Army all set to examine farmland training

ACRES of farmland taken out of use under the European Union's 'set aside' scheme may be used for Army training, under plans now before the Ministry of Defence.

The prospect of troops popping up on disused farmland may upset the environmental fraternity, who have welcomed the creation of wildlife habitat on set-aside land.

MoD officials disclosed that they have been in talks with the Ministry of Agriculture about the use of land that has been set aside to cut food surpluses.

Some of the set-aside farmland is owned by the MoD and leased to farmers in Salisbury Plain, where the Army has traditionally trained its forces. However, the need to find more land in Britain has been increased by the gradual withdrawal of troops from Germany.

The officials told members of the Commons Select Committee on Defence that the MoD plan would not provide a windfall for the farmers. 'The farmer, because he is in receipt of EU compensatory grants, should have no pecuniary gain,' said one official.

The farmer would have to return the set-aside land to 'green cover' as soon as possible after the training took place. The farmer would do the work, but the MoD would reimburse him.

Jeremy Hanley, Minister for the Armed Forces, confirmed in a written reply to Nicholas Winterton, Tory MP for Macclesfield, that the Rio declaration signed at the Earth Summit by John Major committed Britain to protecting the environment in time of armed conflict.

Mr Winterton, chairman of the Manufacturing and Construction Industries' Alliance, is campaigning against the impact of the Rio declaration on businesses. 'The idea that wars have got to be environmentally-friendly shows has ludicrous the declaration is,' said an aide.

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