HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc411-2
4. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the take-up of the environmentally sensitive area scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jack

There has been a good response and more than 4,500 agreements have been signed.

Mr. Whittingdale

I welcome the success of the ESA scheme nationally—I understand that it now covers 10 per cent. of all land in England—but is my hon. Friend aware that, in the Essex coast ESA, which covers my constituency, farmers are unlikely to take up the scheme in large numbers to cover arable land as the payments available are so much lower than those for land put into set-aside?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. However, I must remind him that the objective of the Essex coast ESA is effectively to preserve the coastal marsh grazing areas from the River Stour to Canvey island. That is the principal objective and to the extent that such land is the principal objective, it is not in competition for payments from the arable area payment scheme. In terms of reversion from arable land to pasture, I can tell my hon. Friend that we have already achieved 23 per cent. of our target of 1,000 hectares for reversion.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

The Minister may be interested to hear that I visited such a scheme in my constituency—the Tir Cymen scheme—during the summer. It is very successful in upland areas in my constituency in sustaining the income of small farmers and in providing work in a rural area. Why is it that within agricultural support generally, only 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of the agriculture budget is involved in environmental schemes?

Mr. Jack

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's commendation of the support that we are giving through environmentally sensitive areas to the role of preserving the important environmental features in the countryside. In talking about numbers, the hon. Gentleman perhaps omits to mention the fact that we hope that, by 1996, with the full range of environmental schemes—not only environmentally sensitive areas but countryside access, organic farming, marsh moorland and the whole range of other schemes—we will be spending around £100 million. That, by any standard of imagination, is a very large sum indeed.

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