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No protection for moorland birds

[Wednesday 13 December 2006]
Curlew
The Curlew - a common sight in the Yorkshire Dales

THE Government has stepped in to save grants paid to lowland farmers to protect rare wild birds like stone curlews - but has ignored similar requests for payments to hill farmers.

The grants were trumpeted as a triumph for "green farming" when they were introduced some years ago but were scrapped (almost by mistake, say some) when Prime Minister Tony Blair infamously surrendered Britain's EU rebate in return for reforms to the notorious Common Agricultural Policy.

Now, the rural affairs department Defra has agreed to continue payments to persuade lowland farmers to protect rare birds - but has declined to make the same offer to hill farmers who work millions of acres of difficult land in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District.

Instead, Defra is to reorganise a system of grants paid to hill farmers by switching present funds of £26 million to a new agri-environment scheme which is said to be widely unpopular.

Says Gareth Morgan, head of agricultural policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: "Instead of backing work we know will improve the uplands, it appears that Defra intends to put money into a scheme that upland farmers are already ignoring. We now want to work with Defra to improve advice to farmers and ensure they are given proper incentives to farm more sustainably."

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