Farm leaders draw up alternative to set-aside

Industry leaders are stepping up efforts to devise a voluntary alternative to measures that would force farmers to place land under environmental management.

Their work follows the launch of a government consultation on proposals aimed at retaining the environmental benefits of set-aside in England.

Plans contained in the document would see up to 6% of arable land taken out of production and managed for wildlife, rather than food production.

The aim is to reverse a decline in farmland bird numbers.

The NFU and Country Land and Business Association have been given just 12 weeks to come up with a voluntary alternative that achieves the same results.

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn said he was ready to support an industry-led approach if it can deliver all the benefits needed – including adequate take-up by farmers.

Natural England, the government’s landscape agency, has voiced doubts that a voluntary approach alone is enough.

But Natural England strategic director Mark Felton said the agency would still work with farm leaders to help draw up a voluntary scheme.

The voluntary approach would seek to encourage more farmers to join Entry Level Stewardship and choose management options that promote farmland birds.

It would also see the creation of a Farm Environment Action Plan managed and led by farmers to encourage the retention and management of uncropped land.

Earlier, NFU president Peter Kendall said he was looking forward to DEFRA’s support in the development of the voluntary proposals.

“We will need all our partners, especially those in government, working with us and I am determined to work with them to show the industry can succeed in its aims.”

The consultation closes on 27 May. Make sure you have your say – join the thread on FWiSpace.