At Work: Partnerships - Collaborators - Non-profits working together - Farmers and greens grow closer

Mathew Little

Awareness of common interests has cooled antagonism between the two groups.

Farmers and environmentalists have traditionally had a tempestuous relationship. But in the past few years, it seems, a growing awareness of common interest has helped to soften the antagonism.

Friends of the Earth and the militant group Farmers for Action have found themselves on the same side in campaigns against Tesco, and the mood of rapprochement has spawned a new collaboration between the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Farmers' Union.

Hidden costs

In July, the two organisations produced a joint report, Living Landscapes, which showed the hidden costs borne by farmers looking after the countryside.

Research demonstrated that farmers in England spend £412m a year on landscape management over and above the work they are funded to do by EU environmental schemes. This is an extra burden shouldered at a time when they are under great economic pressure.

According to Ian Woodhurst, senior rural policy officer at the CPRE, changes in the Common Agricultural Policy have nurtured a realisation that conservationists have more in common with farmers than they thought.

A new single CAP payment has decoupled subsidies from the production of particular crops, encouraging environmentally friendly farming and removing the source of what the CPRE believed was damaging farming practices.

"It's a fundamental shift in the way farming is supported," says Woodhurst.

"The environmental requirements that go with it have opened the way for organisations that previously had differences of opinion to work together in a productive way."

The NFU surveyed farmers for the report. The analysis of the results was conducted independently by Reading University. NFU and CPRE then jointly wrote the text.

Carmen Suarez, chief economist at the NFU, says the joint approach increased the report's reach. "There was the question of public image and public support," she says. "We reached different publics. In terms of media, both organisations were able to reach a much wider set of contacts.

"We also published a small leaflet for the general public that summarised the main messages of the study. Distribution to the public is more effective through two organisations."

The impact of the report has yet to be gauged because the Government is still mulling over ending nearly all subsidies to farmers through the CAP.

But the report has altered the relationship between the CPRE and the NFU. "It's opened up new avenues of understanding about where each of us is coming from - and that's all to the good," says Woodhurst.

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