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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I support the amendment. Perhaps I may offer the Government a suggestion. We have heard already that the MoD has sanctuaries in many places--on Salisbury Plain, at Lulworth Cove and so on--and that it is one of the best custodians of conserved land in this country. If we look at the way in which it manages such areas, we will find that the MoD has become very flexible in its understanding of which areas people should be kept out of and which areas they should be allowed into. After all, the MoD has full access to training areas at all times of the day and night, but there are parts of every training area in Great Britain to which soldiers are not permitted access because of the value of the flora or fauna to be found there, or for some other reason. I support the amendment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, we on these Benches support the thrust of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. He admitted that his amendment may not be perfect and he has indicated that he is willing to allow the Minister to come back with a different version.

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The amendment concerns "a recognised nature reserve". Perhaps one of the Government's fears is that anyone, anywhere, could say that a site should be excepted land. Many voluntary organisations are working to preserve and conserve the countryside. If this is not acknowledged to be a problem, the fear is that that support may dwindle. That would be a great shame because individuals make contributions either through the practical running of the centres or through the money they raise.

The noble Lord seeks some form of protection within nature reserves which enables them to be enjoyed by people, but on an organised basis. If I understand the noble Lord correctly--which I hope I do--I am happy to support the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the purpose of the list of exceptions in Schedule 1 is to exclude public access from land which may be mapped as open country or registered common land but to which a right of access should none the less not apply--for example, buildings and their curtilages. Nature reserves do not fall into that category.

English Nature has powers stemming from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to designate land as a national nature reserve or a local nature reserve, with the aim of securing protection and appropriate management of the most important areas of wildlife habitat. Many reserves have public access. Indeed, they positively encourage it, as my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath said. With relatively few exceptions, access and wildlife can co-exist without significant problems.

My noble friend referred to public access in Scotland to see the osprey. There is a marvellous bird sanctuary near the Llyn Brianne reservoir in Wales where the same applies. There should be no automatic presumption that the conservation of such sites is incompatible with access, particularly when account is taken of the modest nature of the new right and the restrictions that will apply to it.

If a reserve has been mapped as open countryside or registered as common land and there are particular problems with access, the Bill specifically provides for closures or restrictions on grounds of conservation. Clause 24 provides for the relevant authority--the Countryside Agency in England and the Countryside Council for Wales, or in national parks, the relevant national park authority--to issue directions excluding or restricting access for reasons of nature conservation. In doing so, the authority must have regard to the advice of the appropriate statutory advisory body: English Nature for land in England. We have made provision for any case to be referred to the Secretary of State (or the National Assembly) if English Nature (or its Welsh equivalent) still has concerns.

There is no question of compromising our conservation objectives in favour of access. Part III of the Bill reflects our commitment to the protection of wildlife and nature conservation. We are determined to ensure that vulnerable habitats are protected as

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necessary. But the impact of access on wildlife must be put in perspective: most designated reserves have some form of access and this has not given rise to significant problems.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised the issue of MoD land. There is a variety of factors. It is certainly the case that the MoD is very proud of some of the work that it has done. On occasions, it may be because slightly less mechanised and less intensive forms of farming take place on some MoD land. However, I agree that the MoD has a good record.

The Government recognise that there may be cases where conflicts arise and where access needs to be restricted, or even excluded altogether. I assure my noble friend Lord Hardy that the Bill provides for that. We therefore believe that a blanket exclusion of nature reserves is not the right approach; it is neither needed nor justified. I hope that I have thoroughly convinced my noble friend, and that he will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, as I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. Before responding to my noble friend, perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount that I am well aware of the contribution made on Ministry of Defence land. The MoD once embarrassed me, on the day before I was to present the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Bill. The Bill included the protection of the natterjack toad, which is extremely rare. The officer in charge in the Aldershot-Salisbury area contacted me to say that they were just about to release several thousand natterjack toads that they had bred on Salisbury Plain. I asked him to treat it as a matter of great confidentiality; otherwise, my Bill might have been in peril the next day.

