Our wildlife can be saved – but only with political will | Letters

Readers respond to Michael McCarthy’s article about the devastation caused by modern farming to insects and birds

Michael McCarthy is quite wrong when he says most people are unaware of the destruction of Britain’s wildlife (We’ve lost half our wildlife. But the damage can be reversed, 26 March). Even if you never visit the countryside, if you have any kind of garden you will be painfully aware of it. Twenty years ago my bird feeder nearly always had numerous birds on it (eight at a time was the record, I seem to remember). Now the peanuts wither and go black in the feeder. Then, we had many species; now, one pair of blackbirds, one pair of robins and a couple of greedy pigeons. Twenty years ago I saw a mother hedgehog parading through the garden trailing several babies. Now, I haven’t seen a hedgehog for at least a decade.

Up until a couple of years ago the frogs in my garden pond had their riotous mating ceremony around St Valentine’s Day, followed quickly by masses of spawn and then by innumerable tadpoles. Now the date has become variable but results in very little spawn, which after a couple of weeks collapses into featureless slime. The number of pond species has steeply declined and if you put (say) daphnia into a jar of pondwater, they all die instantly. The problem is, what do I do about it apart from writing letters to the Guardian? The government is quite obviously either totally uninterested or completely in the grip of the big chemical firms and the farming lobby. I am delighted to be told that the problem is reversible, and I’m sure it is, but not without a political revolution, of which I see absolutely no sign.
Jeremy Cushing

• Farmers and land managers are stewards of the landscape, being responsible for the management of three-quarters of the land in the UK. This role comes with responsibilities towards wildlife, the environment and ecosystem services, which should be recognised and supported. As with any business, adjustments to benefit the environment will be more readily made if these are financially supported, and if the driving force behind the change comes from the farmers themselves the likelihood of success is increased. It is vital that funding that currently supports agriculture and the environment is retained and that policy delivers for Britain’s wildlife. Much can be done to improve this. We hope for an environmental policy that encourages conservation and environment measures across a larger scale and offers farmers greater choice and results in better outcomes for conservation. It is by working with our farmers, rather than against them, that we can offer a better future for Britain’s wildlife.
Alastair Leake
Director of policy, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) 

• Michael McCarthy is correct in stating “the damage can be reversed” by switching the existing £3.1bn UK farm subsidy received from Brussels over to payments from Westminster to farmers for delivering public benefits such as restoring wildlife in the countryside. He says we will do this only if we can persuade the Treasury by way of “political pressure on the government”. This political pressure will occur only if the voting and taxpaying public, who predominantly live in towns and cities, are convinced it’s a good use of their cash. If this is to be achieved, the countryside closest to where most people live – the urban fringe – needs to be made both more accessible and more attractive. The farming community needs to realise the urban fringe is their “shop window”, the interface between them and their funders.

The “best” countryside cannot go on being miles away from where most people live. Rather, it needs to be within 30 minutes by public transport, with a rich diversity of wildlife, footpaths and cycle ways, farmland with crops and animals, trees, forests, agro-forestry, allotments, cafes, open space, beautiful views, fresh air, peace and quiet… the exciting list goes on. And if it isn’t then there will be no political pressure from the voters to stop the Treasury clawing back the money back for the NHS, schools and housing.
Paul Brannen MEP
Labour, North East of England

• Michael McCarthy is absolutely right to underline how little attention has been paid to the catastrophic loss of insect populations and farmland birds over the past 50 years, but this is part of a general trend that is accelerating.

The three main factors driving species loss are climate change, loss of habitat, and the introduction of alien species into vulnerable populations. The rate of loss for all species is currently 1,000 times higher than normal, with half of all amphibians, a third of all corals, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all plant species and a sixth of birds under threat of extinction.

Of course Homo sapiens is just another species that will disappear along with all the rest. If we lack the intelligence or the motivation to stop this process, we probably don’t deserve the description of sapiens.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue The Planet

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