British Conservatives hate skylarks

This video says about itself:

The skylark makes a grass nest on the ground. They breed on moorland, farmland, dunes and grassland. Generally the nests are very difficult to find, hidden between foliage. 3 to 6 eggs are laid in June. A second or third brood may be started later in the year. The eggs are yellow/white with brownish/purple spots mainly at the large end.

Like most other larks, the Skylark is a rather dull-looking species on the ground being mainly brown above and paler below. They are known throughout their range for the song of the male birds, which is delivered in hovering flight from heights of 50 to 100 meters, when a bird itself may be appear to be just a dot in the sky from the ground.

The present British Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government apparently hates not just big birds like sea eagles, but small birds as well.

From British daily The Independent:

For some much-loved farmland bird species, the consequent figures of decline, documented by the annual surveys of the British Trust for Ornithology, are so astonishing as to be scarcely credible: between 1970 and 2007, tree sparrows in the British countryside declined by 93 per cent, grey partridges by 89 per cent, corn buntings also by 89 per cent, turtle doves by 88 per cent and skylarks by 53 per cent. Remember that these species are more or less at the top of the food chain, so what their vertiginous falls in numbers mean is that the species lower down, the wild plants and insects of the fields, have also gone: turtle doves, for example, have vanished because the flower whose seeds they fed on, fumitory, has largely disappeared. The figures tell us, in effect, that the whole ecosystem is in desperate trouble.

But some things have changed. From the late 1980s onwards, successive governments began to realise that the natural world had paid a terrible price for the intensive farming which membership of the European Union and its crazy Common Agricultural Policy had brought with it, and gradually, farmers themselves began to try to put things right with new wildlife-friendly management schemes.

Yet they didn’t do it for nothing. Farmer Giles is by and large a hard-pressed small businessman working with tight cost margins who cannot afford major wildlife projects paid for out of his own pocket, and agri-environment schemes, as they were called, were based around subsidies.

There are now two main ones, under the heading of Environmental Stewardship, the Entry-Level Scheme and the High-Level Scheme. The ELS gives basic payments to about 40,000 farmers to manage their hedgerows better, leave unsown plots for skylarks to nest in, leave unsprayed strips at the field margins for bumblebees, and so on; the HLS pays more to about 5,000 farmers to do more complicated tasks, such as reconverting arable fields to chalk grassland.

Covering about two thirds of the farmland of England, these schemes are terrific: they have made a real difference to our wildlife. But something changed last week which has put an enormous question mark over their future. On Tuesday, 8 June, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced, in a technical Treasury document, that he was ending Public Service Agreements (PSAs). Brought in several years ago, PSAs have been a sort of contract between the Treasury and other Government departments, promising funding in return for delivering certain policies – they usually involved a target. And two PSA targets in particular, both the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), vitally concerned British wildlife.

One was the target to get 95 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest – the top wildlife sites – in favourable condition by 2010. The other was to halt the loss of farmland birds by 2020.

These have now been scrapped. Yet they were very much the drivers of the Environmental Stewardship schemes, and the real possibility now is that their disappearance will make it very much easier, in the forthcoming Budget cuts, to slash these agri-environment subsidies, which involve substantial sums: about £1.6bn annually for the ELS in England, and about £500m for the HLS.

If you jib at those figures, well, that’s what it costs. If you want to be thrilled by hearing a skylark again on your favourite country walk, that’s the cost of restoration; or to put it another, more accurate way, that’s the scale of the damage. But if you’re Defra and you have no binding official target to chase any more, you’ll be a lot less resistant when the Treasury comes knocking on your door looking for cuts and suggesting you take the axe to Environmental Stewardship.

That’s what’s going to happen. Until last week this country had an official target to restore our decimated farmland bird species, a noble aim by any standards, a mark of a civilised society; George Osborne has just done away with it.

Government cuts to science funding could drain Britain of talent, the chairman of the Lords science and technology committee has warned: here.

BirdLife’s ­German Partner NABU has begun to campaign against the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), pressing for a serious reform in which a general ‘greening’ of the policy should be properly prioritised: here.

3 thoughts on “British Conservatives hate skylarks

  1. Pingback: Anti-war demonstration in London | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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