Letter: Subsidies kill rural jobs

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The Independent Online
Sir: The introduction of set-aside did indeed supply a much-needed lifeline for wildlife ("Cereals gain as wildlife loses", 12 August). For birds in particular, set-aside provided winter stubble to feed on and nesting cover in the spring. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes that the reduction of the area of set-aside for the 96/97 season to just 5 per cent is a serious worry because we expect it to cause the present declines in farmland birds to continue - the skylark population has plummeted by 58 per cent in the last 25 years.

Arable farmers are currently receiving vast amounts of money in subsidies with only 7 per cent being paid to farmers to manage the land for conservation. It is regrettable that during the life of set-aside few steps have been taken to ensure that its environmental benefits are retained for the long term. It is crucial that such action is taken now.

The Ministry of Agriculture has recently consulted with conservation organisations and farming representatives on this subject and has asked members of an arable working group to develop ideas for an incentive scheme. It will be vital that these ideas are developed by the Government, with the minimum of delay, into a workable scheme that is adequately funded and will meet conservation objectives on commercial farms.

GRAHAM WYNNE

Director of Conservation, RSPB

Sandy, Bedfordshire

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