Victoria Hicks, Campaign for the Farmed Environment campaign co-ordinator
Engage with environmental management now and it will be far easier to meet any future CAP "greening" requirements - as you'll be waiting a rather long time before the fog of confusion lifts from the proposed greening elements.
So, why not trial some environmental measures on a voluntary basis in the meantime? It's an ideal opportunity to learn how and what works for your farm and, at the same time, showing your support for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE).
The thought of Ecological Focus Areas encompassing seven percent of your farm's area may seem daunting, but at this stage what EFAs will entail is unknown.
There are, however, hints it could include field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape areas, biotopes (specific habitats relating to a biological community such as ponds), buffer strips and afforested areas.
DEFRA is unable to give any clear indication of how the greening of Pillar 1, as well as increased greening requirements under Pillar 2, could impact on farmers' obligations when the reformed CAP finally comes into force. But rest assured the government is pressing the European Commission for some clarity on this; let's hope it's given sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, the CFE has until June 2012 before it will be formally assessed by the government. The CFE recognises those voluntary land management practices commonly adopted by farmers and land managers that recreate the environmental benefits associated with some areas of former set-aside land.
Farmers, land managers and gamekeepers alike rightly take great pride in their roles as the best custodians of the countryside. This message needs to be promoted effectively to the government and the wider population.
The CFE provides a vehicle to do this so long as farmers support it, while failure to back it will have far wider repercussions.
The industry just cannot afford the precedent to be set that farmers cannot do things voluntarily. How much better would it be if farmers and landowners were saying "I told you so" instead of farming's critics saying this when next June arrives?
However, anyone trying out any of the 15 voluntary management practices (known as the Voluntary Measures) included within the CFE will not just be cocking a snoop at farming's critics. They will also be gaining valuable information for their own businesses. They will have the opportunity to try before they buy - testing out management practices that look most complementary to current business operations, using the least productive parts of the farm to establish environmental measures. Voluntarily managing the environment is more flexible, requires no long-term contract and is far less burdensome and costly than the alternative: compulsory management enshrined in legislation.
So please, don't use uncertainty as an excuse for inactivity. Managing the environment alongside productive farming will not disappear: Dacian Ciolos won't let it. The adage "look after the land and the land will look after you" has never been truer. Ignore it at your peril.
Victoria Hicks, is the campaign co-ordinator for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment campaign co-ordinator
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