New green scheme could endanger farms

A CONSERVATION group is worried that the Government's new all-embracing "green" payments scheme for farmers and other land managers - launched in pilot form last week, will endanger the future of small but important habitats.

A CONSERVATION group is worried that the Government's new all-embracing "green" payments scheme for farmers and other land managers - launched in pilot form last week, will endanger the future of small but important habitats.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which manages many small sites throughout the county, fears that a minimum area will eventually be introduced to make the scheme easier to administer.

The new "entry level" scheme is an attempt to make all farmers and other landowners eligible for conservation payments, not just the wildlife enthusiasts.

It will pay basic amounts for the maintenance of existing habitats, including countryside features such as hedgerows, and reward landowners for creating new habitats.


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The existing farm conservation schemes, Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas, will become high payment options within the new scheme.

Julian Roughton, wildlife trust director, said the scheme would have a "hugely beneficial" effect as long as there was no minimum site size for entry.

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"The introduction of a minimum site size would eliminate management support for many wildlife sites in Suffolk – areas which incorporate the county's richest semi-natural habitats and are central to the conservation of this county's biodiversity," he said.

The trust, which manages more than 7,000 acres of land in Suffolk and advises the owners of 900 designated County Wildlife Sites, hopes the new scheme will continue to give all wildlife site owners, farmers and others, the chance to enter.

"To this ends we are urging the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that small landowners that have played a vital role in maintaining wildlife sites, are not excluded from the new scheme," Mr Roughton said.

John Cousins, a Suffolk farmer who is agricultural policy adviser for the national Wildlife Trusts organisation, said the new scheme represented the biggest change to agri-environment schemes since their inception in the early 1980s.

"So often in the past the environmentally responsible farmer has been disadvantaged by schemes that simply target the areas on a farm lacking in wildlife habitat.

"We now have a potential scheme that will help farmers to manage the countryside and that acknowledges the cost of countryside management," he said.

Four areas of England have been identified for the 18-month pilot stage of the scheme. The nearest to East Anglia is in Lincolnshire – chosen to monitor the impact of the scheme on an intensive agricultural area.

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