Voluntary solution to set-aside approved

FARMING organisations have welcomed a Government decision to back the industry-led Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) as the best option for retaining the environmental benefits of set-aside.

FARMING organisations have welcomed a Government decision to back the industry-led Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) as the best option for retaining the environmental benefits of set-aside.

Although originally introduced by the European Union as a measure to limit production, the set-aside policy resulted in substantial benefits for wildlife and its abolition as part of EU agriculture reforms promoted concerns among environmental and conservation groups.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn challenged the industry to come up with a convincing alternative to cross-compliance, which would have linked measures to mitigate the loss of set-aside land to farmers EU support payments.

The CFE, which involves organisations including the National Farmers' Union, the Country Land & Business Association, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and Linking Farming and Environment (LEAF), was set up in response to challenge.


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And at the Royal Show yesterday, it was announced that Defra will back the CFE's strategy of working voluntarily with environmental groups and Government agencies across England to deliver the objectives.

The CFE, which also includes the Agricultural Industries Federation and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, will engage with farmers, growers and, crucially, their advisers in taking up management activities that will boost farmland birds, wider biodiversity and water quality in a way that is agronomically viable.

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Pamela Forbes, the NFU's regional director in East Anglia, said: “It's good news that the Secretary of State has chosen cooperation instead of compulsion - good news for farmers, our countryside and our wildlife.

“The voluntary approach is not a soft option. It will set challenging targets in East Anglia and the hard work starts now to meet them.

“But farmers willingly working together will achieve far more than an approach which would have piled yet more regulation onto their backs.

“We look forward to working with our industry partners, conservation groups and local authorities as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment gets underway.”

However, the Council for the Protection of Rural England which has called for mandatory measures to ensure the benefits of set-aside are not lost, expressed “serious concern” at the decision to adopt a voluntary approach.

“CPRE hopes that the voluntary approach will live up to its promises, and we will be watching to ensure that it does,” said Ian Woodhurst, CPRE's senior farming campaigner.

“It will be vital that all farmers step up to the plate and play their part in making it a success. If they do not, the prospects for developing voluntary approaches to meet the environmental challenges we will need to face in the future will be seriously undermined.”

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