One of my anxieties has not been entirely relieved by my noble friend's response. I accept the reference to the 1949 Act. However, one of the difficulties in this whole area is that the location of species needs to be kept secret; otherwise they will be stolen. I do not know whether there are any Snowdon lilies left in Snowdonia, but they were among the rare species that were protected under my Bill, which became an Act in 1975. One of the reasons for their decline was that people had gone round stealing them.

If the matter is left to English Nature, it is possible for the risk of publicity to be greatly enhanced. If it is left with the conservation bodies, they can be a little more discreet. That is one reason why the lady's slipper orchid still survives, when it was down to only one plant in 1976.

If we are to ensure the survival of certain natural species, and the guarantee of consistent support for biological diversity in a sensible way, it may well be that a little more responsibility or influence should be accepted on the part of the voluntary bodies--which work happily with English Nature and will continue to do so while my noble friend Lady Young is involved.

I should like to clear up one misapprehension, which my noble friend might acknowledge. The amendment relates to land within nature reserves. I did not intend

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it to apply to the whole of a nature reserve--because some are very large indeed. But there may be pockets of a nature reserve where there is a sudden recognition or identification of an extremely rare species. Fast action may be needed, and may be more likely to come about if those who are responsible for the reserve can respond immediately to that need. The amendment would provide a greater degree of flexibility. Perhaps my noble friend and her assistants will re-examine the whole question of the need to maintain confidentiality and the ability to respond urgently should the need arise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 63, line 24, at end insert--

(" . Land subject to a management agreement under the countryside stewardship scheme, or other environmental protection measures, where the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food finds that access is, or liable to be, damaging to the purposes of the scheme.").

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the previous debate. It seems that the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, and I are approaching a similar problem, but for different reasons. I must first declare an interest as a farmer who, for the past four years, has benefited from one of the earliest agri-environmental schemes.

I am afraid that there was a slight difficulty in compiling the Marshalled List. Last night, I asked for the term "agri-environmental" to be introduced into the amendment. As a result of some strange state of confusion, the term was not actually included. My amendment should include not merely "environmental", but "agri-environmental" in order to focus it more closely.

These schemes enable the Government to give financial assistance to farmers for the management and improvement of areas in natural and environmental terms. They can be of particular assistance to organic growers. These can be old hay meadows or downland, heather, hedgerows, water-meadows, sand dunes, and so on. The regulations governing the schemes sometimes include a requirement for the exclusion of livestock at certain times of the year. The schemes also give assistance in the maintenance of walls and hedges.

Any farmer entering into one of these schemes has to sign up to a management agreement which, in most cases, can be for 10 years. During that time he will receive the appropriate annual payments, which are generally in the region of £2,000 to £5,000 per annum. Both the farmer and his successors are bound by the agreement.

Quite a number of farmers are glad that their land is not included in a nature reserve; they find that that restricts their activities in ways that they may not fully appreciate. But at the same time, they do not have the safeguards, referred to by the Minister, which are

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available to people whose land is in a nature reserve for the control of the public when a conservation issue arises.

The legal basis of the scheme is laid out in a statutory instrument--the Countryside Stewardship Regulations 1998. The problem that my amendment attempts to address is that, if a farmer is in breach of any of the conditions subject to which the grant was made, the Minister is liable not just to withhold future grant but to recover any grant already paid to him, with a possible penalty of 10 per cent over and above that sum. If access has had a detrimental effect on the conditions laid down in the management agreement--and that may only be discovered, say, six years after the scheme was put in place--the amount that could be reclaimed could total £33,000.

Access may damage some of the primary purposes of the scheme, but many of the secondary purposes are aimed at the encouragement of wildlife and rare species of plants and insects. Access could also have an effect in that area. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, referred to the problems that can arise from access within nature reserves. In these areas, the situation might be the same. At present, the farming press speaks of the amazing recovery of the stone curlew in East Anglia due to improved farming practices. It would be a great pity if any of that benefit, which involves public investment, were lost. The other aspect is that the MAFF may want to take this loss of benefit into the argument of eligibility for grants, especially when considering new applicants. I beg to move.

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