Relax scheme rules to benefit the environment

A Northumberland beef and sheep producer is appealing for greater flexibility in environmental and organic scheme rules, which he says will benefit farming and wildlife.

Steve Ramshaw is keen to encourage wildlife on his 303ha (750-acre) upland holding at Monkridge Hill farm, West Woodburn, which went into organic production six years ago.

However, he believes environmental scheme rules are too rigid, and need some revision.

“After eight years in Countryside Stewardship, tick numbers have gone up and although wildlife is flourishing, I feel a lot more could be done if the rules had been applied on a more individual farm basis,” says Mr Ramshaw.

“Restricted grazing of sheep on the hill has increased heather, but it has also allowed rough grasses to creep in.

That has affected productivity, and curlew and lapwing chicks are struggling to move around in the long grass.”

A special derogation to allow cattle back on to the hills has brought some improvement, but it has been “too little, too late”, in his opinion.

“The officers seem knowledgeable, but they need to be less restricted and allowed to spend more time on farm.

The decision-makers do not always understand the needs of producers,” he says.

“I am hoping the Higher Entry Level Scheme will adopt a more individual farm approach than Countryside Stewardship, as well as doing some good for wildlife.”

Organic certification is another concern of Mr Ramshaw.

“I am allowed to reduce bracken only by bruising or cutting, but that is physically impossible in some areas.

I worry that it is getting out of control.

I don’t want to take land out of organic production so I can spray it, but that may be my only option.”