National Trust responds to Defra’s Plant Security Strategy

Today (April 30) an updated Tree Health Management Plan has been published by the Government’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce, alongside a wider Plant Biosecurity Strategy.

Reacting to the reports, a spokesperson at the National Trust said: “We welcome the publication of the strategy but it is unclear if there is sufficient funding or resources being allocated to this problem to really make a difference.

“Trees and plants don’t have votes so cuts to Defra’s budgets are sometimes seen as easier for Government but the consequences can be devastating for our wildlife, landscapes and rural economy.”

National Trust reaction to Government announcement on badgers

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “We’re pleased that the Government has recognised the need to learn lessons from the pilots. We wrote to Defra last year expressing our deepest concerns about the conduct of the culls, so it’s encouraging that they appear to be listening.

“We welcome their commitment to looking harder at the potential of vaccination at the heart of a suite of measures to get this devastating disease under control, including funding for vaccination projects and continued efforts to reduce the risks of cattle giving other cattle the disease – still the greatest route for the infection to spread. We’ve funded our own large vaccination programme on our Killerton estate so we’re pleased Defra are now looking to support programmes like this.

“What is clear to us, as an organisation that cares about wildlife and our farm tenants who carry out much of our conservation work in the wider countryside, is that the Government’s actions must be based on sound scientific evidence and meet highest possible standards of conduct, or risk making this devastating disease even worse. We are pleased that they appear to be listening, but will need to look at the detail of the strategy and the panel’s report before concluding our position.”

CAP and future proofing farming

National Trust Rural Enterprises Director, Patrick Begg, reflects on the announcement today by the Government on how its carving up funds from the Common Agricultural Policy:

I wonder in life if there’s always a slightly misplaced sense of relief whenever dodging a metaphorical bullet?  Perhaps that’s why the announcements today on England’s Common Agricultural Policy settlement has solicited an initial huge sigh of relief followed by a more reflective, at least in me, air of disquiet about the general direction of travel.  

It’s refreshing that DEFRA has battled hard to bolster support for agri-environment schemes and the promised staged move from 12% to 15% of funds transferred from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 (if delivered) will be a positive move [1].  Also, the emerging design of the new green farming schemes looks progressive and in many ways enlightened.  In fact, there’s a sense that the concept of fundamental environmental protection and enhancement lying at the heart of the future of a sustainable farming system has retained and even strengthened its currency in DEFRA.  Owen Paterson has stuck to his mantra of “public goods for public money.”

But if you delve deeper the Government’s core focus on the short term growth agenda in the countryside at the cost of long term viability of farming is still a major concern.  The late interventions from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury to try and divert vital funds within Pillar 2 away from  farming that benefits nature to Local Enterprise Partnerships-led rural growth schemes confirms this persistent threat.  And make no bones about it, in real terms, over the course of the next 7 years, there will be less cash available to encourage the style of farming that safeguards and nurtures soils, water and wildlife and delivers real public benefit for the investment of huge sums of public money.  We cannot be pleased with that overarching truth.

No-one can disagree that environmental quality is the fundamental building block of a healthy and resilient countryside and that it lies at the heart of farming’s future.  Likewise, sustaining and increasing public support for farming and its role in delivering a rich and beautiful landscape must be critical.  Yet every indicator tells us that England’s natural environment is under pressure and in decline like never before.  We also know that people have become disconnected from the natural world and the outdoors at an alarming rate.  

Without well-resourced and robust long term plans for improving the quality of the environment, it’s hard to see how farming’s future, and the sense of instinctive public support that it enjoys, can be secured.  DEFRA needs to continue to fight, make and win the case for a broader and deeper commitment to future-proofing farming and securing its environmental foundations, whether through direct or indirect subsidies.

Notes:

[1] Pillar 1 is made up of direct subsidies that go to farmers and Pillar 2 consists of money from the Rural Development Programme which supports schemes to improve the farmed environment, boost rural economies and improve competitiveness.

Response to Defra’s recommendations of the Tree Health and Biosecurity Task Force announced this morning

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust said: “We welcome the moves announced by Defra today.  It’s particularly good that it has accepted the remaining plant health taskforce recommendations.

“We are pleased to see a strategy and high level commitment to reprioritise resources and we look forward to hearing more in the spring about the measures being put in place to protect the UK from future plant and tree health diseases. 

“Government must also ensure we have the resources to tackle those diseases already here, as well as any future ones.”

National Trust responds to Defra’s sweet chestnut and plane tree importation controls

Dr Simon Pryor, Director of the Natural Environment at the National Trust said:

“The introduction of these tighter import controls is good news for our native trees.  This is an extremely complex issue to address and this is an important step for commercial tree importers in particular.  But more still needs to be done to further tighten up regulations for the more ‘informal’ tree importer, such as landscape gardeners and the wider general public. 

