Bees’ needs and farming subsidies

There was good news for bees this week as Defra published its National Pollinator Strategy (NPS) to address the decline in the numbers of bees and other pollinators like moths and hoverflies. The National Trust is aiming to do its bit to help but questions remain about the impact of wider policies on pollinators, which could undo some of the good elements of the new strategy.

The strategy aims to set out a 10 year plan to help pollinating insects survive and thrive, putting the emphasis on using funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), working with large landowners (including the National Trust) and encouraging the public to help, for instance through the Bees Needs website. There’s also an emphasis in the strategy on advice, research and evidence.

The National Trust is already looking to do more for pollinators as part of our wider work to improve the health and beauty of the natural environment we look after. To contribute to the strategy we’ll:  

– raise awareness of Bees’ Needs through our network of Farm Advisers and Wildlife and Countryside teams;

– raise awareness amongst farm tenants through our LandMatters publication;

– continue to incorporate plants to support Bees’ Needs in our gardens and land around properties. Where possible we will implement grass cutting regimes which allow plants in the sward to flower and produce nectar and pollen;

– promote and implement Bees’ Needs advice at our “countryside” sites to improve the quality of their flora and to create pollinator habitats; and

– NT Farm Advisers will promote the National Pollinator Strategy to tenants and use opportunities to encourage them to take up new CAP agri-environment schemes to support pollinators and/or the voluntary measures promoted by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

Actions from landowners like ourselves can help but there is a problem if wider policy encourages farmers and other landowners to act in ways that don’t help bees and other pollinators. Defra has made much of the role of the Countryside Stewardship scheme in CAP in delivering the NPS (from the Pillar 2 part of CAP that provides support for rural development and environmental improvements – the rest in Pillar 1 goes on direct subsidies for those who farm). The Countryside Stewardship scheme has been welcomed by some, like ourselves and the RSPB, and will help the natural environment for the areas covered.

But the wider story on this round of CAP is one of rowing away from the initial ambition to deliver for the natural environment. What we have seen is:

– Defra ministers succumbing to pressure to weaken what was promised to “green” the direct support for farmers in Pillar 1, which was originally intended to be the main way to deliver the national pollinator strategy;

– Defra then indicating that it would instead be looking to the Campaign for the Farmed Environment to deliver for the strategy but the Campaign for the Farmed Environment has yet to deliver the scale of change needed for the NPS;

– Defra’s aim for the new “Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package” in the Countryside Stewardship scheme is for it to be implemented over 3% of a farm to deliver meaningful change and benefits – which represents a step up from delivery of the same options under the existing equivalent scheme which averaged 1%. The problem is that the new scheme package might not have the wider scale impact that we need given that £330m less money will be available than might otherwise have been the case for the scheme as a whole. This is because Number 10 overruled Defra and has reduced the amount of money Defra had planned to transfer from Pillar 1 direct subsidies into the Pillar 2 environment and rural development programme; and

– It also seems as if Defra ministers are facing more pressure behind the scenes to water down the ambition of the Countryside Stewardship scheme.

We want to work with Defra on making CAP work for farming and the environment and there are still decisions to be taken that could address some of our concerns. In the meantime, we’ll be doing what we can for bees and other pollinators for our land and working with other landowners at a big enough scale to make a difference for nature.



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