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Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Volume 164: debated on Thursday 11 January 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions there have been on the issue of access as part of the conditions for farmers receiving grants for designated evironmentally sensitive areas.

The payments are designed specifically to encourage environmentally beneficial agricultural practices and are not conditional upon permitting increased public access.

Does the Minister accept that the payments have been a fairly successful initiative? Will he also accept that there has been considerable disappointment among those who like to enjoy the countryside that they have not had better access to it and that there is now growing alarm from farmers in the areas because the Government have refused to increase the payments in line with inflation? Could not the Minister solve both those problems by putting up the payments in line with inflation on the basis of agreeing that there should be better access for those who want to go to the countryside to enjoy peace, quiet and fresh air?

The hon. Gentleman, whose interest in these matters is well known and respected, will accept that there is a problem in trying to balance the various interests in the countryside—even, for example, the difference between those who want additional access and those who are seeking primarily the conservation of flora and fauna. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to mix the two aspects.

On payments for environmentally sensitive areas, we have found that farmers are prepared to do that job at the price that we have offered, and we believe that they will continue to do so. We will, of course, keep the payments under review, as we promised.

When my right hon. Friend considers the conservation of the countryside will he bear in mind those people who, for generations, have been concerned about the countryside, such as farmers, sportsmen and others who live in it?

It seems a pity the some people still believe that there is a conflict between farming and conservation. Farmers have conserved the countryside throughout its history—in fact, in large measure, they have created the countryside. Farmers are the front line in conservation. I will not allow people to believe that they should be attacked for the job that they do.