The Government is currently running a website for its Red Tape Challenge, where you can post your opinion on laws that you think ought to be amended or even scrapped. Part of the website text explains the rationale as being that if nobody can say why we actually need a certain piece of legislation, then we will bin it.

This is a wonderfully refreshing approach, coming as it does after 13 years of legislative overload, when more than 4,000 new criminal offences were invented by bureaucratic busybodies both here and in Europe. Naturally, not everybody likes the thought of a ?bonfire of the regulations?. All sorts of vested interests have been howling in indignation at the thought of their legislative toys being taken away. Most of the usual suspects in the ?green? establishment have expressed horror that anybody could possibly have the temerity to think of any of the UK?s 278 environmental regulations as ?red tape?. But then, one person?s repressive law is another?s essential legal safeguard, I suppose.

I was thinking of this when I read that a separate, parallel review of red tape in the farming sector has led to the recommendation that smallholdings (defi ned as eligible farmland of 12 acres or less) should go to the back of the queue when it comes to processing their annual single farm payment. The recommendation seems to be making the assumption that all smallholders are ?pony paddock? types, when subsidies should be reserved for ?real? farmers only.

I reckon this proposed change is a gross injustice. Many smallholders are hard-working folk who care for every inch of their land. It may or may not be their main source of income, but even if it isn?t, then presumably they are less of a drain on the public purse. Should they be penalised for that? Farm subsidies can only be justified if they help fund public benefits, such as biodiversity. They are not there to fund farmers? lifestyles.

About six million people work in the public sector in the UK. Many more receive State payments of one sort or another. Just imagine if the Government proposed that the lowest-paid public sector workers should go to the back of the monthly payment queue! Yet that is exactly what is being proposed for smallholders. I hope they sharpen their pitchforks and fight back.

Culling confusion

Recently, I wrote about the fact that existing law is supposed to allow for the licensed culling of buzzards in certain circumstances (Sharpshooter, 18 May). Perhaps I should have been more careful in my use of the word ?cull?. To most of us, it implies a deliberate lowering of a population level. The problem, I have come to realise after a phone call from a friend who is an avid member of the RSPB (yes, you read that correctly) is that to the general public, a ?cull? invariably means a large-scale slaughter.

Now, that?s certainly not what I meant in relation to buzzards. Instead, I meant the very localised control of an otherwise protected species, under the existing law (Section 16 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act) when the appropriate conditions are met, to deal with an urgent problem at a specific site. This already happens with all sorts of protected species, for instance when cormorants attack the stewponds at an inland fishery. Buzzards are more numerous than cormorants. But this doesn?t mean that many more buzzards than cormorants might face legal culling.

If a limited number of buzzard control licences were issued in appropriate cases, then only a relatively small number of birds would be involved. The buzzard would still be our most populous raptor. A key benefit, if there was such an effective legal safety valve, would be the removal of any reason for illegal action based on desperation.

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