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SWT backs move to force farmers to be greener

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​Conservation group welcomes "modest" environmental improvement moves

A leading wildlife conservation organisation has responded to new environmental measures announced by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead.

Scottish farmers will receive taxpayer subsidies worth £580 million on the proviso they take measures designed to reduce pollution, improve soil and stem the decline of wildlife such as ground nesting birds, bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

The move which has annoyed many in the farming community has been welcomed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), which points out its “modest” scale.

The announcement represents a good deal for the farmers and a small step in the right direction for encouraging wildlife

Chief Executive Jonny Hughes said: “One thing farmers need to do to receive the subsidies is to keep 5% of their farms as Ecological Focus Areas, in other words, they need to maintain a small area where wildlife can thrive within an often intensively managed arable or mixed farm.

“The cabinet secretary for rural affairs, Richard Lochhead, has announced that this 5% can include crops, so long as they are nitrogen-fixing crops, for example peas, beans or clover.

“While this may not sound like wildlife habitat, such crops can provide valuable cover for nesting birds, flowers for bees and pollinators and may also improve the soil.

“The SWT, therefore, welcomes the announcement and hopes that though a modest measure, the planting of nitrogen-fixing crops in small areas on lowland farms may help begin to reverse the decline in our farmland birds and insects."

Farming interests have called this announcement a “stringent management restriction”.

The SWT however disagrees, viewing it as a win-win where food can be produced at the same time as other non-market benefits such as reduction of pollution from artificial fertilizers, improved soils and more birds and bees.

“Of the £580m subsidy being paid to farmers in Scotland this year, only a fraction will go towards protecting wildlife, including helping farmers with creating Ecological Focus Areas," said Hughes.

“In anyone’s book, the announcement on nitrogen-fixing crops represents a good deal for the farmers and a small step in the right direction for encouraging wildlife to return to our agricultural landscapes.”