Farmers put bureaucracy on the map: European Community paperwork has created queues and irritation. Will Bennett reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT TOOK Reg Loveys, a farmer, five hours to get to the front of the queue at the map shop in Exeter yesterday. He would have been happier at home looking after cows about to calve.

But like all the other farmers waiting their turn, Mr Loveys had to take the day off work to buy copies of two Ordnance Survey maps showing his 115-acre farm at Whitestone, near Exeter, Devon.

The price of the maps was pounds 37 but the day lost buying them and the hours it will take to complete the bureaucratic obstacle course of which they are part will cost him much more than that.

Farmers are traditionally not averse to a good moan but the European Community's Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS), the cause of the queue in Exeter, has made them unhappier than ever. The IACS is the result of last year's reform of the EC's Common Agricultural Policy which introduced direct subsidies for farmers. Officials in Brussels decided that they needed more detail to avoid fraudulent claims.

At the beginning of this month a large package of forms was delivered to 240,000 farmers in England and Wales accompanied by a 79- page explanation booklet from the British government. The whole exercise will cost pounds 25m.

Having read the booklet, the farmers have to fill in an eight-page form stating exactly where their land is and what it is used for. Areas occupied by ponds, dry-stone walls and hedges have to be deducted as these are not eligible for subsidies.

Next, they have to complete a field data sheet giving precise measurements of all relevant fields, and finally they must enclose copies of Ordnance Survey maps of their land. Buildings, ditches and even rows of trees must be marked on these if not already included.

It is the last requirement which has led to the busiest period ever for 39 Ordnance Survey agents in Britain, including Eland's in Exeter. The deadline for completing the forms is 15 May.

Mary Seward, who farms 33 acres on three parcels of land at Trusham, near Exeter, had discovered that she would have to buy 10 maps costing pounds 185, most of them showing tiny areas of her farm. 'It'll cost me another pounds 200 if a calf dies while I am away and there is no way of knowing how much money I'm going to get in subsidies.'

However, each farmer in the EC will have to fill in the forms and 1 per cent of the subsidy will be forfeited for every day they are late. Penalties for inaccurate information can further reduce the amount.

It has been described as the biggest survey since the Domesday Book. Ironically, a few hundred yards away from yesterday's queue a copy of the Exon Domesday lies in Exeter Cathedral. Saxon farmers would have sympathised.

(Photograph omitted)