Set-aside replacement scheme – what are your thoughts?

The government has finally launched its long-awaited consultation on a replacement for set-aside in England – and we want to hear your thoughts.

DEFRA is asking for views on two different approaches designed to enhance farmland wildlife habitats by re-establishing the environmental benefits of set-aside.

The first option is a combination of mandatory and incentive-based measures linked to the Single Farm Payment. The second option – preferred by farm leaders – is a purely voluntary approach to encourage land management practices that promote farmland bird habitats.

This is a controversial consultation so it is vital that farmers’ views are fed through to policy makers.

The options in summary are:

Option A1 – Farmers would be asked to keep 4-5% of eligible land* out of production. They would need to choose between leaving grass buffer strips alongside waterways, establishing arable plots in less profitable areas of the farm, re-introducing rotational set-aside or drilling wild bird winter food areas. Farmers could then choose to take additional steps under ELS such as planting wildflower mixes or cutting and removing vegetation.

Option A2 – Farmers would be able to choose any of the options in A1. Alternatively, they could choose to use the land, but move to spring cropping or low input systems so there are more winter stubbles. DEFRA claims A2 will need more land to produce the same environmental benefit as A1 so 5-6% of eligible land could be affected. Top-up options under the ELS would be available.

Option B: This is the voluntary option. Details are still being worked up by the NFU/CLA, but it likely to involve the creation of a Farm Environment Action Plan. A five-point plan would be promoted to help provide winter food for birds and to get more skylark plots. The voluntary approach could also involve demonstration farms, training modules for farm advisors and an industry led Farmland Bird Action Plan to promote ELS and non-ELS measures that address the needs of birds.

*Temporary grass would be excluded from the calculation which is different to the system previously used with set-aside.

Which of the proposals would you prefer? If a voluntary approach is chosen are you prepared to play your part?

The government has said that it thinks a block of 160,000-240,000ha of additional land will need to be ‘managed for environmental purposes’ to match the benefits that might be generated through a compulsory scheme -so if farmers don’t get behind the scheme then the industry will face mandatory measures.

What are your views on the cost, benefits and risk of the proposals? Is there a reason why you have not already signed up to the Entry Level Scheme? Share your thoughts on the forums or email us with your views?

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