A farm secretary looks at the RPA website© Tim Scrivener

Farmers are being urged to be on the alert for a range of common errors being thrown up by the Rural Payment Agency’s (RPA) latest mapping update.

The agency is making a series of digital map updates in order to comply with EU Commission requirements that all land data held on the Rural Land Register is no more than three years old by 31 October 2017.

The aim of the exercise is to make sure the maps used to calculate Basic Payment Scheme and agri-environment schemes claims are as accurate as possible.

See also: RPA map update may affect 2017 BPS claims

However, farmers and consultants are finding some common issues which they fear will have consequences for the accuracy of 2017 BPS payments.

Field mergers

Richard Wordsworth, the NFU’s BPS adviser, said problem areas include the removal of pre-agreed permanent ineligible features (PIFs) and erroneous field mergers where Ordnance Survey (OS) field boundaries have been ignored.

“The NFU is concerned where historic mapping changes have been made and approved and are now changed,” he said.

“Of particular concern is where erroneous merging or splitting of fields internally causes changes to field reference numbers, which in turn leads to parcels being unrecognised by RPA or Natural England when processing claims for payment.”

Land cover codes

Mr Wordsworth also urged farmers to check the land cover code next to each of their field parcels.

“It is not just land boundaries changing, but instances of RPA erroneously converting temporary grassland to permanent grassland, which has significant repercussions if that grassland is classed as arable and being used for greening – EFA or crop diversification this year.

“Equally this could have an impact on agri-environmental scheme options.”

Andrew Jenkinson, partner at Robinson and Hall, said the most common problem seemed to be the removal of PIFs, although some of his clients had seen fields merged because satellite imagery had failed to pick up the post-and-wire fence dividing the two parcels.

Mr Jenkinson urged farmers to keep logging into the RPA’s system as the alerts which show mapping updates have been carried out seem to be coming through in dribs and drabs.

“I’ve had five alerts from one client, so don’t assume if you have had one that everything is done and dusted.”

‘Inaccurate tool’

Hugh Townsend of Exeter-based Townsends said experience suggested satellite imagery was too cumbersome for use as a reliable mapping tool.

“Satellite imagery is too inaccurate to deliver a mapping update. I think this is an exercise that adds extra costs, but I don’t think delivers any benefits to the EU or farmers here.”

A Defra spokesman said: “As required by the European Commission, we update our digital land maps throughout the year.

“Updates are based on the latest information from farm inspections, aerial photography and the OS, as well as following requests for changes from applicants.

“Maps can be checked online using the Rural Payments Service. Information on how to tell RPA about changes to mapping can be found on GOV.UK.”