28 May 1999

Ulster green plan

A NEW agri-environment scheme open to farmers outside Environmentally Sensitive Areas was launched in Northern Ireland this week.

According to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, the Countryside Management Scheme aims to maintain biodiversity, enhance landscapes, improve water quality and protect heritage features.

Launching the scheme, Peter Small, permanent secretary at DANI, said: "This is the way forward for farming and the countryside. Farmers have an important responsibility to integrate good farming practice with responsible management of the countryside."

The scheme, with a first year budget of £1.5m, will be open for applications until July 30.

Farmers outside ESAs, who have at least one of the special features or habitats targeted under the scheme, will be eligible and must enter their whole farm into a 10-year management agreement. DANI anticipates that about 800 farmers will sign agreements in the schemes first year.

All land will be subject to certain environmental conditions, including stocking-rate limits. In addition, habitats and features on the farms must be managed in line with a site-specific plan which could involve, for example, grazing, fertiliser and pesticide restrictions.

ESAs cover about 20% of Northern Irelands farmland, with about 4500 producers involved.