HC Deb 26 March 1993 vol 221 cc729-30W
Mr. Moss

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are his plans for implementing the EC agri-environment regulation 2078/92; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

I am today issuing for public consultation a major package of six new proposals for implementing the agri-environment regulation in England. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are carrying out parallel consultations on their proposals.

The agri-environment regulation was agreed as part of last year's reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and commits all member states to offering incentives to farmers to farm in environmentally beneficial ways going beyond normal good argicultural practice. This develops and extends the principle of environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs) which we pioneered in the United Kingdom. It is an important step in bringing environmental considerations to the heart of the CAP.

ESAs help farmers to conserve and enhance special habitats, landscapes and features of historic interest. They have been widely acclaimed by both farmers and environmentalists. The package being issued today includes proposals for a new incentive to build on the success of the ESA scheme by opening particularly suitable ESA farmland for new public access to create greater opportunities for public enjoyment of some of our most beautiful countryside.

Secondly, I am now issuing proposals on the boundaries, aims and operation of six new environmentally sensitive areas in the Blackdown hills, the Cotswold hills, Dartmoor, the Essex coast, the Shropshire hills and the upper Thames tributaries. The areas proposed will add some 319,000 hectares to the 832,000 hectares already covered by ESAs in England and annual expenditure on the scheme is now set to rise to £43 million by 1995–96.

Thirdly, I am proposing a new moorland scheme to encourage a targeted reduction in the number of livestock grazing moorland outside ESAs where this can result in improvements in heather, other semi-natural vegetation and associated wildlife habitats of moorland.

Fourthly, I am proposing a new meadowland scheme to encourage the creation of new public access opportunities on particularly suitable set-aside land. At the same time, I am issuing comprehensive proposals for the management of rotational and non-rotational set-aside land from the 1993–94 crop year, in ways which would exploit the considerable potential for environmental gains from set-aside. The options proposed, subject to EC rules, include wildlife corridors along field margins and watersides, woodland planting and wild bird cover, as well as more specialist options aimed at particular species such as migratory geese, otters and rare ground nesting birds.

Fifthly, I am proposing a new habitat improvement scheme to encourage the creation or improvement of a range of valuable wildlife habitats such as coastal saltmarsh and water-fringes along particularly vulnerable watercourses, through the removal of carefully selected areas of land from agricultural production for 20 years.

Sixthly, I am making proposals for a new organic aid scheme to encourage organic farming, both to benefit the environment and to encourage a type of food production for which there is a clear consumer demand.

Proposals for new measures to help protect groundwater catchments affected by high nitrate levels will also be issued for public consultation shortly.

In addition to the increased expenditure on ESAs, a further £19 million per annum will be spent on the other measures by 1995–96. The proposals complement the range of environmental incentives already available to farmers and reflect the Government's continuing commitment to caring for the countryside and to integrating environmental objectives into agricultural policy. I am making copies of the consultation documents available in the Library of the House.

Detailed arrangements for the new schemes will be finalised this summer after the results of the consultation have been analysed, and individual schemes will open for applications towards the end of this year or in 1994.

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