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Rural Areas: Planning

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which measures outlined in Articles 20 to 65, Title IV of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1698/2005 on support for rural developments by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development have been adopted as measures within the Rural Development Programme for England 2007 to 2013; for what reasons those measures not included in the Programme were omitted; and if he will make a statement. (253685)

All of the measures outlined in Articles 20 to 65, Title IV of the Council Regulation (EC) No. 1698/2005 on support for rural developments by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development which are applicable in the UK have been adopted as measures within the Rural Development Programme for England 2007 to 2013, with the exception of those listed in the following table. This table provides an explanation for why they have not been adopted. These omissions were agreed following full public consultation and discussion with affected parties.

Measure

Explanation

Article 20 (a) (ii) setting up young farmers. actions

In 2004, ADAS reported to DEFRA on entry to and exit from farming. In 2000, 5.2 per cent. of ‘agricultural’ holders were under 35 years old compared to 7.4 per cent. in 1990. Between 1999 and 2004, the entry rate was 2 per cent. of farming population and the exit rate 18 per cent., mainly because of a decline in the total number of farmers and farm businesses. The report identified no evidence of major barriers to entry that justified policy intervention and no evidence of significant market failure in the processes of entry to and exit from farming. The research found that entry and exit decisions are rational and driven by strong market forces and personal motivations and that financial inducement to affect the rate of entry or exit would be expensive and ineffectual. Any use of financial incentives to facilitate entry to and exit from farming risks “deadweight” i.e. that many would enter farming in any case—the majority of those entering farming do so through the family farm. The most common reason given for the low rate of entry to farming was the expectation of relatively low incomes. This cannot be addressed through a start up grant as envisaged in the Rural Development Regulation but rather by developing a competitive, viable and sustainable farming sector. DEFRA is supporting the industry-led initiative ‘Fresh Start’ which encourages new entrants into farming whilst at the same time stimulating existing farmers to think how they will respond to CAP reform, such as expanding their business, diversifying or even retiring. Such choices create opportunities for new entrants.

Article 20 (a) (iii) early retirement of farmers and farm workers

As above.

Article 20 (b) (vi) restoring agricultural production potential damaged by natural disasters and introducing appropriate prevention

In England, the principal risk to agricultural production potential from natural disasters is through flooding.

Determining the exact nature of support required in the event of large-scale flooding is impracticable now. We would prefer to apply for an ‘emergency’ modification to the Programme to activate this measure if and when a catastrophe occurs and if it is considered that Programme funds are the best way of providing support to those affected. This will enable support offered to be closely matched to the needs arising from that particular disaster.

Article 20 (c) (i) helping farmers to adapt to demanding standards based on Community legislation

This measure would not add value in the England context, because farmers are expected to observe community standards as a condition of receiving direct payments under Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy i.e. the Single Payment Scheme.

Article 20 (c) (ii) supporting farmers who participate in food quality schemes

Farmers who participate in food quality schemes generally do so either with a view to obtaining a price premium (in which case their participation is rewarded through the market) or because they need to do so in order to sell to a specific market (which is often the case with baseline assurance schemes). This is demonstrated by the fact that in England and the UK there is already a high level of membership of assurance schemes. Given this there would be relatively little public benefit (additionality) in adopting this measure in England.

Article 20 (c) (iii) supporting producer groups for information and promotion activities for products under food quality schemes

As above.

Article 36 (a) (i) natural handicap payments to farmers in mountain areas

There are no areas in England that qualify for this measure.

Article 36 (a) (iii) Natura 2000 payments and payments linked to Directive 2000/60/EC (the Water Framework Directive)

It is not proposed to provide compensation to farmers for costs incurred and income foregone resulting from restrictions on the use of land under Natura 2000 or under Directive 2000/60/EC. Such compensation fails to deliver added value because such restrictions arise from a clearly defined legal obligation. Instead, the need to comply with these restrictions is built into the cross-compliance conditions that apply to all receiving Single Payment Scheme payments and/or Rural Development Programme funding.

It is proposed to use the agri-environment measure, delivered through Environmental Stewardship, to help farmers in England meet the cost of any positive management needed to restore Natura 2000 sites to, or maintain them in, favourable condition. This course of action is justified for the following reasons:

The requirement in the Habitats Directive to maintain the Natura 2000 network in favourable conservation status is delivered in England by including Natura 2000 sites in the network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The domestic legislation governing SSSIs (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as substituted by Schedule 9 of Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) requires their managers to abide by standards and procedures aimed at avoiding damage and ensuring prior notification of major changes in land management. However, the same legislation requires a voluntary approach to be taken to ensuring the positive management of these sites wherever possible. The voluntary approach has been taken because of the difficulty of imposing complex positive management, which arises because the co-operation of the land manager is extremely important to the success of such management. Reserve powers to require specific positive management are available, but are very seldom used. In the over whelming majority of cases, land managers agree to undertake the necessary positive management on a voluntary basis.

Under the SSSI system, land managers are provided with information on the positive management needed to ensure that their sites are restored to or maintained in favourable condition. The nature and intensity of this management varies considerably between and even within individual sites. For this reason a flat rate payment per hectare is not appropriate.

