25 July 1997

Environmental attitude in UKis out of step

EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler is surprised that UK environmental groups are unhappy with the commissions agri-environment plans as part of Agenda 2000.

He said the majority of European farm organisations believed too much emphasis had been placed on conservation and environmental issues within the new CAP proposals.

And Mr Fischler rejected allegations that the environmental measures put forward in the Cork Declaration last year had been dismissed. "There are a whole series of proposals to improve environmental conditions, including those concerning rural development policy," he said.

Questioned by FW on the proposal to switch the Less Favoured Areas scheme towards a system to promote low-input farming, Mr Fischler said details had yet to be decided. But, he promised a degree of flexibility, saying some schemes would concentrate on maintaining disadvantaged farming areas, while other schemes would concentrate on promoting rural business and agricultural processing and wildlife habitats.

But, environmental groups in the UK remained unhappy about the CAP reform proposals. Barbara Young, RSPB chief executive, said agri-environment measures remained a "bolt-on to a system which pays farmers excessive levels of subsidy."

She said wildlife on arable farms would be devastated by the abolition of set-aside unless new agri-environment spending was found for arable land.

Gail Murray, Worldwide Fund for Nature countryside officer, said a quarter of all agricultural spending should be spent on agri-environment measures while 10% of structural funds should go to manage 200 endangered habitat sites.

Tony McDougal

Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth agricultural campaigner, said the Agenda 2000 package had done little to reduce agrochemical use and promote sustainable farming.