Farmers no longer grassed off with payments agency
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)Â and RSPB recently followed up complaints from grassland farmers who were being penalised by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for placing new fences at least a metre out from the hedge â€“ a move that benefits wildlife as well as leading to efficient hedge maintenance. However, intervention by these two leading conservation organisations has meant that the decision by the RPA has been reversed and payments will now continue.
For some time, conservation organisations have recommended that when farmers renew an old fence next to a hedge that they place the new fence at least a metre out from the hedge itself. The wildlife corridor that is created between hedge and fence instantly creates an important strip of un-cut and un-grazed grassland, which provides a vital habitat for ground nesting birds such as yellowhammer and grey partridges as well as small mammals such as harvest mice and invertebrates including butterflies.
According to Peter Thompson, Farmland Biodiversity Advisor with the GWCT, many grassland farmers who had followed this sound conservation advice were dismayed to discover that the RPA were now instructing farmers to re-measure the size of the field from the new fence line and not the hedge as was the previous case, thereby penalising them for their wildlife friendly actions.
Peter Thompson said, â€œWe were appalled by this situation as we believed that a large number of farmers claiming single farm payment could fall foul of this new interpretation over a practice that has been followed for many years. Supported by a number of other conservation organisations I contacted the Rural Payments Agency to see if this was a new interpretation of the rules or whether it was a case of a few inspectors being overzealous.â€
Fortunately, the Rural Payments Agency listened and amended the rules. Peter Thompson explains, â€œI was delighted that the RPA responded positively to this issue and reversed their decision very quickly as they recognised the duel benefits of this action that encourages efficient hedge maintenance whilst promoting wildlife benefits.â€
To clarify the situation the Rural Payments Agency stated, â€œWe have reviewed the treatment of such a combination so that it is regarded as a single feature, provided that the fence is within 3 metres of the centre of the hedge. The strip between the fence and hedge should be treated as part of the hedge without change to the Rural Land register and no deduction for its area will be made under the Single Payment Scheme.â€