sites as
the main problem.
But why has it taken the best part of 20 years
to establish something that should have been known before any drastic
changes to the original land management were implemented?
Will SNH get it right this time round? Apparently
there is no guarantee for this :
..there is some ongoing monitoring specifically to look
at areas where the OHHS (Orkney Hen Harrier Scheme) may be contributing
to overall biodiversity within Orkney, results of which will not
be available for a number of years. (S Agnew, SNH).
It is interesting to note from
the Press and Journal report that the new SNH Orkney Hen Harrier
Scheme Project Officer is Jude Hamilton. Miss Hamilton apparently
worked previously for the RSPB, Orkneys biggest landowner,
on their corncrake initiative. RSPB-led land purchase and management
for corncrakes in Orkney have been spectacularly unsuccessful in
terms of increasing corncrake numbers. Official core-range counts
of corncrakes, funding and management were assumed by the Scottish
Office in 1993 and figures for Orkney are listed below.
Table 1: Corncrakes on Orkney
number of calling males officially counted
Further reading recommended by Land-Care
James (2003). The arrogance of academics pontificating about rural
affairs; are they letting us down? ECRR conference "Scotland's
landscape - a fixed asset?" Battleby, Perthshire 8th May
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 14 May 03,
Here to View
Liz (2004). SNH and the Isle of Arran. A case study presented
at the PEOPLE TOO conference, Perth 29th October 2004: "Who
govenrs rural Scotland?"
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 19 Nov 04,
Here to View
James (2005). Comment on the Roger Wheater/Alex Hogg session.
"Enhancing our environment: holistic management or single
species priorities." SCA conference "Getting the balance
right - rural Scotland 2005". 12th April, Edinburgh.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 27 Apr 05,
Here to View
Paul (2005). The welfare of grazing livestock and the designation
Environment Sensitive Area (ESA).
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 05 Sep 05,
Here to View
(2005). Some conservationists wake up to the fact that "environmental"
agendas may not be good for conservation.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed13 Jul 05, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
James (2005). Contrary to what RSPB and English Nature would have
us believe curlews are doing fine on upland moors managed for
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 24 Aug 05, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View