New Common Agricultural Policy to benefit ecosystems

Changes to European regulations are due to be implemented in England in 2015

January 2015 sees the newest reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (fondly called the CAP).  This is thought to be the greenest CAP so far and is called, imaginatively: Greening!

Greening is made up of three elements: crop diversification, ecological focus areas and permanent grassland. Greening is not an optional choice for farmers and there will be penalties for those found not complying with the rules; they will also face a reduction in their greening payment

Currently, we are all waiting for the finer details from Defra on the new CAP schemes, however, below is a synopsis to keep you up to date:

  • Landowners and farmers with more than 5 hectares must have more than 50 per cent of land falling under the designation of naturally kept land “suitable for cultivation and grazing” in order to claim under the new CAP.
  •  Crop diversification is mandatory and farmers must grow a minimum number of different crops on thier land annually (although there are exemptions)
  • Ecological Focus Areas (EFA’s) are mandatory (can be cover crops, catch crops, nitrogen fixing crops, buffer strips or hedges) (but again, there are exemptions).
  • 5 per cent of land equivalent should be classed as an EFA

In national terms, some of the aims are to ensure that overally the area of permanent grassland, when compared to the agricultural area in the UK, must not fall below 5 per cent.  Grasslands will be prevented from being ploughed up.

Farmers currently in the existing agri-environment schemes will need to consider their options when it comes to integrating the requirements of Greening and may have to adjust their agreements. There will be new cross-compliance rules coming into force in January 2015 and these will cover the environment and landscape features. As before, farmers will have to abide by the standards to keep their land in ‘Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition’ (GAEC’s). Defra have so far confirmed the following:

1. Establishment of buffer strips along water courses

2. Water abstraction

3. Groundwater

4. Minimum soil cover

5. Minimum land management reflecting site specific conditions to limit erosion

6. Maintenance of soil organic matter level

7a. Boundaries

7b. Public Rights of Way

7c Trees

7d Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s)

7e Historic Monuments

 

SLT are developing a programme to support farmers in making choices to maximise the ecosystem functions of their holdings.