22 July 1998
Funding freeze for agri-environment schemes?

By Catherine Hughes

FUNDING for agri-environment schemes is likely to freeze under the Governments comprehensive spending review – but there could be good news in the pipeline for wildlife.

Speaking at this weeks Wildlife Summit in London, environment minister Michael Meacher wouldnt be drawn on what the Government proposes to do with agri-environment schemes.

However, he said more unilateral measures were needed to protect wildlife, plants and archaeological sites in the UK because the environment could not afford to wait for CAP reform.

Mr Meacher said the Tory Government failed to adequately protect the UKs 5000 Sites of Special Scientific Interests. About 2,300 SSSIs in England have suffered some sort of destruction or neglect over the past six years, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

He said the demise of SSSIs had more to do with general deterioration and neglect than deliberate damage on the part of landowners. He promised a solution through partnership, and limited legislation, which could be quickly and effectively enforced.

Graham Wynne, RSPB chief executive, said SSSIs were continuing to decline and there was urgent need for legislation to improve and protect these areas. He said the fate of Britains finest natural wildlife sites hung in the balance.

Ben Gill, National Farmers Union president, said more land than ever before was being managed voluntarily by farmers under environmental protection schemes.

“Farmers have a vital role to play and we do not take our responsibilities lightly. But we believe voluntary agreements are the most effective way of protecting the environment,” he said.

“Farmers should receive support for their efforts in looking after the environment, not the whip of legislation,” he added.

A recent agreement between the NFU and English Nature, setting out how the two organisations could work together to protect SSSIs, was further evidence of farmers commitment to nature conservation, he concluded.