3 March 2000

Hedge regulations still causing worry

UNCERTAINTY continues to surround the possible EUcrackdown on field boundary rules.

Despite placatory comments from agriculture minister Nick Brown (Arable, Feb 25) growers were still awaiting definitive guidance earlier this week.

Typical of those concerned are Moray and Stephen Rash of 392ha (970 acres) Hall Farm, Wortham, Suffolk. They have 29 miles of hedgerow and ditch with margins averaging 5.5m (18ft).

Depending on area aid rates the pair believe they will lose about £3500 a year if they have to recalculate the cropped area for the purposes of their IACS claim. Up to 14ha (34 acres) of land could be ineligible unless hedges are drastically cut back, some ditches piped and filled-in and the land cultivated, they believe.

"We face a very difficult decision and hope MAFF will get something sorted out very quickly," Moray Rash commented earlier this week.

John Cousins, agricultural policy adviser for the national Wildlife Trusts group, said he was optimistic MAFF would get Brussels approval for a flexible approach on the grounds that wide field margins are customary practice in the UK.

"In the meantime we would like to see an immediate postponement of any moves to clamp down on these regulations," he said.

Concerns first intensified last autumn when EC auditors told MAFF it was applying area aid rules too loosely. Claims for cropped areas including field margins over 2m (6.5ft) wide, or 4m (13ft) for adjoining fields, should not be approved, it said. &#42

Boundary dispute – what do you think?

Do boundary rules concern you? Will you cut hedges back hard, revise field areas or await clearer government guidance? Tell us what you think by phoning: 020 8652 4923, fax: 020 8652 4005 or e-mail: charles.abel@rbi.co.uk

Traditional field margins could cost Suffolk growers Moray and Stephen Rash £3500 in lost area aid unless rules are

clarified soon.