“We are pleased to see these new regulations come into force and would also call for more to be done with other tree species over the coming months to give us even greater reassurance of the health of imported tree stocks; but to also prevent future outbreaks of diseases such as ash dieback.”

Join me for a walk George, says National Trust DG Helen Ghosh

“Last week (October 24th) the Times published a front page story headlined “We’re open to fracking, says National Trust boss,” which suggested that our position on wind energy and fracking had changed. The use of selective quotes from this interview gave a false impression of where the Trust stands on these controversial issues and the headline was misleading.

“In the wake of this article George Monbiot responded with a blog which declared “your priorities seem odd” and asked if I had changed National Trust policy on fracking and wind turbines without informing members. I haven’t. Your assumption from the Times article that I am “anti-wind and pro-fracking” is mistaken.

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English farmers visiting Westminster call for greater share of farming budget to go to the environment

Farmers from across England will be taking a strong environmental message to Westminster later today [Wednesday 23 October, 2013], when they meet MPs to highlight the need for a greater share of funding to help threatened species, landscapes and heritage features.

Within weeks Owen Paterson MP – the Environment Secretary – will have to finalise his budget and priorities for the future of the countryside. A key decision the Secretary of State has to make is how much funding to dedicate to so-called agri-environment schemes, which fund farmers to manage their farms in wildlife-friendly and environmentally-friendly ways. With a finite amount of money available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he has the power to transfer up to 15 per cent of direct subsidies to these and other rural development schemes, and farmers attending today’s event are calling for the maximum transfer.

With many species continuing to decline this funding is needed more than ever. Figures released last week by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed that the number of birds reliant on farmland have halved in number since 1970. Additionally, the State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough, in May, shows that 60 per cent of 1064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and a third of the total, including the small skipper butterfly, have declined strongly.

As well as addressing wildlife declines, agri-environment schemes can also help promote more sustainable farming and deliver wider public benefits, such as tourism and jobs. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and Conservation Grade believe these schemes are vital for competitiveness and long-term viability of the sector, as well as the encouraging the growth and vitality of rural communities.

Richard Morris Farm Manager at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire said: “Farmers have to ensure a return from their land so that their businesses remain viable. With no other support this requires field corner-to-corner production. A successful alternative that has delivered huge benefits to nature are agri-environment schemes.  If farmers sign up to these, they receive income support for the land they take out of production to replant hedges, establish margins, field corners and habitats which are rich and varied. 

“Without continued support for the cost of management and forgoing income from these areas they are likely to return to production with the resulting degradation of nature’s resource. I believe the public would want to see more investment in this ecological friendly and more sustainable type of production. We need to ensure funds to deliver these schemes that protect biodiversity, habitat and healthy living landscapes both for today, and for future generations.”

Sheep grazing ont he Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

Sheep grazing ont he Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

The partnership of organisations helping with today’s event know from experience it is possible to reverse the declines of some of our most threatened wildlife, and to date a broad coalition of farmers, NGOs, scientists and Government have played a key role in some important conservation success stories. But the organisations believe if these successes are to be repeated in the future, continued support for environmental schemes is essential.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprise Director at the National Trust, remarked:  “Farming needs to be more in-tune with the natural characteristics of the land and rural economies in which it operates, recognising both its dependence on environmental resilience and sustainable land management, as well as the multiplier effect it can have both culturally and economically. 

“We cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of maximising modulation and securing a high agri-environment spend in mitigating the impact of EU cuts and securing a positive outcome for the countryside and taxpayers.  Only then can we rise to the challenge of producing enough food, safeguarding our precious natural resources, and ensuring an economic future for farming and their communities.

“Our Government needs to show real leadership in Europe and send a clear signal that environmental sustainability has to be put at the heart of farming in the UK.”

My Farm Project - Home Farm, Wimpole Estate (21st April 2011)

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. He said: “Three-quarters of England is farmed, and that means farmers have a huge responsibility to look after a great proportion of our wildlife, landscapes and cultural heritage.

“Over the last two decades, an increasing number of farmers have embraced the challenge and taken the step to enter agri-environment schemes, working hard to get results on the ground. I’m delighted we are working alongside farmers today to try and secure a better deal for these schemes in the future.

“Together we hope that Owen Paterson MP will keep his pledge to help wildlife and the wider environment by shifting farming budgets in favour of those farmers seeking to farm in wildlife-friendly ways.”

The Wildlife Trusts Head of Living Landscape, Paul Wilkinson commented:  “Wildlife Trusts across the country work with farmers delivering the current agri-environment schemes.

“We know how important it is for those famers who make a long-term commitment to delivering effective schemes to receive appropriate financial support. In many parts of the country, agri-environment schemes play a crucial role in shaping the landscapes that underpin rural economies and communities.

“We believe that the public appreciate that and we hope that the Government will therefore put the public funding in place to support those farmers who do the most for the environment.”

