EU Transparency

Maps reveal bias in Scottish farm subsidies

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Picture credit: RSPB

Picture credit: RSPB

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and the same is true for a good map. I attended a conference in Prague last month on the CAP and the EU Budget at which Mandy Gloyer, Head of Land Use Policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, gave an presentation with a fascinating map revealing the truth behind who gets what from farm subsidies. Scotland has a lot of rugged countryside, sparsely populated upland areas where farming is especially tough and not very profitable. But there is little else to do in these areas and farming is as important to the local economy as it is to the landscape. A lot of peope say that this kind of farming, what the experts call high nature value farming or HNV, is more worthy of government support than efficient, industrial-style farming in more fertile areas.

The RSPB has produced a pair of maps which show that when it comes to Scotland’s 450 million euros a year in farm subsidies the high nature value parts of Scotland (broadly speaking the highlands and islands and the west) barely get a look in.

Maps reveal inequalities in farm subsidy support

Maps reveal inequalities in farm subsidy support

The map on the right shows that the subsidy money is concentrated in the most profitable lowland areas of the south and east, the areas that are best-equipped to stand on their own feet, without government handouts. How can this have come to pass? The answer is that the Common Agricultural Policy follows a distribution of subsidies that gives the most money to the biggest farms on the most productive and profitable land.

As Mandy put it this week:

“RSPB Scotland’s mapped analysis shows clearly where the ‘winners’ are from direct support payments in Scotland, and those ‘winners’ are certainly not the struggling hill farmers who desperately need help. Reforming support to target High Nature Value (HNV) farming and crofting, by recognising its inherent social and environmental benefits, would go a long way to addressing current problems. What we need is a radical reform of our CAP payment regime, not a backward step that would result in ‘more of the same’, which concentrates taxpayers’ money on those who should be able to produce what consumers are prepared to pay for”.

This kind of mapping is really useful in conveying the inequalities of the CAP but unfortunately it is not possible to produce these maps for most countries of the EU simply because governments have not released the necessary data to make them. So one cheer for the Scottish Executive for at least being transparent about where the money goes, even if Scottish Ministers continue to oppose a reallocation of money away from profitable farmland into the beautiful but economically hard-pressed uplands.

A high resolution version of the maps can be downloaded in PDF format.

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