Evidence that no compensation is offered to land managers for the designation of their land as part of the Natura 2000 network comes from the structure of Environmental Stewardship, the delivery mechanism for the agri-environment measure in England. While Natura 2000 sites may well be among the areas targeted by the scheme, it makes no distinction in terms of the options and payment rates between land that is designated as Natura 2000 and land that is not.

It is also worth noting that under this UK legislation SSSIs that are part of the Natura 2000 network are treated in exactly the same way as those that are not. Land within a Natura 2000 site is not therefore subject to any additional land management restrictions compared to non-Natura 2000 land that is designated as SSSI. There are additional safeguards in relation to development proposals, but these are outside the scope of Article 38 of the Council Regulation.

Therefore, through a combination of legislative requirements and payments for positive management using the agri-environment Measure, all the requirements for Natura 2000 sites are met without the need for compensation payments.

Article 36 (a) (v) animal welfare payments

Animal welfare in England is regularly monitored and often exceeds standards. For example, State Veterinary Service inspections carried out in 2005 demonstrated that for randomly inspected farms (programmed and elective visits) nearly 80 per cent. comply with both legislation and voluntary codes of practice. As the European Commission noted in 2002, “research has shown that both farm animal welfare and product quality improves when the people who care for, transport and handle the animals are well-trained, have a positive attitude towards their jobs and the animals, treat the animals with care, and are attentive to their needs. It is therefore important to educate and inform these professionals”. It is felt that this strikes the right note and properly records the importance of extending good animal health and welfare beyond the farm gate. Ongoing payments for animal welfare (normally for between five and seven years under the Regulation) would not be the most effective way of delivering animal health and welfare outcomes in England, and in particular would represent a significant diversion of funds away from other priorities. However, it will be possible to obtain support for knowledge transfer based training and skills in relation to animal health and welfare under other parts of the programme.

Article 36 (b) (ii) First establishment of agro-forestry systems on agricultural land

The Government recognise the value of agro-forestry systems, especially in traditional parkland. Small scale planting and maintenance of trees within parkland will be included as eligible activities under agri-environment payments. At present we do not perceive a need to support the creation of new parkland on a large scale, but it is possible that during the course of the programming period we will wish to revisit our decision not to use this particular measure. However, given the limited funds likely to be available for Axis 2 forestry measures in England, for the moment we wish to concentrate such support on the targeted creation of new woodland and the improved maintenance of existing woodland.

Article 36 (b) (iv) Natura 2000 payments

It is not proposed to provide compensation to farmers or foresters for costs incurred and income foregone resulting from restrictions on the use of land under Natura 2000. Such compensation fails to deliver added value because such restrictions arise from a clearly defined legal obligation.

It is proposed to use the Forest Environment Measure delivered through the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS), to help forest holders in England meet the cost of any positive management needed to restore Natura 2000 sites to, or maintain them in, favourable condition. This course of action is justified for the following reasons:

The requirements in the Habitats Directive to maintain the Natura 2000 network in favourable conservation status is delivered in England by including Natura 2000 sites in the network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The domestic legislation governing SSSIs (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as substituted by Schedule 9 of Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) requires their managers to abide by standards and procedures aimed at avoiding damage and ensuring prior notification of major changes in land management. However, the same legislation requires a voluntary approach to be taken to ensuring the positive management of these sites wherever possible. The voluntary approach has been taken because of the difficulty of imposing complex positive management, which arises because the co-operation of the land manager is extremely important to the success of such management. Reserve powers to require specific positive management are available, but are very seldom used. In the overwhelming majority of cases, land managers agree to undertake the necessary positive management on a voluntary basis, so compensation is not appropriate.

It is also worth noting that under this UK legislation SSSIs that are part of the Natura 2000 network are treated in exactly the same way as those that are not. Land within a Natura 2000 site is not therefore subject to any additional land management restrictions compared to non-Natura 2000 land that is designated as SSSI. There are additional safeguards in relation to development proposals, but these are outside the scope of Article 38 of the Council Regulation.

Under the SSSI system, woodland managers are provided with information on the positive management needed to ensure that their sites are restored to or maintained in favourable condition. The nature and intensity of this management varies considerably between and even within individual sites. For this reason a flat rate payment per hectare is not appropriate.

Evidence that no compensation is offered to land managers for the designation of their land as part of the Natura 2000 network comes from the structure of the England Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS), the delivery mechanism for the forest-environment measure in England. While Natura 2000 sites may well be among the areas targeted by the scheme, it does not prevent payments for woodland that is not designated.

Article 36 (b) (vi) restoring forestry potential and introducing prevention actions

This measure is primarily intended to provide support for forests and wooded areas damaged by fire. Under the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), all areas of England are classed as low or very low fire risk, in all seasons. In addition, the largest woodlands in England that are at greatest risk are publicly owned. However, the measure does refer to other natural disasters and while we do not immediately feel a need to implement this measure we recognise that we may need to do so if a natural disaster occurs. The most likely examples are catastrophic storm damage, devastating drought or the threat of a disease or pest epidemic. Determining the exact nature of support required in such circumstances is impracticable now. It is preferable that an application for an ‘emergency’ modification to the Programme to activate this measure will be made if and when a catastrophe occurs. This will enable support offered to be closely matched to the needs arising from that particular disaster.