11 May 2001
Greens slam organic stewardship

By Liz Mason

AN UMBRELLA group of conservation and wildlife bodies has told farm minister Nick Brown that it believes organic farming can cause as much damage to the environment as any other farming system.

As a result, it does not support an organic stewardship scheme.

In a letter to Mr Brown, Wildlife and Countryside Link said an organic stewardship scheme, which is being considered by the government, would not be the most effective way of delivering the governments objectives for the farmed countryside.

The group, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildlife Trusts, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Ramblers Association, said it strongly supported the governments bid to increase the area of land farmed organically through organic conversion payments.

But the letter raised concern over the idea of a new agri-environment scheme specifically for organic farmers, which would bring the UK into line with many of its EU competitors and provide continuing support for organic producers.

It warned that if practised without environmental objectives in mind organic farming can be as environmentally damaging as any other farming system.

And while some organic farms do deliver greater environmental benefits than similar conventionally managed farms this is not consistently the case, the letter added.

Agri-environment support should aim to reward the production of environmental outputs and not a particular system of farming.

“Schemes should be designed to be inclusive and not exclusive, the group told Mr Brown.

Gundula Meziani, the Soil Associations policy adviser, said Wildlife and Countryside Link were prejudiced against the organic movement.

I think we have to sell the case to the conservation groups and go back to MAFF again.

English Nature, the governments conservation advisers, said it did not support an exclusive stewardship scheme for organic farmers.

Ian Alexander, an English Nature conservation officer said: English Nature will not support a proposal to give all organic farmers on-going support just for being organic.

Instead, proposals for a scheme which would pay all farmers, organic and conventional between 30-40/ha in return for mapping out a whole farm conservation plan are being discussed.

The plan would identify environmental assets on the farm and the management needed to conserve them.

It would also set out any additional work needed to improve the farms environmental value and allow farmers to choose with help from conservation advisers, projects from a menu of options with help from conservation advisers.

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