Basin Notes - July 2005

G8 does not bode well for agriculture

History may well judge the summer of 2005 as a pivotal point in national as well as global history, but as Chirac and Blair slugged it out for the political high ground in the lead-up to G8, I couldn't help but fear for the worst.

It's very seldom good news when agriculture makes the headlines. Whether it's an egg scare or BSE, foot and mouth or the UK's EU budget rebate, the results are generally the same; bad news for everybody, farmers and public alike.

President Chirac's attempt to distract our attention from France's rejection of EU policy by highlighting the UK's rebate was pretty unsubtle. He does know, however, that as a political football, agriculture is a particularly unsuitable object for UK politicians to kick around. Compared to France, there are so few votes in it for a UK government.

The rebate was negotiated by then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The main reason why a rebate was demanded was that a high proportion of the EU budget is spent on the Common Agricultural Policy (or CAP), from which the UK benefits little due to a farming sector which is small (as a proportion of GDP) and efficient (with more large farms relative to other countries).

One of the main reasons why the rebate was sanctioned was because at the time the UK was the third poorest member of the European Economic Community (now the European Union). The rebate is calculated as approximately two-thirds of the amount by which UK payments into the EU exceed EU expenditure returning to the UK. Currently the rebate is worth £3 billion (GBP) a year and the UK remains the second largest net contributor after Germany.

Even supposing EU enlargement does not continue beyond the extra countries taken into the union at the start of the year, given the French and Dutch referenda results, there is a moral argument that the UK is relatively well-off compared to these new entrants. This enlargement needs to be paid for and our rebate is seen as ripe for the picking.

On the reserve at present there is a lot of activity, not all good and some downright annoying. The wigeon hide, which sits 15 feet off the ground at the western edge of the Basin, has been the target of two arson attempts.

Some wise potato had spent the night in the hide and set a fire in the middle of the floor, burning through to the floor supports. The same thing was tried three weeks later, but less damage was done. The hide was closed for a week while repairs were carried out by a local joiner.

Although it's unlikely the culprit is reading a cultured and educational column such as this, you are being watched.

The breeding eider surveys have been completed by Richard Averiss and his helpers. He tells me numbers seem to be up again, which is good news. Our policy of dissuading foxes during the nesting season seems to be paying off. Breeding wader surveys have also been completed and numbers seem encouraging.

It's well after the wader nesting period, so I can now cut silage and make some hay off the permanent pasture close to the Basin's edge. That's bound to bring the rain on!