30 June 2000

Morley nod for agri plan

By Robert Davies

COUNTRYSIDE minister, Elliot Morley, has endorsed one of the UKs largest agri-environment agreements.

Under an extension of the Shropshire Hills Environmentally Sensitive Area, the 18 active commoners on the 2243ha (5383 acres) of the Long Mynd will get £1.7m over 10 years in return for reducing stocking levels, bracken control and heather burning.

Though many of the 27,890 grazing rights held by 92 commoners were not used, the National Trust, owners of the Long Mynd, had been worried for some years by results from several studies that indicated the moorland was overgrazed. In the winter of 1998 the trust and English Nature even jointly funded a one off away wintering payment to remove 800 sheep. Commoners have now agreed to cut sheep numbers from 2.5/ha to 1.5/ha in summer, and from 2 to 1.1/ha in winter. Negotiations are also underway for another away-wintering package to further reduce grazing pressure. The lower stocking makes Long Mynd eligible for ESA grants, but agreement was only possible after a rule change that now allows farmers to enter ESA agreements on common land without bringing in their home farm.

Mr Morley, who during a visit to the area tried his hand at digging and baling heather to provide seed for regeneration, said he was pleased that the long-running environmental problems had been sorted out once and for all.

"This is exactly the kind of agreement we had in mind when we announced a further £1.6bn over seven years on agri-environment and rural development measures. The Long Mynd is a landscape with an international reputation and I am delighted that MAFF and the commoners will be combining to return it to its former glory." &#42

Elliot Morley… Pleased their environmental problems sorted out.