14 February 2000
Stewardship aid to be announced

ADDITIONAL funds to encourage farmers to make their land more wildlife-friendly are expected to be announced by the government on Monday (February 14).

Before Christmas it was farm minister Nick Brown said 500m would be allocated to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme over the next seven years.

Countryside minister Elliot Morley will now give details on the first allocation of money.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which was introduced in 1991, offers payment to landowners who make conservation part of their farming practice.

Funding for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme has increased from 7.5m to 18.1m this year. Up until the end of 1998 some 8,600 farmers had joined the scheme

It is estimated that the expected increase in funding could allow another 6,000 landowners to join the scheme.

Critics say even the new amounts are insufficient and call for a ten-fold increase.

There have also been calls for local administration to make the scheme more sensitive to regional variations, and efforts to make it more attractive to small farmers.

Farmers have pointed out that while hedge preservation is a major element of the MAFF scheme, new EU rules may force them to cut back these havens for wildlife.

Brussels has told farmers that hedgerows cannot exceed 4m in width.

The extension of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme is part of a total of 1.6bn in environmental expenditure expected over seven years from the radical reform of the UK farm subsidy system.

The main source of funding which will affect farmers is the redirection or “modulation” of direct production subsidies paid to UK producers under the CAP.

Money will be deducted from production-based subsidies and put into agri-environmental schemes.

Funds raised by modulation would be boosted by the Treasury, which has pledged to match the modulated money.

Additional funding will come from MAFF for existing schemes and other EU funds.