Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 9

Memorandum submitted by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) (H 10)

1.  CCW'S REMIT

  1.1  The Countryside Council for Wales is the statutory adviser to government on sustaining natural beauty, wildlife and the opportunity for outdoor enjoyment throughout Wales and its inshore waters. With English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage, CCW delivers its statutory responsibilities for Great Britain as a whole, and internationally, through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

2.  THE SCOPE OF CCW'S EVIDENCE

  2.1  Our evidence focuses on those aspects of IACS and its delivery in Wales which have a direct effect on CCW's remit and functions. This includes CCW's role in delivering the Welsh agri-environment scheme, Tir Gofal, on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales.

  2.2  There are seven main issues which CCW wishes to draw to the Committee's attention; the first three are examples of directly contradictory effects between different parts of CAP policy:

    —  the two metre field margin issue;

    —  the need for forage hectarage derogations in agri-environment schemes and SSSI management agreements; and

    —  disincentives for woodland management,

the other four are concerned with administrative efficiency and suggest the need for more effective sharing of IACS information; they are:

    —  implementation of the Government's "Modernising Government" proposals;

    —  co-ordination of IACS digital data with other government GIS data sets;

    —  the future role of IACS in cross compliance measures; and

    —  the need for CCW and the agriculture department to exchange information on farmers' compliance with the Code of Good Farm Practice (CGFP).

  2.3  CCW's evidence has been drafted in conjunction with other countryside agencies; where we have a common view reference is made to their evidence.

3.  THE TWO METRE FIELD MARGIN ISSUE

  3.1  CCW supports the evidence submitted to the Committee by English Nature on the problems caused by the failure to evaluate the environmental effects of this change before farmers were informed.

  3.2  The European Commission now proposes to introduce a Regulation which, if accepted, will amend paragraph 7 of Article 6 of Regulation (EEC) No 3887/92 and allow for field margins of up to two metres in regions where hedges, ditches, walls or paths are traditionally part of good agricultural cropping or utilisation practice. Member States wishing to allow a field margin of greater width than two metres may only do so after prior notification to the Commission and provided those areas were taken into account in fixing the regional yields (used for the calculation of Arable Area Payments). This could solve the problem in the UK as far as land qualifying for Arable Area Payment Scheme is concerned. CCW is seeking assurances from the agriculture department that the new two metre rule poses no problem on livestock farms with wide field margins, because stock will have the opportunity to graze the margins.

4.  THE NEED FOR FORAGE HECTARAGE DEROGATIONS IN AGRI-ENVIRONMENT SCHEMES AND SSSI MANAGEMENT AGREEMENTS

  4.1  Under the normal IACS definition of forage hectarage the land must be available to graze livestock or to take a forage crop off it for a period of at least seven continuous months starting from any date between 1 January and 31 March. This is too long a grazing period for the habitat management requirements of some agri-environment or SSSI management agreements; a derogation from this seven month rule already exists where "land may be temporarily unavailable during the seven month period because . . . of the need to observe a Nitrate Sensitive Area or Environmentally Sensitive Area restriction".

  4.2  There appears to be no logic in restricting this derogation to only two of the schemes which offer farmers incentives for environmental management of grazed land. Perhaps it is simply an oversight that the IACS rules were not updated when new agri-environment schemes were introduced.

  4.3  CCW recommends that this derogation should be extended to all agri-environment schemes—in the case of Wales this would be Tir Gofal and the remaining agreements under Tir Cymen and the Habitat Scheme—and also to SSSI management agreements under section 15 of the Countryside Act 1968. (CCW also recommends that this derogation should be extended to woodland qualifying for Tir Mynydd Element 2 payments, as described below).

5.  DISINCENTIVES FOR WOODLAND MANAGEMENT

  5.1  The broadleaf woodland resource in Wales is highly fragmented. Data from the Forestry Commission's National Inventory of Woods and Trees shows:
Size ClassArea (ha) Number of woods
0-21,4522,979
2-1029,0256,588
10-2017,2761,238
20-5020,170668
50-10011,160164


  Note: All broadleaved and mixed woodlands in Wales.

  Source: FC.

