Europe and Central Asia
13 Feb 2017

Where have all the flowers gone?

Poppies © Ariel Brunner
Poppies © Ariel Brunner
By Christopher Sands

This article is the editorial for the February edition of the BirdLife Europe & Central Asia Newsletter. To view this issue, click here.

I was daydreaming last week when the European Commission launched their Public Consultation on our Common Agricultural Policy, the so-called CAP. An old song popped into my head out of left field. As a boy, in the sixties, my French father took me to Copenhagen’s fabulous Tivoli Gardens to see the inimitable Marlene Dietrich. All of a sudden, like it was yesterday, I remembered her singing "Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind” or, in English, “Where have all the flowers gone?” 


And I thought, wow, yes, where have they gone, and the bees, and the abundant farmland birds who sang to my youth almost as eloquently as Dietrich. I grew up during the miracle of post-war re-construction and our re-building ourselves as Europeans and a European community inspired by ideals, much like Dietrich was inspired to cover that great Pete Seeger song.

There are very big issues at play as we address together the challenges our communities face in this ambitious, some say unrealistic, but I say wonderful, project called Europe. One notable success story initially was our CAP.  With food security and famine a risk in the post war years, CAP served as a bulwark to ensure nutrition and healthy food for all in Europe.

But we have long since eliminated those risks while never adapting the CAP to modern needs and requirements. Today this budgetary behemoth consumes almost 40% of Europeans’ EU tax dollars and yet supports a system which is destroying our critical need for biodiversity and healthy, equitable rural economies. 80% of that money goes to only 20% of the richest and most powerful farms.

The desperately needed reform of the CAP gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redirect these monies to nurture and build a food and farming system which would better serve the interests of a greater variety of farmers and healthier rural communities. A CAP reform should address and reverse the environmental degradation wrought by intensive agricultural practices which is at the root of the disappearance of farmland birds, and bio-diverse landscapes, (and those flowers!) and the bees we so desperately need for pollination.

The consultation just launched is but the first step in the Commission’s reform process. Now is the time for the widest possible mixture of stakeholders who care to speak up; who care about the food on their tables, their family’s health, sustainable agricultural practices that enhance our land, air and water instead of poisoning them. Our nearly 60 billion euros should be invested to ensure that at a minimum all of these critical societal priorities are put front and center. The big agricultural lobby should no longer freely feed at the trough of our hard-earned monies - our individual farmers and their families, their neighbors and yours, our rural landscapes and communities - all should actually be at the forefront of these monies we spend if we are to ensure our children’s and grand-children’s future in a Europe that works for us all.

Heaven help us if all we have left of nature is as fleeting and evanescent as a 50 year old memory of the clinging glittery sequined glamor of Dietrich’s legend which so seduced the 10 year old.


Marlene Dietrich


Christopher Sands is Head of Communications for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.