21 November 1997

Green benefits few

THE 1992 CAP reform package failed to provide any environmental benefits on the majority of the UKs farms, according to a new report produced for the Countryside Commission.

As a result, CC officials told MPs on the agriculture select committee, one-sixth of the present UK CAP budget, equivalent to £500m, should now be spent on agri-environment and rural regeneration schemes.

Roger Clarke, CC director of programmes, told the committee, which is investigating Agenda 2000, that environmental benefits would only come through direct green programmes and not from environmental "bolt on" packages.

The report, which covered 600 UK farms, found that cereal price cuts had not led to the anticipated decline in fertiliser and pesticide use because of the over-compensation through area payments and favourable markets.

Set-aside had generally not been managed with environmental interests in mind. And, compared to the governments countryside premium scheme, set-aside had not achieved its full potential.

Stocking density limitations and the extensification premium had also had very limited influence in promoting extensive beef production, he said.

The extra cash called for would be spent on an expansion of agri-environment schemes along with support for areas which had suffered from degradation due to modern agricultural practices, said Dr Clarke.

Graham Wynne, RSPB director of conservation, said set-aside should be replaced by an initiative based on the arable stewardship pilot scheme. Arable area payments could be switched to pay for the programme and the organic aid scheme.

Elizabeth Cooper, Council for the Protection of Rural England senior policy officer, said there could be integration of hill livestock compensatory allowances with agri-environment and forestry programmes, such as the Woodland Grant Scheme.

She said the Agri-Environment Forums uplands working party was looking at setting up three pilot areas where this could be implemented.