15 June 2001
Virus hits conservation effort

By David Green

CONSERVATIONISTS in East Anglia fear a knock-on effect from the foot-and-mouth outbreak, despite most of the region remaining free of the disease.

Problems are being caused by restrictions on the movement of farm animals which usually graze nature reserves to keep them in prime condition.

Conservation officials fear farmers will turn their backs on livestock farming because of the outbreak, sparking a long-term shortage of grazing animals.

English Nature, the National Trust, the RSPB and county wildlife trusts all rely on graziers for the management of conservation land in East Anglia.

The RSPB already depends on farmers in Kent and South Wales transporting their animals each year to graze on the Ouse Washes and other areas.

But animals are not being transported this year because of precautions.

“There are major long-term implications for us because there may not be enough stock,” said regional RSPB spokeswoman, Sharon Eastwood.

The society is awaiting the decision of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the governments future policy for livestock transport.

John Cousins, agricultural policy adviser to the national Wildlife Trusts organisation, said many farmers would think twice about keeping livestock.

The foot-and-mouth epidemic reinforces a need for agricultural reform to help those farmers whose practices benefit the environment, he said.

In Suffolk, graziers are needed each year for more than 1050ha (2600 acres) of open habitat, from flowering meadows to heathland and marsh.

Their future could be in peril if the crisis fails to result in better payments for wildlife-friendly farming, said Nick Collinson of Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

The trust has its own 600-ewe flock to graze coastal heaths

But it needs cattle on its marshland sites to create a rough, uneven sward – ideal for ground nesting birds such as redshanks and lapwings.

Grazing grass is better than cutting, as it produces a more diverse sward.

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Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage