Green farming uptake lower in UK

31 January 1997

Green farming uptake lower in UK

MANY EU farmers are better placed to take advantage of green schemes offering payments for environmentally sensitive land management than those in the UK.

A report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to be published next month, will show huge differences in the adoption of green farm schemes across Europe.

Although the UK was the instigator of both the environmentally sensitive area and countryside stewardship schemes, a 10% cutback in funding coupled with the wholesale adoption of the agri-environment regulations in Austria and many parts of Finland has meant other member states lead a take-up league table.

Commissioned by the European Commission in 1995 to look at the benefits of the agri-environment regulations on the countryside, the report calls for more environmental audits and inspections to be carried out by member states and greater publicity to be given to the schemes.

The commission has introduced legislation requiring that member states carry out environmental monitoring. But Jim Dixon, RSPB agricultural policy spokesman, said the charity had found it particularly hard to get reliable data on take-up.

"We found ourselves up against genuine hostility among some member states, who simply did not want to provide information," said Mr Dixon. Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy have been singled out for failing to administer the regulations adequately.

While Austria and Finland were keen to install the agri-environment regulations, due to severe cuts in national subsidies paid to farmers, other countries were more keen to take advantage of early retirement or afforestation schemes.

"Although Spain has introduced ESAs over 10% of its agricultural land, take-up has been very low because there is more money available in the afforestation project," added Vicky Swailes, RSPB agricultural co-ordinator.

Some member states do not want to take up the agri-environment regulations.

"Greece has tried to set up a variety of projects but failed, and the ministry of agriculture wants to target EU structural funds and an intensification regime, which is contrary to what the commission proposes," said Mr Dixon. &#42

Tony McDougal

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