National farmer-led group faces collapse

A NATIONAL organisation which promotes environmentally responsible farming is facing collapse after “exceedingly difficult” trading conditions in the first part of the year.

The five-strong staff at the Suffolk office at the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) was among those left reeling when they learnt last week that they would not be getting paid after the national body got into financial difficulties.

The national chair of trustees Henry Lucas wrote to colleagues and county chairmen this week to tell them he expected FWAG to go into administration “in the coming days”. The farmer-led body, which has 29 regional offices across the UK with a headquarters in Stoneleigh, had faced “severe disruption” to funding following the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, he said. Changes in the way Government and European Union funds were delivered, and the need to bid for many of them, had put it under “severe strain”, he added.

“Following several months of discussions with a range of potential partners and funders, with a view to re-structuring the group, last Tuesday, our credit facility was withdrawn at short notice rendering us unable to meet payroll requirements,” said Mr Lucas.

But the Suffolk group, including its five-strong staff, past chairmen and FWAG regional business development manager Caroline Blew, along with some Norfolk representatives will be holding a crunch meeting today (Wednesday) at Wickham Market with the aim of agreeing a plan which would see the work of the group continue at regional, or possibly county, level.

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Suffolk chairman Glenn Buckingham said they were “very confident” they could go forward in “some form or another”, pointing out that despite the national situation, the Suffolk office and its other East Anglian counterparts had performed strongly and continued to do well.

“We are disappointed obviously with the national situation,” he said.

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But he said they had spoken to clients and suppliers of the Suffolk organisation and were confident they could continue to provide them with a service.

Mrs Blew said staff had not been paid for a month and learnt the news when they opened their emails on Friday. Some staff felt “incredibly angry” at the situation, she said.

But they still had strong support in the region, and their plan was to set up an independent regional group. Suffolk has 440 farmer members, Norfolk about 350, Essex about 250 and the Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire office about 250, she said.

“Obviously, it’s early days as yet,” she said. “It’s a bit of a state of flux at the moment but we have a plan and an aim and it’s how we get to that state as soon as possible.”

FWAG, which is registered as a charity and a limited company, was established in 1969 by a group of farmers who were concerned about the dramatic loss of habitat and wildlife as a result of the increasing intensification of farming methods.

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