31 March 2000

Agri-environment schemes are key to land management

By Alistair Driver

GETTING more farmers to adopt agri-environment schemes is one of the keys to achieving sustainable land management in England and Wales, according to the Environment Agency.

In a new report State of the Environment of England and Wales: The Land, the agency says demands for land are now greater than any time in the past.

It wants the report to raise the profile of issues relating to the state of the land and draw attention to what can be done.

New thinking on farming, particularly the wider adoption of agri-environment schemes, is one of five challenges the agency says need to be addressed. Farming practices are identified as one of the main causes of the loss of habitats that are essential for wildlife.

"Integrated farming practices are achieving much in considering environmental needs alongside crop production. Greater awareness of these systems together with agri-environment schemes should lead to greater achievement of this aim," the report says.

It also backs the current move towards more organic farming in England and Wales and sets improvements in soil quality as one of the challenges.

"Farming practices have reduced soil organic matter contents in many areas," the report states.

It also calls for more comprehensive information on the subject to be made available.

Development pressures

The other challenges relate to monitoring the health of animals and crops, understanding the link between the environment and human health and coping with the pressures brought about by development. The latter includes making better use of "brownfield" sites and bringing contaminated land back into use.

The report also identifies addressing climate change as a priority action. &#42