Record keeping u-turn a ‘victory for common sense’

A controversial plan to impose new record-keeping requirements on producers with environmental stewardship agreements has been postponed by the government.

Defra and Natural England have also apologised for their handling of the situation, which sparked widespread anger within the farming community.

Natural England wrote to 11,000 scheme holders in early April demanding farmers with pre-2013 agreements kept more detailed livestock records if using grazing or livestock management options.

See also: Hill farmers outraged by Natural England record demands

The letter demanded that farmers using “livestock options” had to start to keep stocking records at a land parcel level from 1 June or there was a risk of the EU imposing fines.

But after a storm of protest about the lack of timing of the letters – they arrived in the middle of lambing – and the lack of practical detail about what was actually required, Defra and Natural England have backed down.

Farmers Weekly has seen a letter, which will start arriving with farmers on Monday (1 June), which says: “Natural England and Defra have listened carefully to farmers’ concerns and discussed them with farming industry representatives; as a result Defra has agreed to postpone introducing this new requirement until further notice.”

The letter acknowledges the poor timing of the original communication and said that it “did not explain clearly enough why the new requirement was being introduced and what you would have to do to meet it”.

The letter added: “Natural England and Defra would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this episode may have caused you.”

NFU hill farm chairman Robin Milton said the decision was a victory for common sense.

“We’re very pleased that they have listened to the concerns raised by the farming industry and recognised that implementation of the new requirements, without consultation, was not realistically possible.”

Mr Milton said the issue had not gone away completely and farmers would be required to do keep more records. “However, the process needs to be properly managed and done in consultation with the industry.”

A spokesman for Natural England agreed the organisation would need to work with the industry to find a way forward on the issue. But the aim would be to find a way to enable farmers to meet the new requirements in the most “practical and manageable” way.