To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many landowners have entered the agricultural set-aside scheme; and how many are receiving additional payments under the countryside premium scheme.
Almost 3,100 farmers in the United Kingdom have entered the set-aside scheme. Of these, 115 have been accepted into the premium scheme run by the Countryside Commission in the seven eastern counties of England.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to which areas he has considered extending the countryside premium scheme beyond the existing pilot area in the east of England to other parts of the United Kingdom.
I have been asked to reply. The countryside premium scheme was launched by the Countryside Commission in June 1989 and initially covers seven counties in eastern England. Arrangements are in hand for monitoring the effectiveness of the scheme. It is too early yet to consider extending the scheme to other areas in England. Decisions on application of the scheme in other areas of the United Kingdom rest with the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what provisions exist to help ensure that land entered into the set-aside scheme, but not attracting countryside premium payments, is managed to a satisfactory standard of husbandry.
On land set aside to fallow under the scheme, a green cover crop must be established and maintained throughout the set-aside period, and must be cut at least once a year. Though there is a general prohibition on the use of pesticides, certain herbicides may be used with the permission of Agriculture Departments to cope with difficult weeds. The use of fertilisers is not permitted except in specific circumstances, and the land may not be used as a dumping ground for any kind of organic or inorganic material. We are considering in the light of the operation of the scheme so far whether the management requirements are adequate.