7 January 2001
Wildlife chief backs organic campaign

by John Burns in Cirencester

A LEADING government wildlife adviser says he is sympathetic to the Soil Associations campaign for an organic stewardship scheme.

David Arnold-Forster, chief executive of English Nature, said organic farming had much to commend it as part of the restructuring of British agriculture.

Organic agriculture had “growing scientific credibility”, he told the Soil Associations national organic conference in Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

Stewardship payments are ongoing annual payments to organic farmers to reflect the additional benefits to society of organic farming methods.

Mr Arnold-Forster indicated some support to the idea of stewardship but warned that any payments would have to be a based on results.

Organic farming standards were not a guarantee of wildlife gain, he said.

“Regrettably we find some instances where farms are not meeting our requirements on for example field boundary management and pollution control.

“We need a farmer-friendly way to do environmental audits each year.

“We dont want standards which make organic farmers go bust, rather we need to capture best practice and spread it around.”

Mr Arnold-Forster said he believed British consumers could afford to pay extra for organic food produced to high standards which included care of wildlife.

But it would be essential to retain consumer confidence that organic farming was delivering benefits to wildlife and the sector must work hard to maintain that lead.