  5.2  The majority of the smaller woods are in private ownership, which makes it inevitable that most are part of farm holdings. The result is that management of woodlands is heavily influenced by agricultural policy, including IACS. In the early 1980s concern for the future of broadleaf woodlands in Wales prompted a number of surveys, which showed that most woodland was grazed by farm livestock and a high proportion was not regenerating. Since then the provision of woodland advice and changes to the grant system have helped, and improved management of woodlands is gradually being adopted, but uptake of management is heavily influenced by the agricultural context.

  5.3  Although the IACS definitions are clear that woodland must be excluded from the area of forage hectarage on the farm, in practice the UK has always allowed farmers to include woodland in their forage hectarage provided that an appropriate area is deducted to take account of the trees and that they comply with the requirement (common to all forage hectarage) that the land is available for grazing for at least seven months in the year.

  5.4  The extensification premia provide an incentive for livestock farmers to maximise their forage hectarage; this has encouraged the use of woodlands for grazing which in the majority of cases means there will be no regeneration of the woodland.

  5.5  The introduction of Tir Mynydd area payments in the LFA will provide two further incentives for farmers to maximise forage hectarage; their Tir Mynydd entitlement, after the transition period, will be proportional to the forage hectarage of the farm; and there is a 10 per cent premium available under Element 2 of Tir Mynydd to farmers with at least 2 per cent of their LFA forage hectarage in woodland. This may even encourage farmers to turn stock into hitherto ungrazed woodlands, preventing their regeneration, simply to be able to count the woodland as forage hectarage. If this happened it would be completely contrary to the intention of the Element 2 woodland payment, which was intended to reward farmers for retaining biodiversity on their land.

  5.6  The combined effects of these three incentives will make it even more difficult to ensure that farm woodlands are properly managed and allowed to regenerate.

  5.7  CCW recommends that:

    —  the derogation under the seven month grazing requirement, which now exists for land in ESA or Nitrate Sensitive schemes, should be extended to woodland on which the Tir Mynydd Element 2 premium is claimed, with appropriate stocking rates to ensure the regeneration of the woodland;

    —  the "overgrazing and supplementary feeding rules" which already apply to the livestock subsidies should be used to check that these woodlands are not being damaged and are grazed in a manner which allows them to regenerate. The definition of overgrazing under these rules is sufficiently rigorous to prevent damage, but has been little used; LFA farms claiming woodland premium could be checked for overgrazing as part of the routine checks required for the Code of Good Farming Practice which applies to Tir Mynydd.

  5.8  There will be other farmers who are not in an agri-environment scheme, section 15 agreement or receiving Tir Mynydd woodland supplement, who have woodland which in the past they might have been willing to enter into the Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS). As the WGS requires total stock exclusion these farmers will lose forage hectarage and suffer consequent reductions in both Tir Mynydd and extensification payments. CCW is concerned that it will become very difficult to persuade farmers to take up WGS and bring derelict woodland into good management. One potential solution to this problem would be to allow farmers to have up to 10 per cent of their forage hectarage ungrazed for environmental reasons, provided the remaining 90 per cent is not overgrazed. There are precedents for this in both the Woodland Grant Scheme, where an area of the land receiving grant can be without trees, and in the new Energy Crops Schemes, where 20 per cent of the area on which farmers receive payment for Short Rotation Coppice establishment can remain unplanted for operational or environmental reasons. A derogation allowing 10 per cent of the forage hectarage to be ungrazed for environmental reasons could also help with the restoration or creation of other habitats, such as heathland, streamside corridors, swamps, reed beds and sand dunes where stock have to be excluded until the vegetation is established.

  5.9  It might be suggested by some that the disincentives for woodland management would be removed if the agriculture departments were to apply the original IACS definitions of woodland and forage hectarage more literally in the UK and prevent farmers classifying land with tree cover as forage hectarage. CCW would not support such a move because it would provide a strong incentive for farmers to increase their forage hectarage by felling their woodlands over several years (using the provisions for small areas of felling without a licence).

6.  IMPLEMENTATION OF THE GOVERNMENT'S "MODERNISING GOVERNMENT" PROPOSALS

  6.1  A number of government agencies would be able to operate more efficiently if IACS data was effectively shared. Several government departments and agencies produce maps for agreements with farmers. The production of these maps would be streamlined (and subsequent cross checks made easier) if the agreement maps, which are generally produced using GIS, could be based directly on IACS data. In Tir Gofal for instance, most prescriptions apply to fields which in general correspond to IACS parcels. If IACS GIS data is not shared, agreement maps will have to be digitised from scratch for CCW's Tir Gofal agreements. Also there would be real problems in carrying out the cross checks between agri-environment and commodity payments required under Regulation 1750/99 if the two systems use different map bases; the cross checks will be subject to consistent small errors simply because of map differences.

