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Stackyard News Sep 07

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Set-Aside Decision Risks Environmental Harm

Responding to the government’s announcement on set aside today following on from the EU decision to reduce the land required to be set aside from agricultural production to 0%, Natural England and the Environment Agency have warned that loss of set-aside land on a large scale will be bad for the environment and biodiversity and regret there will be no safeguards in place to ensure that the environmental legacy of set aside is maintained.


Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of Natural England said: "We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to seek a long term solution through the CAP Health Check. We will continue to work with Defra and land managers to monitor the effects of this decision on the environment.”

Sir Martin continued, “However, the fact remains that this is a disappointing decision which could have serious consequences for the natural environment, particularly in the context of rising commodity prices. Up to 200,000 hectares of land - an area the size of Warwickshire - could return to production, putting rare plants and threatened farmland birds at risk. With farmers having strong financial incentives to expand their production, the environmental benefits which set aside delivered on a large scale could well be lost.”

Sir John Harman, Chair of the Environment Agency said: “In our joint document Good Farming Better Environment the NFU and FUW signed up to addressing environmental challenges. This reduction in the set aside rate will make it more difficult to deliver. There is now a real urgency for the farming community to work with Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England to demonstrate a commitment to caring for the farmed environment. We call upon farmers not to plough up at least their non-rotational set-aside but manage it for the environment as they have done for some years.”

The Secretary of State considered concerns from Natural England and the Environment Agency on how to implement the Agriculture Council’s decision on zero set aside without compromising on environmental standards. Natural England and the Environment Agency will be monitoring the situation carefully over the coming months and will be urging Defra to consider an effective solution for the 2008/09 growing season, if it becomes apparent that farmers are returning more land to production than has been forecast.

It is important that Defra uses the opportunity of the CAP Health Check to negotiate for appropriate and effective set-aside legacy measures. Natural England and the Environment Agency will be offering their full support to Defra in trying to influence these negotiations to achieve this outcome.

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