Still one business

24 January 1997

Soil conservation policy on way – due to public demand

By Tony McDougal

GOVERNMENT has bowed to public pressure and announced that it is working towards setting up a national soil protection policy.

The soil strategy consultation document, to be released later this year, will look at ways of tackling soil erosion, peat extraction, the landfilling of wastes, spreading of sewage sludge on soils and soil contamination by industry.

In a response to last years 90 recommendations made in the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollutions Sustainable Use of Soil report, environment minister John Gummer admitted it was necessary to increase understanding of soil to avoid causing damage.

Among the proposals made by government is a commitment by MAFF to issue an advisory booklet later this year to complement the code of good agricultural practice for soils.

The DoE will continue pursuing action to cut nitrogen oxide emissions and is grant aiding projects by the environmental research coun-cils to convert sewage sludge into energy through anaerobic digesters. Peter Bullock, Soil Survey and Research Centre director, said he was delighted with the decision to set up a national soil strategy. But he was concerned how the government would get its message across to the farming community.

MAFF has admitted few farmers have copies or have read the codes of good agricultural practice.

Prof Bullock said he hoped staff from the privatised ADAS would provide free advice for farmers on how to stem soil erosion, which he felt had been neglected by both the Royal Commission and government.

While the Royal Commission acknowledged a problem of overstocking on Welsh uplands, Prof Bullock said it has underplayed erosion caused by intensive arable farming. "The trend towards cultivation on steep slopes and to leave land without cover over the winter is leading to the disappearance of topsoil," he said.

Royal Commissioner Lord Selborne, who owns the Blackmore Estate, Hants, argued it was wrong to blame over-stocking for soil erosion, adding that in the limited areas affected government had introduced cross-compliance measures to reduce overgrazing. &#42

Pwllpeiran OK despite ADAS change

PRIVATISATION of ADAS is not expected to disrupt the £1m a year research programme at the Welsh Offices Pwllpeiran hill research unit at Cwymystwyth, Cardiganshire.

During a Welsh Black Cattle Society visit the units director, Arthur Hacking, said he believed existing work, and new links planned with levy bodies, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, the Department of the Environment and universities should ensure a good future.

"Pwllpeirans ability to provide a wide range of research facilities has been recognised in Brussels by the funding of three objective 5b projects," said Mr Hacking.

"One of these seeks to increase the rate of genetic improvement within the Welsh Mountain breed by giving farmers in different schemes the confidence to interchange sheep.

"Another involves the development of an organic hill farming unit, which is providing technical and marketing support for farmers who wish to convert."

The biggest injection of Eurocash was being invested in an investigation of restoration and management of upland areas previously affected by production orientated agriculture and commercial afforestation. The study was also backed by the five largest land use interests in mid-Wales.

A recently approved application to the EU would provide £70,000 a year to study the impact of agri-tourism and access in environmentally sensitive areas on the rural economy and flora and fauna.

A report to be published early in 1997 would show that ESA payments ensured farming remained equally profitable when stocking and grazing management prescriptions were applied on semi-natural rough grazings.

Another would show that financial results from sheep and cattle grazed on Pwllpeirans 44ha (110-acre) organic unit compared well with conventionally farmed parts of the unit thanks to market premiums of 10%-12%. &#42

Welsh Black Cattle Society leaders visit the Pwllpeiran research unit.

Country jobs for unemployed

UNEMPLOYED youngsters could be asked to preserve wildlife habitats and improve land management in the countryside if Labour wins the next election.

Speaking to the Durham Wildlife Trust last week, Labour leader Tony Blair said the party was looking to fund the work, which would include hedge laying and drystone walling, through a windfall levy on the profits of privatised utility companies.

"Not only would our plans benefit the landscape, they would help tackle rural unemployment and help to rebuild rural communities," he added. &#42

Still one business

ADAS will remain one business after privatisation, ADAS chief executive, Phillip Needham, told a Peterborough conference.

"It will be sold as a going concern. All the bidders are bidding for the whole business. There is no question of a break-up – that was a possibility at one stage, but it is now out of the picture," said Mr Needham, who is leading one of three shortlisted potential buyers.

The organisation would also retain its core values, independence and close contact with government, he said. &#42

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