Concerns over funding cuts for Norfolk and Suffolk farmers

Fears have been raised that East Anglia wildlife could be put at risk if European funding for environmentally friendly farming is slashed next week.

The RSPB says it is concerned that European subsidies for wildlife-friendly farming may be ditched from the EU's proposed budget for 2014 to 2020 next Wednesday.

The EU currently pays some farmers in the region to protect and manage land for vulnerable habitats and species through what is known as pillar 2 funding.

The RSPB says if East Anglian farmers are not encouraged to look after birds and other wildlife then some species, such as turtle doves and stone curlews, could be badly affected. The organisation also fears hedgerows, stone walls and water quality will also feel the impact of any possible loss in the EU's �200m annual funding.

Those concerns have been echoed by farmer Chris Skinner, of High Ash Farm at Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich.

Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) pillar 2 funding Mr Skinner has received �1.1m in payments to boost wildlife by planting nearly 4,000 trees and 27,800 hedgerow plants, creating a pond, setting up pollen nectar and seed mixers and opening up his land to walkers.

Without the EU funding Mr Skinner would have to turn his wildlife havens in to arable farmland resulting in the loss of thousands of linnets, turtle doves and lapwings. He would also be forced to plough over Anglo-Saxon and Romano-Celtic cemeteries on his land.

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Mr Skinner said: 'I am all for farmers to be left as farmers, but at the same time the public wants us to farm in an environmentally friendly way, but that costs money.

'Without the EU finding I cannot afford to farm in an environmentally friendly way, the costs are astronomical.'

Mr Skinner said that if the funding was cut, 'The effects on the wildlife here would be incredibly negative.'

Simon Tonkin, the RSPB senior farmlands conservation manager for east England, said: 'The funding has huge public benefits. Without it we would see a radical change to the wildlife of this region if the funding goes.'

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, said: 'Rewarding farmers for protecting wildlife has provided a lifeline to many sensitive species, which otherwise would have ebbed away.

'Slashing funding for farmers who take action for wildlife would be a devastating blow to the environment and the long term future of farming.'

A spokesman for NFU East Anglia said: 'Our priority is competitive and productive farming. We want a progressive CAP that helps farmers respond to the challenge of growing more food while impacting less on the environment.

'The focus should be on maintaining productive capacity, protecting against the threat posed by volatile markets, supporting efforts by farmers to become more competitive and providing incentives to improve environmental performance.'


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