HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 c476
10. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what environmental gains can be made from set-aside land.

Mr. Waldegrave

Sympathetic management of set-aside land helps wildlife to flourish. Recent Royal Society for the Protection of Birds research has shown this in relation to specific species such as skylark and linnet. In winter, there are on average 15 times as many birds feeding on set-aside fields as on neighbouring conventional cereal fields.

Mr. Nicholson

Given the valid point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), does my right hon. Friend agree that, while set-aside is perhaps not the ideal way to cut agricultural production, we should nevertheless make the most of the opportunities that it presents? Will my right hon. Friend inform the House what progress he has made in the European Commission to allow land that is set aside for forestry and other schemes to count against set-aside requirements?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend: we did not support the introduction of set-aside and we would prefer the burden to be taken by cuts in prices. However, while we have it we must use it properly. I prompted the Commission to bring forward the long-promised report to the Council on exactly the points that my hon. Friend has made. The report is now before the Special Committee for Agriculture, which will then bring it back to the Council. I hope for agreement at the next Council meeting, or the one after that.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister agree that the English hedgerow is a very important and much-appreciated feature of the countryside? What incentive does the farmer who sets aside his land have to tend and nurture the hedgerow in order to maintain it as a feature, rather than to neglect it and allow it to become a straggling line of disconnected trees?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman will know that proposals about particularly important hedgerows are currently before the House in the Environment Bill. I do not think that many farmers neglect hedgerows nowadays in the way that the hon. Gentleman has described and we welcome the new planting and the replanting of hedgerows that is going on.