More farmers are needed to build on a successful start to a campaign aimed at fending off a compulsory set-aside replacement across England.
Already some 85% of farmers have heard about the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, which launched last November. Campaign organisers must now focus on converting that awareness into action.
Many farmers are already are managing farmland to benefit wildlife and the environment, reveals a DEFRA survey of 5000 farmers to find out the level of voluntary activity being carried out on farms.
Some 174,000ha (430,000 acres) of farmland are being managed for conservation outside agri-environment schemes and over 50% of farmers have retained uncultivated land despite the end of set-aside.
Campaign co-ordinator Corrina Gibbs said: “The figures show the huge amount of work that farmers and growers are already doing and provides an encouraging starting point on which the campaign can build.”
It was now vital that interest was turned into action so the campaign increased the national level of voluntary environmental management by at least 30,000ha and retained 179,000ha of uncropped land across England by 2012.
Although ambitious, the government has warned that failure to meet these targets could see financial penalties and regulations imposed on farmers in a bid retain the environmental benefits once provided by set-aside.
NFU president Peter Kendall said the survey results were a fantastic start. “Campaign partners are now focused on providing farmers with advice on the best way for them to take part so that the campaign targets are achieved.”
Farmers not yet participating in entry-level stewardship are being urged to sign up and select campaign options such as pollen and nectar mixes, wild bird seed mixtures or a 12m buffer strip to stop run-off into watercourses.
Willaim Worsley, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said failure did not bear thinking about. “The alternative will be costly and could stifle the industry’s ability to move forward for years to come.”
A further 5500 questionnaires were sent out this week as part of an ongoing annual campaign monitoring programme. Recipients are urged to complete the questionnaire and add their strength and voice to the campaign.