CPRE says Campaign for the Farmed Environment is falling short of expectations

C0UNTRYSIDE campaigners say a farmer-led drive to improve the rural environment is failing on one of its key aims.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says a survey on the Campaign for the Farmed Environment shows it “continues to fall short of expectations” as studies suggest a “hard core” of farmers are still failing to co-operative with it.

“Crucially, it is failing to achieve one of its core purposes – retaining and increasing the area of uncropped land to maintain the environmental benefits of the now abolished set-aside scheme. And the task of providing these benefits is not being met by all farmers,” it claimed.

According to the latest Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report, the proportion of farmers who said they had left cultivable land out of production (excluding land within agri-environment agreements) fell to 37% in the 2011/12 crop year from 43% in 2010/11. The total area of this land in the current crop year has fallen to approximately 82,000 hectares from 130,000 hectares in 2010/11.

The Government is due to decide on the future of the campaign later this year following a review.

The CPRE described the findings in the survey as “disappointing”.

Ian Woodhurst, CPRE’s farming campaigner said, “Given these disappointing findings it’s important that the Government conducts a thorough review. We believe it’s important that farmers are clear about what’s expected of them and that they all need to contribute towards making farming practices more environmentally sustainable.”

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The CPRE is now calling for the review of the campaign to address three key areas of concern, including about how it can ensure all farmers help improve the environmental quality of England’s farmed environment.

“While many farmers are doing good things through the CFE, they continue to be let down by others who appear unwilling or reluctant to play their part,” it said.

It also wants a “rigorous” appraisal of whether the voluntary approach of the scheme has provided better value for money than a mandatory requirement for all farmers, taking into account all the costs expended by the organisations involved.

It is wants to know how it will work alongside proposed reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which aim to make the CAP deliver more for the environment.

The CPRE does acknowledge that the voluntary approach of the campaign has helped government agencies, farming and wildlife organisations work more closely with farmers to introduce vital green farming measures in some areas.

But it says it remains sceptical about whether a voluntary approach will ultimately be as effective as a requirement for all farmers to put a small percentage of their land into environmental measures.

“DEFRA has put around �1.5m of public money into the CFE and it has to rely on Government agencies and farming and wildlife organisations to persuade farmers to pitch in, and publicly funded green farming schemes to deliver its aims,” it said.

“The partner organisations involved have contributed enormous amounts of time, money and effort to try to make the CFE work. Yet surveys suggest a hard core of farmers are still unwilling to participate.”

Ian Woodhurst added: “It’s likely that forthcoming reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy will introduce further environmental requirements for farmers so the CAP delivers more public benefits. The reforms provide an opportunity to introduce measures that recognise the work of those farmers who are doing their bit for the environment, and to prevent others from doing very little or nothing at all.”