Jim Paice MP, the shadow minister of agriculture, conducted his last official duty after four years as a trustee of the Game Conservancy Trust (GCT) recently, when he hosted a reception at the House of Commons for the trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which aimed to assess how loss of set-aside land could threaten conservation.

More than 100 MPs and peers, and key figures in the rural industries, attended the event on Tuesday, 22 May, to discuss reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). From a shooting point of view this is significant, as Jim Paice noted: ?Both the Government and the opposition believe set-aside should be phased out, but by accident the policy has, over the years, produced huge conservation benefits.?

Dr Stephen Tapper, the GCT?s director of policy, told the audience of his organisation?s hopes: ?Though not originally designed as a conservation measure, the GCT has been busy turning set-aside into one by developing measures such as special wild birdseed mixtures and it has become a superb refuge for creatures such as brown hares, field mice, bats and songbirds, as well as grasshoppers and bumblebees.? He added: ?We would like to see a substitute for set-aside built into CAP?s Pillar Two [funding available for environmental regeneration] as a bulked-up conservation measure on a big-field scale.?