Last November, the National Farmers Union and the Country Land & Business Association launched the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE), a new voluntary initiative that aims to encourage land managers to protect the nation’s countryside and to bring back the environmental benefits previously provided by set-aside.

Set-aside was originally introduced as a measure to reduce production. Over time, with a lot of work from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and other organisations, land managers started to use their set-aside for the benefit of wildlife by planting seed mixes and grass margins on them. Many growers found this very useful and created much good habitat for game, as the GWCT did on its own farm in Leicestershire, where most “in field” options were placed on set-aside ground. However, turn to the wider countryside and many farmers found that the easiest way to deliver the set-aside requirement was to take an area out of production and grass it over with a cheap ryegrass mix and cut it once a year — not very exciting to game, or any other wildlife for that matter.

So, why another new scheme? Basically, the Government wanted to bring back a compulsory measure to replace the environmental benefits of set-aside. However, the CFE argued that land managers could make up for these “lost benefits” voluntarily, rather than through a compulsory system, and accordingly the Government has given landowners until June 2012 to show that they can indeed deliver.

I feel that keepers can play a major part in delivering these CFE targets — they already do. Fieldsports, and shooting in particular, are often the driving force behind farms and estates entering the Entry Level Scheme, as there are a good number of options that can benefit the shoot. The most obvious, of course, is the wild bird seed mix option — or gamecover. Understandably, keepers are sometimes reluctant to put their key gamecover drives into a scheme with rules attached, as they want to have control over the way it is grown and what is planted. However, though a maize or sorghum plot is not eligible under the scheme, once an area of wild bird seed mix is added, it can be included in the scheme. This way, the CFE wins, farmland birds win, the shoot wins and pheasants and partridges will love the addition, too. If every shoot did this across the country, not only would the wildlife benefits be enormous but the targets set by the CFE would start to look achievable.

If compulsory set-aside is reintroduced, it is likely to be around five to six per cent and farmers will undoubtedly position it in the least productive part of the farm. This may be convenient if it is specifically managed for the shoot, but if it is put in the wrong place it could be detrimental and might not hold the birds in the correct place.

For further details about registering with the CFE, tel 02476 858892.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic,send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

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