The Farmers Union of Wales is urging the European Commission to take a new look at the impact of proposed Less Favoured Areas criteria in light of new information from member states.

The FUW wants the Commission to think again about its plan to drop socio-economic factors as reasons to designate land as in being need of special support measures.

“The EC has clearly accepted the need to look more carefully at the potential impact of applying a simplistic set of biophysical criteria across the European Union in order to asses LFA status,” said Derek Morgan, chairman of the FUW’s hill farming committee.

“However, they should also take the opportunity to properly assess the impact of shelving the current socio-economic criteria – a proposal that we believe would have a significant impact on our communities and environment.”

Mr Morgan, who farms at Llangurig in Powys, was reacting to EC confirmation that member states would be required to compare existing LFAs against a new set of eight biophysical criteria.

“Less Favoured Areas and previous area classifications have played a key role in sustaining Welsh upland communities and environments for many decades. Changes to the criteria upon which LFAs are based have the potential to damage valuable environments, while simultaneously causing upheaval in many communities.

The Commission’s belief that other rural development measures could offset the loss of socio-economic objectives would simply not make up the damage caused by the declassification of areas currently given LFA status, the union says.

Any model that increased economic pressures, either locally or nationally, would reduce the incentive for farmers to continue to manage land, which in turn would have a detrimental impact on delicate natural environments that relied on the continuity of farming.

Coupled with this, the FUW fears the move would weaken the framework for future environmental measures and remove buffer zones around environmentally important areas.

Mr Morgan warned that such buffers were currently taken for granted despite being an integral part of wider ecosystems. “The EC should now use this opportunity to take a step back and review their plans in totality.”