Campaign calling for a new deal for nation’s farmers after UK leaves European Union

PUBLISHED: 08:02 02 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:02 02 February 2018

Martin Lines is chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.

Martin Lines is chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.

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A St Neots farmer is supporting a campaign aimed at persuading the government to support nature friendly farming policies in the 
post-Brexit era.

A group of more than 100 farmers with a new vision for the future of British agriculture launched the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) on January 5, at the Real Farming Conference in Oxford.

The independent organisation is calling on the UK and devolved governments to create a post-Brexit framework that will help farmers restore British wildlife, reverse declines in soil quality and help manage the impacts of climate change, as well as growing affordable, healthy food.

Martin Lines, of Papley Grove Farm, in St Neots, is the chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and is a third-generation farmer and contractor growing mainly arable crops on his family farm and rented land. He has a special interest in farm conservation management.

Mr Lines farms more than 400 acres of winter cereals in partnership with his father at Eltisley and says he has seen the benefits of nature friendly farming on his own farm.

“The farm has seen a lot of changes over the years. Hedgerows were removed to enlarge fields. But now we have reversed this – putting hedgerows back, increasing habitat and changing management of the farm for environmental aspects,” 
he said.

“This has added value and increased our bottom line, by taking out our less productive land and making room for wildlife. Creating habitats for pollinators clearly increases some yields, for example winter beans and oilseed rape.”

Thousands of British farmers already use nature friendly farming practices, but the NFFN believes the rate of decline in wildlife and soil quality and the challenges presented by climate change mean this work needs to be scaled up rapidly with strong policy support.

The NFFN aims to provide a political voice for the thousands of farmers who are committed to managing their land for wildlife and public service, as well as growing and providing food.

“Brexit presents a once in a generation opportunity to create a new farming policy that will help farms evolve and thrive, at the same time as restoring and protecting our natural heritage. We can use this opportunity to create a long-term, stable policy framework that will drive a mainstream shift towards a sustainable, productive, nature-friendly future for British farming as well as protecting the landscape across the UK.”

Farm birds, a key indicator of the health of wildlife, have declined by 54 per cent since 1970. Over the last 50 years, there has also been a marked decline in more than 600 farmland species across the UK.

More than 70 per cent of land in the UK is farmland. The NFFN aims to unite farmers who are passionate about wildlife and sustainable farming and who want to deliver rapid progress towards a future in which wildlife on farmland recovers and thrives. More than 4,000 farmers across the UK are already committed to nature friendly farming with encouraging results for biodiversity, soil health, water quality, air quality and species that were formerly on the brink of extinction.

Rob Macklin, head of farming at the National Trust, said: “Many of the things we need from the countryside – wildlife, healthy soils, clean water, flood protection and carbon storage are ‘public goods’ that fall outside conventional markets.

“Post-Brexit, we need a policy and subsidy framework that rewards farmers to conserve natural resources alongside production. We want Government to offer farmers a joined-up package of support to benefit nature-friendly farming across the UK.”

INFO: Farmers can find out more information and join the NFFN at: www.nffn.org.uk.

FACT FILE

n Farmland bird numbers have halved in the last 50 years.

n Since 1990, the farmland butterfly index has fallen by 36 per cent.

n Figures show 14 per cent of all farmland flowering plants are on the national Red List: 62 species in all.

n 64 per cent of farmland moths and 70 per cent of carabid beetles studied are declining.

n Between 2009 and 2014, 49 per cent of British bees declined.

n The national average for woodland cover in the UK is only 13 per 
cent (10 per cent in England) compared to an EU average of 37 per cent. Yet despite the evidence that planting trees can help address water management, soil degradation and fragmented habitats, planting rates have fallen over recent years.

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