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Doubts over "crucial" grants for "green" farming

[Monday 26 March 2007]

ENGLISH farmers should be paid some £300 million a year to implement new "green" farm practices that would help stem global warming, save precious water resources and support rare species of wild birds - but will they get it?

This is the question raised today by two of the UK's biggest countryside organisations, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Country Land and Business Association, in a rare joint press release.

These schemes take green farming further than we have seen for more than fifty
years

Sue Armstrong Brown - RSPB

They issued there call this morning because later today Environment Minister David Miliband is to make a key announcement on the future on "green" farm grants. But as Chancellor Gordon Brown has already slashed Defra's budget, they are pleading for as much generosity as possible.

Hundreds of farmers throughout Britain have had applications for agri-environment schemes put on hold awaiting a decision in Brussels.

Farm ministers sanctioned funding last week and Defra could double the money now available. The government will not provide that much, but has promised some additional cash. The RSPB calculates that a total of £300 million is needed annually to allow farmers' applications to go ahead.

Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, Head of Countryside Conservation at the RSPB, said: "Adequate money for these exceptional agri-environment schemes is crucial to the future of our countryside. These schemes take green farming further than we have seen for more than fifty years and could contribute enormously to tackling climate change and helping farmland wildlife.

"The decision last week to allow funds to be switched from subsidies to environmental schemes was hugely welcome and is a major step forward. At least £300 million is needed to enable the best projects to go ahead and it is essential that this is what the government provides."

CLA President, David Fursdon, said: "We support the move towards rewarding land managers for delivering environmental services and thus it is regrettable that the government has decided to reduce the rate of match funding of these environment schemes compared to the level operating for the last six years, especially as these services are becoming increasingly important in light of climate change and growing public interest in the countryside."

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