  6.2  Statutory tasks such as the notification of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) would be easier for CCW if agencies had access to farmer information in IACS. In the longer term access to farmer information would also provide an efficient means of keeping track of changes in ownership/occupancy of agricultural land. A key target of this government's E-Government proposals (Modernising Government White Paper 1999) is to provide citizens with the ability to register a change of address just once, not with every Government department they do business with. Sharing IACS data would be a positive step in this direction.

7.  CO -ORDINATION OF IACS DIGITAL DATA WITH OTHER GOVERNMENT GIS DATASETS

  7.1  Most government departments and agencies will soon have their published maps available in GIS form; the agriculture departments are encouraging farmers to use computers rather than paper to obtain information and submit claims. In future a farmer wishing to check what subsidies his land qualifies for, and what restrictions it is subject to is likely to have to use the following GIS data sets:

    —  IACS;

    —  LFA boundaries including, in England, the Moorland Map; MAFF is committed to considering the need for further subdivision of the LFA, so in future these boundaries may become more complex;

    —  maps of open country and common land, under the access provisions of the CRoW Bill; and

    —  SSSI boundaries.

  7.2  There is a need to ensure that these data sets are, at a minimum, compatible with each other in terms of scales and GIS systems used by the different authorities. CCW would argue that, in order to make data easily and efficiently available to farmers and government departments and agencies concerned with rural land use, the government should consider making this information available through a single source, perhaps using the Government's Internet Portal "UK-Online".

8.  THE FUTURE ROLE OF IACS IN CROSS COMPLIANCE MEASURES

  8.1  The Code of Good Farm Practice (CGFP) will apply to all farms receiving payments under the Rural Development Regulation, including LFA, agri-environment, and SSSI agreements. Under the provisions of the CGFP farmers in breach of the Code will forfeit some or all of their payments.

  8.2  CCW recommends that the Government should implement the provisions of Article 3 of the Common Rules Regulation 1259/1999 and apply specific environmental requirements as a condition of all direct CAP payments, not just those under the Rural Development Regulation. As a minimum CCW would wish to see the CGFP applied to all CAP payments, together with a requirement that farmers should observe the law on public rights of way and access (this is not included in the current CGFP). If CGFP were extended to all direct subsidy payments there might also be a need to reconsider for some farm types the threshold stocking rate which triggers an overgrazing inspection, as this was originally set with mainly LFA farms in mind.

  8.3  CCW recommends that the system of recording inspections and breaches of the CGFP becomes an integral part of the IACS records.

9.  THE NEED FOR CCW AND THE AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT TO EXCHANGE INFORMATION ON FARMERS' COMPLIANCE WITH THE CODE OF GOOD FARMING PRACTICE (CGFP)

  9.1  Farmers with SSSI management agreements will be required to comply with the CGFP on the whole farm, and if they fail to do so should be penalised through their SSSI payments (and any other RDR payments, such as LFA or agri-environment). CCW expects that agriculture department staff will make routine CGFP checks on the non-SSSI land on these farms as part of their normal fraud control measures on farms receiving RDR payments. CCW will make CGFP checks on all Tir Gofal farms.

  9.2  Because the administration of these RDR schemes is shared by the agriculture departments and countryside agencies administrative mechanisms will be needed:

    —  for CCW to inform the agriculture department that a farm has an SSSI agreement, and should be included in checks for compliance with CGFP;

    —  for the agriculture department to inform CCW when CGFP has been breached, and request CCW to withdraw SSSI or Tir Gofal payments; and

    —  for CCW to inform the agriculture department when the CGFP has been breached on land in an SSSI or Tir Gofal agreement, and request the agriculture department to withdraw LFA and organic aid payments.

    9.3  These potentially complex arrangements could be simplified if:

    —  all RDR agreements (LFA, agri-environment, organic aid and SSSI) were automatically recorded on IACS together with details of CGFP inspections and breaches;

    —  if CCW were given access to this information. This could be achieved by including a declaration on the IACS form signed by the farmer to the effect that he/she agrees to the information being shared with other government departments and agencies. A similar declaration is already included on Tir Gofal application forms and signed agreements.

31 October 2000


 
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