Today’s lobby of Parliament, includes 28 farmers, from various parts of England, working alongside the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and Conservation Grade.

National Trust welcomes Government decision to retain Environment Agency and Natural England

The National Trust welcomes the Government’s decision to retain the Environment Agency and Natural England as two distinct bodies under an approach that seeks closer working and collaboration between the two.

Avoiding further structural disruptions is welcome at a time when there is so much that needs to be achieved to improve the state of our natural environment.

Yesterday’s additional cuts to Defra’s budgets means that the job for these agencies is all the more challenging – coming at a time when a new CAP deal has just been reached – creating new challenges for our farmed environment – and an array of infrastructure plans and projects are being announced.

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director for the National Trust said: “We believe that the Government should now strongly recommit to the broad agenda it backed in the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper two years ago, by ensuring that the proposed Environment Agency and Natural England joint delivery plan is grounded in this. We think this should also connect in the management of the public forest estate.

“By working together, we believe that Defra’s agencies can and must create a stronger vision for the future of the nation’s vital environmental infrastructure, from the centre of our cities to the seas around our shores.”

National Trust welcomes DEFRA’s plan for Catchment Based Approach in nation’s rivers

We welcome the announcement of the £1.6m funded Catchment Based Approach from DEFRA which recognises the need for us to work at a larger catchment scale and in partnership across government, conservation organisations and local communities. Managing our land and water carefully is vital not only to National Trust places which are dependent on the quality of the water environment for wildlife and people, but for wider landscapes and communities. The way that land and water is managed in one place can have a much wider impact elsewhere. Recognition of the need to work collaboratively to tackle the challenges of water pollution, flood risk and water availability for the benefit of all is a huge opportunity for freshwater conservation.

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

The National Trust has enshrined the principle of working at a catchment scale in ‘From Source to Sea’ which documents our approach in managing water as it flows through the catchment out to the coastal zone. With up to 43% of water in England and Wales draining through National Trust land we believe engaging at a larger scale is critical in delivering and influencing land and water management. We are already testing working at the catchment scale in places such as the Holnicote Estate where we are trialling practical land and water management measures to deliver positive outcomes from flood risk to habitat creation. We’re also involved in supporting community led catchment initiatives such as the Loweswater care programme where along with the West Cumbria Rivers Trust the National Trust is helping local community driven schemes to improve water quality. This is taking us in the right direction but the Catchment Based Approach could help to deliver on much wider scales to meet the ambition of River Basin Management Plans.

What is essential now in line with the Blueprint for Water response is that the detail surrounding the Catchment Based Approach be agreed and the delivery frameworks be put in place if this approach is to be fit for purpose and deliver truly collaborative partnership working. We would envisage the role of water companies as a critical part of this development.

“Government plan for ash dieback could buy us time,” says National Trust

In response to the Government’s control plan on ash dieback announced today, Dr Simon Pryor, Director of the Natural Environment at the National Trust, said:

“It is too late to eradicate this disease, but this plan could buy us time.  If we – Government, landowners and foresters – can all work together to reduce the rate at which it spreads across the country we can find ways to ease its impact on our landscapes and wildlife.  But we must use this time energetically, to explore every possible way in which we can increase the resilience of our trees and woods. 

“The National Trust will be inspecting and where necessary removing and replacing all recently planted ash trees on our land, and we call on everyone who has planted ash trees in the last few years to do the same. 

017 Wood pasture with pollards“This is a pragmatic plan, but there are still many unanswered questions about this disease.  We are pleased that the Secretary of State has said that plant health was one of his top priorities.  But it is vital that he does actually make new resources available to enable Defra, FERA and the Forestry Commission to deliver this plan, rather than rely on others. 

“Once these diseases become established it is clear we can’t eradicate them.  So the one really big lesson from this disaster is that we must stop importing pests and diseases in the first place.  The Government must show real leadership by improving controls over the trade in plants and biosecurity at ports.  We must not be wringing our hands again in a few years time when yet another devastating pest or disease is found.”

Further detail about what the National Trust will be doing

Speaking about what the National Trust will be doing over the coming months Dr Pryor commented: “The Trust has already removed thousands of young infected trees that we had planted.  We will continue our inspections this summer and where appropriate will be removing and replacing infected young trees. 

“But one thing that we and other owners must not do is prematurely fell any older trees simply because we think they might be infected.  We need to ensure they remain safe, but there is still a chance some of these mature trees will pull through.  It is much better for wildlife for the trees to gradually decline than be felled prematurely.  

“We will also be making our woodland available to researchers so they can carry out trials and learn more about this disease.  We have also offered our plant conservation centre as an additional resource for growing disease free native ash which can be planted once conditions have improved.

 “This disease has revealed some alarming practices in the nursery trade, and we are taking a long, hard look at how we can ensure the young trees we plant are healthy and genuinely home grown.”