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HELP FOR FARMERS HELPS THE COUNTRYSIDE FOR ALL

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'Farmers should get their applications in straight away,' urged Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, w...
'Farmers should get their applications in straight away,' urged Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, welcoming the extra cash boost for the countryside stewardship scheme announced by the countryside minister.

Commenting on the extra funding for the scheme, Mr Cameron said: 'This is the new way forward for agriculture in delivering not only high-quality food but also a high quality countryside and environment in rural England.

'Farmers are keen to deliver a new approach - the demand is there. Last year, as many farmers were disappointed as were successful in applying to the scheme. If applications are made promptly, I would urge the ministry of agriculture to give farmers the opportunity to plan for the coming year and indicate to them if their application is successful before next year's crops are planted this autumn.

'One of the priorities for the Countryside Agency would be regional schemes aimed at preserving and enhancing local character, from national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to the countryside around towns that is most people's local countryside,' he said.

Examples of the type of scheme that could benefit from a cash boost are:

North Lincolnshire, Isle of Axholme - one of the last examples of medieval open field strip farming, with an unusually diverse farmland wildlife and unique local institutions and customs surviving from the days when the land was managed co-operatively.

Countryside stewardship resources could be used to conserve and enhance the historic character of the area, keeping together a traditional social structure, enhancing the amount and quality of wildlife habitat available and developing a network of safe routes for walking, cycling and horseriding for local people and visitors.

River Arrow in Herefordshire - grass 'buffer' strips have been created to prevent pollution of the river by pesticides and to improve wildlife habitats. The distinctive character of the river has been strengthened by reintroducing rotational coppicing of alders and the protection of traditional riverside pastures. Demand for countryside stewardship is high among local farmers and additional cash could be used to persuade more to get involved in this work along the entire length of the river.

Hedgerows and dry stone walls contribute to the character of the English countryside and define 'the sense of place' - they are also important wildlife habitats and in many cases provide an important link with the past. This framework of field boundaries is threatened by a lack of appropriate management as much as by deliberate removal. The Countryside stewardship scheme already includes grants to restore the condition of drystone walls and hedgerows but spending significant additional resources on these landscape features would go a long way to improving the fabric of the countryside.

Small family livestock farmers who farm areas of high environmental quality such as the High Weald in Sussex,are being encouraged to participate in the Countryside Agency's new land management initiatives. Support for these will not only achieve environmental benefits, it will also contribute to strengthening the local social fabric and the rural economy through local produce sold locally.

Notes

The Countryside Agency is responsible for advising government and taking action on issues relating to the social, economic & environmental well-being of the English countryside.

The countryside stewardship scheme, designed by the Countryside Agency's predecessor the Countryside Commission, pays farmers to carry out practical work to benefit the landscape, wildlife habitats, historic features and provide new public access. These increased resources will help more farmers conserve and enhance the character and diversity of our English countryside.

The announcement on switching farm based subsidies away from production into support for the broader economy under the rural development regulations was made on 7 December 1999.

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