Grant aid boosts 'green' farming

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The Independent Online
FARMERS taking part in government-funded experiments to promote environmentally friendly land management are receiving a 'generous' boost to their incomes, according to a report published yesterday, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

Payments to farmers in environmentally sensitive areas are proving more than enough to offset the loss in income resulting from less intensive agriculture, the report, produced by a team from Wye College, London University, and funded by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Ministry of Agriculture, says.

Surveys of farmers taking part in environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs) and farm woodland schemes show a 'greening' of attitudes, it says. Nicholas Woolley, of the RICS, said farmers were apprehensive initially, but realised they were achieving things. 'They are not interfering with the commercial viability of the farm. They are making it more beautiful. They become proud of it.'

Studies in West Penwith in Cornwall, the Somerset Levels, Norfolk Broads and South Downs showed that 7 per cent to 10 per cent of farmers had 'much more' interest in the environment since the ESA was designated and 27 per cent to 48 per cent 'a little more'. Paul Hill, one of the report's authors, attributed this to the advice they were receiving.

Of farmers receiving grants for farm woodlands, 83 per cent want to enhance the landscape and 70 per cent want to creat new wildlife habitats. Third in the list is timber production (51 per cent).

'Contrary to public perception many farmers are still countrymen at heart and regret the passing of traditional ways,' the report says.

Loss of income from farming in the four ESAs ranges from pounds 8 per hectare on the Somerset Levels to pounds 13 in West Penwith, pounds 30 on the Broads and pounds 139 on the South Downs. However, government grants mean that farmers ultimately received extra income of between pounds 21 and pounds 170 per hectare, or pounds 1,250 to pounds 1,500 per holding.

The net cost to taxpayers, after European grants and savings on food subsidies, ranges from pounds 51 to pounds 127 a hectare.

The Cost of Car, RICS; pounds 4.95.