Reforming CAP – a conservation and landholder coalition

Wild Europe has participated in a number of meetings to discuss Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform, and its proposals have been detailed in successive representations. There is great potential to develop a proactive strategy for reform of the CAP, particularly based on the concept of ‘public payments for public goods’.

The Great Fen, restoring wetland in the East Anglia region of England (Photo credit: Thomas & Keith Sisman)The Great Fen, restoring wetland in the East Anglia region of England (Photo credit: Thomas & Keith Sisman)

Currently still taking around 40% of the EU budget in support of less than 4% of Gross Domestic Product, the scale of this budget is politically unsustainable and likely to undergo significant reduction over the next few years.

Opportunity to build a common strategy

By building a coalition of conservation, landholder, farmer, business and community interests, it should be feasible to use CAP subsidies for restoring large areas of wilderness and wild land of natural habitat and process from marginal agricultural and forestry land with low economic viability.

Linked through utilization of economic, social and environmental benefits from such areas to the rural development and urban needs agendas, this CAP reform initiative could enable reallocation of EU CAP support in a manner that would benefit local communities and landholders as well as wild area objectives.

There are three key facets of this process, which must be both realistic and fair to existing landholders:

1,  proactive planning of restoration rather than simply using abandonment – involving for example extensive naturalistic grazing in some areas to ensure a mosaic of habitats, and attention to the role of wild food plants, with a view to maximising biodiversity enrichment whilst focusing on naturalness of habitat and process.

2.  multiple income sourcing to provide a practical alternative to unsustainable subsidy of marginal farming (in particular livestock) – by redirection of CAP payments into restoration activity, and paralleling this income with proactive capacity building to ensure maximum value added for farmers, landholders and local communities from nature tourism, ecosystem services, land banking and other innovative funding mechanisms.

3.  a cost:benefit valuation approach that delivers in the context of rural development and urban needs agendas, as well as providing a far-reaching agenda for large scale and sustainable wilderness and wild area creation.

A colourful earner currently. But without subsidy - is there any profit in keeping the hills bare?
A colourful earner currently. But without subsidy – is there any profit in keeping the hills bare?

By enabling enlargement of existing wild natural areas, creation of large new ones and facilitating the connectivity between them, this approach could substantially strengthen both the N2000 network and the green infrastructure programme within which it sits.

It also offers a direct and practical response to the CBD’s 3rd Global Biodiversity Outlook report which cited the prospective benefits to global conservation of such restoration across 200,000 km2 of abandoned land across Europe.

The alternative scenario may see such subsidy being lost to both farming and conservation under current options for CAP budget reduction, so there is active opportunity to adopt a common approach.

The next step will involve liaison with other sectors with a view to carrying forward these objectives.

Representation on CAP Reform

Wild Europe also made representation to the 2012 EU reform process.

The public debate consultation was based around four key questions posed by the European Commission:

  • Q1    Why do we need a European common agricultural policy?
  • Q2    What do citizens expect from agriculture?
  • Q3    Why reform the CAP?
  • Q4     What tools do we need for the CAP of tomorrow?