Hilary Benn announces
action to monitor impact of EU agriculture council's
decision on 0% set aside rate for 2008
ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (327/07) issued by
The Government News Network on 26 September 2007
Secretary of State
for Defra, Hilary Benn today announced an immediate programme of
environmental monitoring of farmland following the EU Agriculture
Council's decision to set a 0% rate of set-aside for 2008.
Mr Benn said that monitoring will be established under
Defra's Agricultural Change and Environment Observatory
(ACEO) to assess what happens on the ground in the next few months
and to provide a firmer basis for future action. If there is
evidence of significant environmental impact - including on the
bird population - as a result of the zero percent rate of set
aside in 2008, then the Government will look at what action to take.
In anticipation of the Council agreement, as announced on 1
August 2007, Defra has been working very closely with its
statutory advisers - Natural England and the Environment Agency -
to assess the scale and nature of the likely environmental impact
of this change in England and options for addressing it. There
have also been discussions with farming organisations and
environmental and conservation stakeholders.
Defra's analysis suggests that up to 200,000 hectares of
arable land in England are likely to remain uncropped and that
land in longer term set-aside and many of the more environmentally
valuable areas are unlikely to be brought back into production at
Hilary Benn said;
"I share the concerns which Natural England, the Environment
Agency, and environmental and conservation groups including the
RSPB have raised about the possible consequences if there is a
substantial return to cropping of set-aside land in the short term
and if that were to continue or increase in the longer term.
"I welcome the assurances given by the Presidents of the
National Farmers Union and Country Land and Business Association
that the farming industry as a whole is committed to shouldering
its full environmental responsibilities in relation to all the
land that it manages, including land that has been in set-aside up
"I want the farming industry to be in no doubt that I am
looking for them to demonstrate that they can deliver on this
assurance. We are committed to monitoring this situation
closely, and if significant environmental impact does occur, then
I am ready to make an early announcement about the action to be taken."
"To help oversee the monitoring, I am asking Sir Don Curry,
in his role as chairman of the Sustainable Farming and Food
Strategy (SFFS) Delivery Group, to bring together the leaders of
NE, EA, NFU, CLA, and RSPB and others. I am also asking the
Chairs of the SFFS Regional Steering Groups to establish regional
liaison arrangements involving farming and environmental groups".
All agricultural land including uncropped land is protected from
environmental damage by the existing cross compliance rules. Where
farmers were enhancing set-aside by cultivating small plots to
provide lapwing or stone curlew nesting sites, The Rural Payments
Agency will be arranging for these exemptions to continue as
simply as possible under cross compliance. In addition Defra has
asked Natural England to target advisory support so that we help
farmers enhance the environmental return from land not in production.
Mr Benn also announced that Ministers have made clear to the
European Commission - in correspondence and at today's
Agriculture Council meeting the importance of finding ways to
preserve the environmental benefits of set-aside if it is
abolished as part of the Common Agricultural Policy Healthcheck, a
move which the UK has long advocated to reduce unnecessary
Mr Benn continued;
"I very much welcome the assurances given by Commissioner
Fischer Boel to that effect when she made the 0% proposal to
Council for 2008. She also took the opportunity to remind farmers
that a 0% rate for 2008 still allows farmers to continue with
leave land uncropped and to participate in environmental schemes,
both of which I also hope they will consider carefully."
Defra will also be looking at how the Entry Level (ELS) strand of
Environmental Stewardship can help to mitigate any environmental
impact, as part of the current review of scheme progress and our
preparations for the CAP Healthcheck.
Notes to Editors
1. As a result of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council
decision, farmers with set-aside 'entitlements' will not
be required to take land out of production in order to receive a
payment under the 2008 Single Payment Scheme.
2. The monitoring exercise will be conducted through Defra's
Agricultural Change and Environment Observatory (ACEO) which has
an existing programme of work examining the impact of CAP reform.
This will to tell us more about farmers' cropping patterns
this autumn and their plans for spring 2008. Planned surveys which
will be used in this way include the December Survey of
Agriculture, the Farm Business Survey, and the Farm Practices
Survey. We will also be considering evidence, both quantitative
and qualitative, provided from within Defra, by Natural England
and the Environment Agency, and by external environmental and
conservation stakeholders including the RSPB. We will also
consider as part of the Observatory's work a detailed field
and interview survey to establish how uncropped land is managed
and how this relates to its ecological value. NE and EA are full
participants in the Observatory, and contribute to it financially.
In addition, we will be inviting farming and environmental
organisations to work with us on this monitoring exercise. This
will help to draw on their expertise and to further develop a
shared understanding of the scale and nature of the issue.
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