Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Defra seeks views on re-establishing environmental benefits of set-aside

Defra seeks views on re-establishing environmental benefits of set-aside

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (48/09) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 4 March 2009

People will be asked for their views on two different approaches to enhancing farmland wildlife habitats and the natural environment in a consultation paper published today by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

Although set-aside was originally introduced as a way of controlling production, it also resulted in a range of environmental and biodiversity benefits for our countryside. Set-aside has now been abolished and the consultation asks how best to regain these benefits.

Following the recent CAP health check, the consultation also seeks views on:

* Introducing wider buffer strips next to water courses to improve water quality;
* Improving soil management guidance to encourage farmers to undertake more active management of risks such as soil erosion and compaction; and
* Promoting the management and restoration of hedge banks.

Mr Benn emphasised the need to strike the right balance between reducing burdens on farmers and ensuring that the natural environment - on which farming depends - is maintained.

He said:

"Farming is hugely important, not just to produce the food we eat but also to maintain the landscape which we hold so dear and on which our ability to produce food in the future depends.

"We stand ready to support an industry-led way of doing this if it can deliver what's needed, with industry-wide ownership and leadership.

"Farmers do much to help already, and we need to ensure that the environmental benefits of set aside are not lost amid regulations. That's why it's important that we get views from all interested parties so that we can protect and enhance natural wildlife habitats without hindering farmers."

The chosen approach must have benefits for wildlife habitats and protect the soil, water and biodiversity on which farming ultimately relies.

In addition the chosen approach must demonstrate that it can be implemented in time for the 2010/11 cropping season.

Under Option A, a combination of mandatory and incentive-based measures would introduce a new cross compliance condition linked to Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, requiring farmers in England to manage a small percentage of their cultivated land primarily for environmental purposes. This could include management options allowing production to continue on the land.

Entry Level Stewardship 'top-up' options would also be available to reward those prepared to undertake more demanding environmental management on this land, although the 'top-ups' could only pay for the additional management costs.

Option B, a purely voluntary approach, would seek to develop, promote and implement land management practices that address the habitat needs of farmland birds and encourage retention and management of uncropped land. It would see the creation of a Farm Environment Action Plan managed and led by farmers.

A voluntary approach would need to show a high degree of certainty of delivering the environmental benefits, by ensuring adequate take-up by farmers. If this failed to deliver the desired changes quickly enough, changes to cross compliance would be brought in.

The 12-week consultation runs until 27 May 2009.

Notes to Editors

1. For full details on the consultation visit:

2. Recent figures show a decline in Farmland Bird numbers. For more information visit:

3. For more information on ELS and Agri-Environment schemes please visit:

4. For more information on the work of Sir Don Curry's high level group on set-aside visit:

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