21 March 1997

MPs say rationalise environment work

By Shelley Wright

AGRI-ENVIRONMENT schemes in England and Wales should be rolled into a single national framework to cut red tape and boost their appeal to farmers.

The call comes in a Commons agriculture select committee report which recognises that such moves have already been made in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

MPs say rolling the schemes into a single framework is logical and appropriate. It would simplify monitoring and administration "as well as making schemes more comprehensible and attractive".

While the report accepted there was a strong case for an integrated Welsh scheme, it warned that such a development should not be used as a cover for cuts in overall funding. MPs also said there was a case for increasing payments to farmers converting to organic production, adding that MAFF should consider financial aid to help farmers to maintain organic production. As well as recommendations, the report also delivered brickbats and the heftiest was reserved for the countryside access scheme. The committee described it as a "dismal failure" which should be closed to new applicants.

But it insisted MAFF should require some degree of public access in all new agreements under agri-environmental schemes. Other recommendations to improve uptake of current schemes included:

lIncentives to encourage tier 1 ESA farmers to move to higher tiers. No new ESAs should be designated.

lAn opt-out option to the habitat scheme after 10 years to try to improve uptake.

lIncreased payments under the moorland scheme.

MPs also urged the EU to give urgent consideration to the introduction of cross-compliance require-ments for arable area payments.

And future CAP reform should recognise the efforts made by farmers to protect and enhance the environment. &#42