TRADITIONAL farmers who have kept their fields small by refusing to grub out hedgerows have won a major farm grants victory in the on-going negotiations over future single farm payments.
To qualify for extra grants, farmers will in future have to leave an uncultivated strip round their fields as havens for wildlife, which suffered hugely in the 1980s and 1990s as tens of thousands of miles of hedgerows were grubbed out to qualify for subsidies handed out by the old Ministry of Agriculture.
However, Defra officials have accepted that to force farmers who have maintained their hedges to comply with the new rules on small fields would impose an additional unfair workload.
They have also agreed that grants will be available for small fields used for grazing horses - a major boost for the horse riding industry, one of the few booming rural businesses in recent years.
These concessions were won after long negotiations with representatives from various countryside bodies, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). Its Yorkshire director Dorothy Fairburn commented:
"The payment is for land management, not production, that keeps the land in good agricultural and environmental condition. So it is absolutely right that Defra does not need to know about the type of grazing animals used - it really doesn't matter whether they are sheep, cows, horses or llamas. What matters is careful land management."