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05 May 2018

While England basks in sunny bank holiday, 9 out of 10 people want farmers paid to protect nature.

  • New WWF poll also reveals 85% of the UK public believe there is less wildlife in the country than when they were children, as UK Government consults on agriculture bill that could help animals, birds and wildflowers across England


LONDON: As three-quarters of people say they plan to spend time enjoying nature this bank holiday weekend, a new WWF poll (undertaken by Populus) has found that 91 per cent of the UK public want the UK Government to pay farmers to protect nature. The poll also showed that people saw an urgent need for steps to protect our natural world, with 85 percent saying they believe there is less wildlife in the country than when they were children.

The UK Government is currently consulting on a new agriculture bill for England, which proposes that farmers be paid to take steps, such as planting hedges and farming organically, that provide them with no direct income but help protect wildlife and nature. The new policy will replace the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will no longer apply in the UK post-Brexit. This includes the future of payments to farmers which under the CAP total about three billion pounds per year in the UK. The CAP has been repeatedly attacked for the damage it has caused to wildlife and the environment with many calls for reforms. 


Tony Juniper, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF said:


“Most people can see that our natural world is in dangerous decline. They are noticing fewer butterflies, bees and birds than when they were children and want the government to take action to reverse these trends. Agriculture makes up 75 per cent of the land use across the UK and presents the biggest opportunity we have for turning things around.  Supporting farmers to take steps to protect nature and wildlife could have an enormously positive impact and our survey shows an overwhelming number of people want the government to pay farmers to do this.” 


The WWF poll revealed that 85 per cent of the population think that there is less wildlife in the country than during their childhood. This observation is backed by alarming statistics showing the rapid and ongoing decline of some of the country’s favourite wildlife. Over 30% of species have lost half their population since the 1970s with moths, butterflies and beetles particularly affected, causing severe knock on effects for plants and wildflowers too.  A recent study found that hedgehog numbers in the UK have dropped by at least half since 20001, while numbers of some bird species plummeted between 1970 and 20072, with tree sparrows down 94 per cent, turtle doves 89 per cent and starlings 68 per cent.

River flies that fish feed are at just a quarter of pre Second World War numbers, while the barn owl has suffered a drop of two-thirds in its population since the 1930s due in large part to modern agricultural practices wiping out the mice and voles they feed on.

Intensive farming encouraged by current policy has not only contributed to a huge decline in UK wildlife, but also led to massive soil erosion and water pollution.


New UK Government policies by contrast could help support farmers in England to reverse the decline in nature by:

  • Reseeding meadows with wildflowers
  • Planting more hedges
  • Farming organically
  • Taking steps to protect and restore soils
  • Mowing meadows later in the year after birds have nested
  • Sowing part of fields with crops that will feed wild birds
  • Using pesticides only as a last resort
  • Blocking drains on hill land, so that people downhill get water more slowly which prevents flooding
  • Having enough capacity to store slurry, so that it isn’t spread when the land is soaked which causes it to get into the river
  • Cover slurry stores so that the methane does not escape and become a damaging greenhouse gas


As many farmers will not generate direct income from supporting nature in these ways, WWF is calling for the new agriculture policy to include a commitment from UK Government to pay farmers to make environmental payments so that public money is paid in England to secure these benefits for everyone. Not only will this help wildlife, argues WWF, but also contribute to improved health and wellbeing as more people are able to enjoy the benefits that come with access to areas rich in wildlife.


Tony Juniper adds:


“We can be the first generation that stops destroying nature and begins restoring it. We can bring back wildlife, clean up the air that we breathe and ensure better public access to enjoy our iconic English countryside. If we are going to do this then farmers must be paid to protect and restore nature. If this doesn’t happen our country may see the illusion of short-term gain from unsustainable industrial farming, but at the expense of nature and future generations living in this country.

“We all stand to win if we put nature first. Not only will people get to enjoy wildlife, they will have better, safer and more secure food and we will be helping to protect our environment from threats including climate change.”






  • WWF is calling on people to contact the UK Government and make their voices heard during the agriculture policy consultation period. More than 12,000 have responded.
  • Images are available here
  • Tony Juniper is available for interview
  • Populus polled 2089 UK consumers between 30th April and 1st May 2018
  • The proposal currently just covers England as Scotland and Wales decide their own priorities for agriculture. The vision of the UK government is for this to work across the whole of the UK, but that will depend on the framework adopted by each administration.  Agricultural policy is devolved to Wales and Scotland. As the UK leaves the European Union it will be for the Welsh and Scottish Governments to set their own course for agriculture and land use. We want to see action to restore and enhance wildlife and habitats across the UK.




1 The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 is published jointly by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

2 Farmland Bird declines between 1970-2007: source.



WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive.  Find out more about our work, past and present at


For further information, please contact: Heather Carswell/ Alex Stafford   I  01483 412533  I /