Back to the Newsletter Contents and Home page

Managing the Countryside

by Tom Denney

Our recent talk on Moorland Gamekeeping provoked some discussion on how management or control can adversely affect high profile species like the Hen Harrier. Recently the shoot related issues of moorland burning and pheasant releases have been raised by the North York Moors Association and the National Park respectively, again in terms of their impact on nature. Everywhere we look in the countryside we can see how man has interfered with the natural world over the years, and this process is inevitably continuing. Perhaps we as a Natural History Society should be more active in researching and putting over our views on the affects of sport on the countryside, but as this is such a big and contentious issue, perhaps we should leave our consolidated views to another year.

However there is another significant matter affecting the countryside that has already been decided, and which should be of great interest to us – this is the changes that are being introduced from 2005 in the way that farming is to be subsidised.

In DEFRA speak the situation is stated as:

“Implementing last year’s reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy is central to England’s Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food. Farmers will have greater freedom to farm to the demand of the market as subsidies will be decoupled from production. At the same time, all claimants will have to meet a new baseline standard for agriculture and will be contributing to a higher degree of environmental protection. The existing ten main subsidies will be replaced by one new scheme, the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), which is being phased in over the next ten years. To qualify for SPS farmers will be required to demonstrate that they are keeping the land in good agricultural and environmental condition, and are complying with a number of specified legal requirements relating to the environment, public and plant health, animal health and welfare, and livestock identification and tracing (all referred to as cross compliance)”.

In layman’s language this means that subsidies will now be paid by the hectare and not against production, i.e. farming can be less intensive, and farmers will have to meet certain good farming practices to qualify for the subsidy. I think it is fair to say that most farmers do not like these changes, probably because in the long term it will decrease payments plus introduce more control and red tape, but for us naturalists it should be good news.

(For those wishing to have more detail on the above, there are a number of DEFRA publications available, with the SPS book Guidance for the Management of Habitats and Landscape features probably being the most relevant.)

So SPS is the basic subsidy scheme, but what of Stewardships and other similar government support? Current Schemes will be allowed to run their course, but are to be replaced in future by three stewardship schemes, an Entry Level Scheme (ELS), an Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS), and a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). These three schemes are separate from SPS, and make payments as before in return for carrying out environmentally beneficial land management.

In summary the HLS scheme basically replaces current Stewardship Schemes, but the ELS scheme will be promoted to a much broader range of farmers who will be rewarded by committing to sympathetically managing such items walls, hedges, banksides, woodland edges, soils, and other landscape features. Once again this should be good news for naturalists, but the results will be slow to see, and even if farming is to change we will never be able to return to old fashioned non-intensive agriculture which was so accommodating to our wildlife.

Back to the Newsletter Contents and Home page