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Nature investment call from conservationists

Taxpayers' money paid out in farming subsidies should be spent on measures such as providing clean water, wildlife protection and flood prevention, conservationists said.

The call for public money to be invested in delivering benefits for the public was made by a coalition of voluntary groups as they set out demands for the Government to put nature central to managing the country's land and water.

Creating wetland areas in school grounds to reduce flooding, planting flower-rich grass which is good for grazing and working to restore peat bogs are among the farming and water management schemes the groups highlight as being good for people and nature.

Freshwater species globally have declined by more than three-quarters in the past 30 years, but only a fraction of the UK's rivers and wetlands are formally protected, they warned.

In the countryside, wildlife is in decline, while soils are being degraded which costs £1.2 billion a year in lost productivity, flood damage, reduced water quality and other problems.

The Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition called for land and water to be protected from pollution through better enforcement of penalties and fair regulation to allow businesses and the natural environment to thrive.

Farmers, the water industry and government must respond to climate change by boosting public awareness of the need to conserve water and supporting the farming industry to cut emissions.

The coalition also wants to see Government recognise the value of the natural environment, and put it at the heart of long-term planning in farming and water policies.

And there should be a clear focus on investing public money, such as the subsidies handed out under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, in delivering benefits such as healthy soils and wildlife, clean water and flood storage in the landscape to prevent flooding.

Link's director Dr Elaine King said: "Farming and water are so closely linked.

"We therefore want the Government to take an integrated approach to ensuring that our land and water can provide us with life's essentials: healthy food, clean drinking water, protection from flooding, secure livelihoods and access to beautiful green and blue spaces with thriving nature."

The coalition has published two documents, on farming which is supported by organisations including the National Trust, RSPCA and the Ramblers, and on water which is backed by groups including the Marine Conservation Society, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust and the RSPB.

Acting chairwoman of Link's agriculture working group Helen Perkins said: "These are challenging times for farmers and for nature."

She said its Farming Fit For Nature document "sets out a vision that can deliver multiple benefits for farming communities and businesses, for our land and livestock, for nature and the nation, in the immediate term and into the future".

Acting chairwoman of Link's blueprint for water group Hannah Freeman said: "Over the last 30 years our freshwater species have declined by 76%. Despite such losses less than 1% of the UK's entire river length and only a small proportion of wetlands are formally protected.

"Water Matters advocates us all working together to manage our water more sensitively, bringing sustainable benefits to the economy and a future full of wildlife-rich places that everyone can explore and enjoy."


From Belfast Telegraph