Birdsong could fall silent over East Sussex

BIRDSONG in the East Sussex countryside could fall silent unless secret plans to scrap funding for wildlife friendly farming are averted, warns the RSPB, Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity.

The RSPB is concerned that the European Union is considering scrapping payments to farmers to protect vulnerable species on their land.

The charity claims this would wipe out agri-environment funds targeted towards declining species such as Corn Bunting, Skylark and Lapwing in East Sussex.

The threat surfaced in the run-up to the latest EU budget.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said, “Our countryside has faced many threats, but this would be really savage. Rewarding farmers for protecting threatened wildlife has provided a lifeline to many sensitive species, which would otherwise have ebbed away. If the EU continues with this plan, there is no doubt that wildlife will suffer, with the possible ultimate UK extinction of some threatened species.”

Bruce Fowkes, farmland bird advisor at the RSPB South East, said, “Slashing agri-environment funding would have a devastating effect on efforts by farmers in East Sussex to make their farms more wildlife friendly. Without financial incentives to manage areas for wildlife, many farmers will be unable to take land out of production to provide important wildlife features. Much of the work that’s being done by farmers to protect popular landscapes like the South Downs National Park and Pevensey Levels would also suffer. If we are to have any hope of reversing the decline in farmland biodiversity, agri-environment schemes need to be fine-tuned and rolled out on a greater scale. So it’s staggering to think that policy may be about to swing in the opposite direction, with an end to funding.”

The RSPB is most concerned about the future of species which have benefited from funding paid to farmers to protect them. The list includes the Turtle Dove, Cirl Bunting, Stone-curlew, Black Grouse, Black-tailed Godwit, Twite and Corncrake.

However, they say it is not just wildlife which will be irreversibly hit. Hedges, stone walls and archaeology that give our landscapes character, will suffer, along with the environmental quality of rivers and lakes.