Somewhere in the corridors of power it seems someone might have taken time out from the quizzes, canapes and cheese and wine parties to heed a plea I made in this column last year.

On several occasions I called for failing farms to be converted into nature reserves by simply letting them run wild. I argued that a re-wilding blueprint established on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex should be followed by government to rescue animals, birds and fish struggling for survival in our countryside.

News Shopper: A marsh fritiillary butterfly Photo: CanvaA marsh fritiillary butterfly Photo: Canva

Other voices advocated this too but it is tempting to believe the views of your Wild Things correspondent were considered by Whitehall mandarins before the Government's new year announcement of just such a re-wilding scheme.

In the greatest English countryside shake-up for 50 years, government plans to replace the outdated EU common agricultural policy include creating 15 new nature reserves by subsidising farmers to plant trees, restore peat bogs and transform fields into wetlands.

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The aim is to cut greenhouse gases while boosting populations of water vole, sand lizard, curlew, marsh fritillary butterfly, shrill carder bee and small farmland birds like yellowhammer, nightingale, corn bunting and linnet.

The £2.4 billion-a-year Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs scheme will reward farmers for their contributions towards turning 740,000 acres of English countryside into wildlife habitats over 20 years.

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Details remain sketchy but farmers' opposition may be headed off when they realise grants will be coming their way for little more than letting scrub develop and trees grow. The scheme allows farmers opportunities to repair damage done by large scale hedgerow removal and indiscriminate use of pesticides. These measures were introduced to maximise food production and it went through the roof. Five years ago, world food producers churned out enough to feed 10 billion people, with 1.3 billion tonnes wasted each year.* Dubious? Look in your neighbour’s bin or check out the growing mound of rotting food at your local landfill site.

News Shopper: A sand lizard Photo: CanvaA sand lizard Photo: Canva

Many of the scheme’s finer points have yet to be announced but it should finally kick old-fashioned British agricultural policy established in the post-war food-production frenzy of the 1950s into the long grass.

*Figure taken from Wilding by Knepp co-owner, Isabella Tree (Picador) 2018