2 April 1999

New countryside chief wants greener approach to farming

THE governments new countryside boss Ewen Cameron has called for a more sustainable and environmentally-aware approach to agriculture at the launch of the Countryside Agency in London this week.

The agency – the governments new statutory body aimed at getting the best for rural England and the English countryside – was formed from the merger of the now-defunct Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission.

At the launch, Mr Cameron said subsidies for large arable farms should probably be cut and redirected to the hills.

He added that he was concerned that public expenditure on agri-environment schemes in the UK was lower than in most EU countries. Of the utilised agricultural area in the UK only 7% is covered by agri-environment schemes compared to 19% in France and 37% in Germany.

And Mr Cameron said the Common Agricultural Policy should be changed because currently only 3% of its budget is spent on funding green farming systems.

"The big problem is that the recent Agenda 2000 deal has in all short-term probability, decreased the amount of money for environmental schemes," he said.

"I would like to see 30% of CAP money put into environmental schemes, but that is a personal view, of course," he said.

In addition to promoting a more sustainable approach to farming, the agency hopes to tackle the disadvantages faced by rural people.

It aims to improve transport in rural areas while taming the impact of traffic growth on the countryside.

But the agencys most controversial role is likely to be the implementation of a statutory "right to roam" across 1.6m ha (4m acres) of open countryside.

Ramblers have criticised Mr Camerons appointment to oversee footpath-mapping because he is a former president of the Country Landowners Association.

During his time at the CLA, Mr Cameron opposed a statutory right to roam, saying landowners should grant countryside access only on a voluntary basis. &#42