16th January 2020 important day for Agriculture Bill
This may not sound terribly exciting, but it is a crucial piece of legislation which will have profound implications for the butterflies, moths, wildlife and wider environment of England.
The reason this legislation is so fundamentally important is it sets out a transformational approach to the way public money in the form of grants and subsidies for farming will be used. This is a welcome step forward, with the introduction of the principle of ‘public money for public goods’. An eye-watering £3bn is currently spent on subsidies and grants for farmers, the majority of which delivers no environmental benefits. There is now a wonderful opportunity to redeploy this huge sum of money so farmers are paid to manage their land to benefit wildlife and the environment.
Along with our Wildlife and Countryside Link partners we are now calling on the Government to do three things:
1. Complete the progression of the Agriculture Bill through Parliament, retaining the all-important principle of ‘Public Money for Public Goods’ and starting the next stage of transition to the new system.
2. Guarantee funding of at least £3bn p.a. for the next 10 years to ensure farmers can plan with certainty. This scale of investment is needed to meet the enormity of the climate, wildlife and environment challenges.
3. Ensure that future trade deals and legislation maintain and do not undermine environmental standards.
The Agriculture Bill is not the answer to all our current environmental ills. However, it does provide the vital legislative framework which can be a springboard for truly transformational change. However, the scale of the opportunity and subsequent success will be dependent on effective implementation. This is where Butterfly Conservation can play a key role.
We have recently published guidance on how to manage land for butterflies based on our extensive evidence and experience of working on the ground alongside many excellent farmers and landowners. We will continue to focus our efforts on agriculture so that the needs of butterflies and moths are an integral part of future plans for grants and farm support.
This could be a once in a generation opportunity to transform the way farming can benefit wildlife. We aim to help shape the detailed content of the farming support and grant schemes so that future generations can enjoy flourishing populations of butterflies and moths in the English countryside. Of course, this is only the start of the journey – we hope to be part of similarly ambitious and transformational changes in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales too so that the benefits can apply right across the UK
Although this is a piece of Westminster legislation, the complexities of devolution mean that it is to all intents and purposes English legislation. For more technical details on the Bill including how it relates to the different UK countries see
The Heath Fritillary, which is found in only four locations in the UK, produced a stunning spectacle in Kent’s Blean Woods, north of Canterbury. This was one of the best years on record for this threatened butterfly, with 2,292 of them being recorded on single-day counts.
The butterfly’s success is down to the combined conservation efforts of a variety of organisations including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, private woodland owners and South East Water who also own part of the Blean complex.
Guided by the data collected by Butterfly Conservation these organisations have been managing the woodlands to encourage the spread of the Heath Fritillary’s foodplant, Cow-wheat, and also created open sunny areas where the adult butterfly can fly and flourish.
Regional Conservation Manager Steve Wheatley of Butterfly Conservation explained: “Heath Fritillary populations follow a boom and bust cycle due to the short-term suitability of breeding areas. However, 2019 was certainly a boom year thanks to all of the good work done by the various woodland managers”
“The Heath Fritillary has almost died out in Kent on several occasions in the past, most notably in the 1980s, but the good management of a variety of organisations have combined to save it. This is a positive example of wildlife conservation in action and produces a beautiful spectacle for all of us to enjoy”.
Highest numbers were at the RSPB’s nature reserve west of Canterbury and the village of Blean. The butterfly put on a stunning show in some of the sunny clearings.
Reserve Warden Sam Richardson said: “2019 was a great season and truly felt like one of the best nature spectacles I have ever seen when the sun hit the woodland floor and the butterflies rose in their hundreds. The combination of perfect weather conditions and plenty of suitable habitat all contributed to the success.”
He praised the dedicated team of volunteers who help to manage the wood and who have been monitoring the butterfly there for 38 years. Kent Wildlife Trust’s East Blean Nature Reserve near Herne village attracts butterfly enthusiasts and photographers from all over the country, with big numbers of the butterfly just 20 metres’ walk from the visitor car park.
Matt Hayes from Kent Wildlife Trust explained “At our East Blean reserve, we had so many visitors we had to put up signs to explain the importance of keeping to the paths to avoid trampling of the important Cow wheat. We are now hoping for a good 2020 season.”
Emma Goddard, Head of Environment for South East Water (who own part of the Blean woods complex north of Canterbury) said:
“We are delighted to see that the conservation work at Blean Woods is paying off for wildlife. Careful land management not only improves biodiversity, but it also helps protect the natural water sources that we all rely on, so we are delighted to work closely with conservation partners to improve habitats across our region.”