Smarter engagement and co-design with more land managers could deliver more wildlife. Even at little public cost.
The collective skills or ‘public goods’ (to use the modern parlance) to which farmers and land managers hold the environmental key, are huge.
Some context first. Policies under the past Common Agric Policy (CAP) have not served wildlife well. The stitch-up during the last CAP reform when ‘greening’ ended up as a red herring which blacked out any meaningful benefit to biodiversity, hardly helped.
The CAP’s ‘landscape’ has eroded trust around how to look after nature. This has led to anxiety in thinking that only use of ‘the stick‘ (enforcing regs and tightening up prescriptive schemes), will ensure that wildlife is not only protected, but also restored.
But waving a stick is rarely conducive to encouraging long term restoration of wildlife (press release 5.11.20).
There is plenty of research demonstrating that voluntary environmental works work. A paper (Voluntary non-monetary approaches for implementing conservation) concludes, in a ‘clarion call to scientists’, that ‘nudging’ rather than ‘shoving’ farmers might facilitate more conservation on private land. (Pdf here)
Study farmers, get wildlife
It’s been mooted for years. This paper from 18 years ago is still relevant, but neglected as no one really bothers to ask: ‘Behavioural ecology of farmers: what does it mean for wildlife?’ The paper explains farmers’ attitudes towards conservation, and how this can be used to reach out to them.
Research on ‘Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of their behaviour’ (pdf here), points towards empowering more equally balanced partnerships with govt agencies and eNGOs, could deliver more wildlife or better soils. See this paper as well. This researcher nails the importance of peer-to-peer knowledge exchange in the field.
Wildlife on my watch
There is massive opportunity under the new Agriculture Act 2020 for farmers, wardens, rangers, gamekeepers, foresters – land managers all – to be funded to do more for the environment. Either via a wider range of ‘public goods’ than is often reported, or by improving productivity.
“In my view once you understand what you have got, you don’t need countryside stewardship. People in general do not want to screw up the environment and if farmers and landowners actually know what nature they’ve got on their land, their behaviours will change. They want to demonstrate why their place is special and why they, as a private landowner, can be trusted to look after the land”
John Varley – Clinton Estates director, SW England
All of this could result in less dependency on public funded agri-enviro schemes (ELM, in whatever form) – a boon at a time of tussles over cash.
“I wonder if we recognise the tens of thousands of farmers in our own country as indigenous experts”
Peter Brotherton from Natural England via (Camb Univ science mag)
So, let’s lose the phobia of seeking to ‘own’ the conservation arena, and create the space to understand farmers and land managers et al, in working collaboratively to set out their collective trove of environmental skills for all our benefit.