8 March 1996

Revamp for moorland scheme

By Tony McDougal

CHANGES to MAFFs moorland scheme, which attracted only 15 participants in its first year, were announced this week.

An rise in payments and additional management grants are among the proposals for the scheme, which is designed to cut ewe numbers to meet specified stocking density limits on moorland. But farming unions warn that the payment increase may not be enough to attract support.

The rate of payment is to rise from £25 a ewe to £30 a ewe removed and grants, payable at the countryside stewardship rate, will be available for bracken control and temporary fencing to keep grazing animals from heather regeneration areas.

For the first time commoners may be able to join the scheme, even where some do not wish to participate.

MAFF also intends to have a more flexible stocking regime, after criticism from English Nature that its across-the-board rate of 0.15 LU/ha (winter) and 0.23/ha (summer) was too high. Producers can cut flock numbers below the specified density if additional environmental benefits are delivered.

The scheme received qualified support from the Hill Farming Initiative and the NFU, who said the relaxation on the commoners issue might be extended to environmentally sensitive areas.

But they warned the increase in payments would still not match the current payments to hill units.

Andrew Clark, NFU countryside adviser, said he was pleased MAFF had recognised the scheme had not been working, but added the proposals had not gone far enough. "The rate of payment increase really depends on the gross margins of the farm business. Some farmers claim £30 and £35 wouldnt be enough to attract them." He said grant aid for management controls used to be available to all farmers under the farm and conservation grant scheme.

Alastair Davy, Hill Farming Initiative spokesman, added that the new measures might interest those who were getting close to over-stocking, but they would be difficult to police effectively.

Junior farm minister Tim Boswell said the proposals would go to the European Commission for approval and he hoped the scheme would attract a greater response from producers than the 54 applications received by MAFF in 1995. &#42