DEFRA HAS announced that farmers in England with fields of 2ha (4.9 acres) or under will not be required to leave a 2m margin along their hedges and ditches.

Any hedges planted after Jan 1, 2005 will also be exempt from the cross-compliance requirement for the first five years of their existence.

Other key decisions announced by DEFRA on Tues (Nov 2) include the categories that will be eligible to apply to the national reserve for single payment entitlements in 2005.

It has confirmed that new entrants, who have entered the industry on or before Nov 2, 2004 and do not have any historic entitlements, will be able to apply to the NR.

DEFRA has also revealed that it will pay SFP on land used to graze horses – whether or not the land is managed by a farmer.

The department estimates that there could be up to 300,000ha (740,000 acres) of land that could be eligible as a result.

It has also said that traditional grazed orchards – but not commercial orchards – will be eligible for SFP subject to agreement with the EU Commission on the fine detail.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said the decisions would help to remove some of the uncertainty facing farmers who wanted to claim the single payment. 

“They will now be able to plan their businesses with more knowledge of how the system will work. 

“However, we recognise that they do not yet have all the pieces of the jig-saw, and we are working to provide these at the earliest possible opportunity.”