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Halvergate Marshes

Volume 82: debated on Wednesday 10 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made by the Government to save the Halvergate marshes.

One hundred and eighteen applications have been received under the Broads experimental scheme, covering nearly 95 per cent. of the estimated total eligible grazing marshes. The scheme will run for three years and all the applicants have agreed not to plough or destroy their marshland and to manage it in sympathy with conservation objectives. In return, they will receive an annual payment of £50 per acre. This take-up is very encouraging and should do much to ensure that this landscape is preserved.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I am very pleased that the Halvergate scheme is proceeding so well. At the same time, I urge him to continue to seek a balance between agriculture and conservation, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Halvergate marshes.

This experimental scheme is an outstanding example of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Countryside Commission. It may provide useful lessons for the development by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, of his environmentally sensitive areas scheme.

Is not £50 an acre quite a lot of money to pay people for not doing what they ought not to have done anyway? Is this not an argument for the listing of sites of special scientific interest, just as buildings are listed?

The problem in the Halvergate area is that there are very few SSSIs. We are involved there with general landscape matters. The interesting point is that the £50 per acre scheme is cheaper than the management agreements for which payments were being made, so it can be argued that the scheme is good value for money.

Has my hon. Friend calculated by how much it would be necessary to reduce cereal prices to remove the financial inducement to plough areas such as the marshes?

That would be a difficult calculation to make. The cereal problem is not the only factor. Pressure from the dairy industry meant that there were fewer dairy followers to go to grazing in the Broads, which meant that there was a further incentive to plough. It is a little more complicated than my hon. Friend believes.

Will the Minister pursue the request of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), because the figures would be interesting? Further to the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), who is PPS to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will he give the House a categorical assurance that no farmers in Halvergate are applying for grants to drain parts of that wetland?

On the fundamental point, there is no disagreement between us. The Government have been among the leaders of those seeking more realistic cereal prices in the European Community. It would be rash of me to assure the hon. Gentleman — as I once assured the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) — that no field in this area will ever be ploughed. However, we hope that the great majority of the area is now safe.