Farmers to be paid for protecting countryside

A A A

Once they were strictly food producers. But from today England's farmers are officially something more: guardians of the countryside.

Once they were strictly food producers. But from today England's farmers are officially something more: guardians of the countryside.

Their new role was signalled yesterday by the Government in the biggest shift in the way in which agriculture is funded for more than 30 years. In future all farmers will be eligible for annual payments for environmental protection and enhance- ment work on their land.

They will be able to add thousands of pounds to their income, from a range of work that includes looking after hedgerows to providing habitat for birds and small mammals, creating wildflower plots for bees and other beneficial insects, or protecting ponds from pesticides and fertilisers, to encouraging wildlife such as frogs and newts.

Although there have been two sets of environmentally friendly farming schemes in the past, only about 12 per cent of English farmers have taken part, because the schemes were highly restricted, either to specific geographical areas or to a limited budget.

The point about the new scheme, called Environmental Stewardship and launched yesterday by the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, is that it is open to every farmer, and every farmer will be encouraged to take part.

It marks the climax of an enormous shift in the way in which agriculture has long been funded under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the past, farmers' subsidies were directly linked to production - the more wheat and beef they produced, the more they earned. But this system led both to wasteful over-production and immense damage to the natural environment. Britain has lost about 40 per cent of its farmland birds because of intensive farming in the past three decades, thousands of miles of hedges and much wildlife-rich landscape.

Two years ago, EU member states reformed the CAP and agreed to break the link between production and subsidy; now farmers are paid a single payment based merely on the area they farm, not on how much livestock they have or how much cereal they harvest.

To get this they have to observe a certain number of minimum environmental standards. But now they can top up their income substantially with further Environmental Stewardship payments.

The scheme was welcomed by the National Farmers' Union, which strongly urged its members to take part. "Environmental stewardship is at the core of our businesses," said the union's deputy president, Peter Kendall. "We hope the system will help maintain and deliver the kind of British countryside the public demands."

The scheme is a key component of the Government's strategy for sustainable farming and food. It was recommended two years ago by the commission set up under Sir Don Curry to look at the future of farming after the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

Sir Don said yesterday that it represented "a fundamental step in farmers committing themselves to sound environmental management".

Mrs Beckett said the launch marked "a real red-letter day for English farming".

BRINGING BACK WILDLIFE

Adbury farm near Burghclere in Berkshire is in beautiful countryside, within sight of Watership Down, where Richard Adams' rabbit heroes played out their epic - in fact, in the novel the rabbits crossed the farm to get to the Down - and it is appropriately rich in wildlife, with no fewer than four species of deer.

The farm manager, Peter Clarke, is already in a wildlife-friendly farming scheme under which he leaves stubbles unploughed to encourage ground-nesting birds, has unploughed margins around his cereal fields and plants seed-bearing crops for insects and birds. Lapwings are breeding on the farm and there is a healthy population of skylarks.

Under the new scheme he could plant more pollen- and nectar-rich plants to encourage butterflies and bees, and sow other areas with plants bearing seeds for wild birds. His ambition is to attract grey partridges back to breed on the farm, which may take five years. He is also considering environmentally-friendly management of woodland edges and ditches - which means not trimming them or clearing them out so frequently.

The annual payments for which the 1,100-acre estate will be eligible under the scheme could amount to nearly £9,000.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn