Evidence that some UK farmers have ploughed meadows to pre-empt changes in EU legislation has hit the national news
recently bringing a variety of reactions. Some have expressed shock and disappointment in the loss of yet more important wildlife areas. Some have blamed the European Commission, while others have blamed UK Government and their advisors. Farmers have also taken criticism leading to typical debates about the city vs. the countryside.
It is easy to pass blame and move onto the next news flash. It makes us feel better (or worse). The European Commission are attempting to establish greater protection for meadows, which has inadvertently led to the destruction of UK meadows. Does that de facto mean that they are to blame? DEFRA explain that the level of protection already awarded meadows in UK legislation is sufficient and that changes to EU legislation were not required. This level of UK protection has not prevented these meadows from being ploughed, so maybe it isn't sufficient? Both DEFRA and Natural England are also trying to meet conservation objectives with reduced staff levels while considering the needs of farmers and members of the public. The farmers themselves have to feed their families and ensure they can maintain their farming business.
It seems to me that the cause of this issue cannot be passed to any one individual or organisation. This is an issue of our economic system clashing with our natural systems. Government advisors need money to advise. Farmers need money to keep their families fed and comfortable. The meadow isn't economically viable anymore. It was 100-200 years ago, but now it is uneconomical to manage land for food in this way. Today, meadows can only survive based on science, conscious and understanding. It is possible to create a new market for the meadows. Much work has been conducted to value the natural benefits of many habitats including meadows (see here for more info), but new markets could also include meadow produce. The stop gap until these new markets are realised is funding. Funding pays for management on meadows and supports them in the short term, but they need to be managed using another revenue stream in the future. For every conservationist that claims that farming is funded by subsidy, it might be wise to consider that aspects of UK conservation are funded in a similar way (sometimes via the same funding-instruments).
In this instance our economic system has let nature down. This is nothing new. Many species and habitats have fallen foul of human needs for money and resources. Nature exists beyond our economic systems. There are plenty of science papers that explain the link between the continued existence of the human race and maintaining wild areas such as meadows. Meadows and all wildlife need to be taken more seriously by everyone.
I read all this over the lunch period of an important meeting in Copenhagen where a group of international marine experts try to find the best method of communicating the science behind protecting marine life across Europe with a direct effect on EU legislation. There are so many people trying so hard to ensure that nature is considered through every level of policy. It is far from a simple process. No one passes blame in this room, they may disagree, they might find things difficult to understand, but they all try to keep the objective in mind: Protecting wildlife from damage and deterioration from humans.
Relating this back to meadows: there is no need to pass blame. We already know who is to blame. We all are. Maybe we should spend less time finding people to blame and go and find our closest meadow. Read up about it. Discover its wildlife, understand why meadows are under threat. Find out who manages the meadow. Maybe there is a meadow close by that needs your help?