The Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee has published its report into the future of the common agricultural policy and in particular proposals to “Green” Pillar One Direct Payments.
We submitted detailed written evidence and also spoke at length to committee members and staff. I’m delighted that they have agreed with our conclusions and have adopted our recommendations.
Here is the specific section on Permanent Pasture – you can find the whole report here .
“Retention of Permanent Pasture
53. The Commission propose changing the permanent pasture rules, which currently apply at Member State or Regional level, so that farmers will be prevented from converting land used for permanent pasture “declared as such in the application for direct payments made in the claim year 2014”. The Grasslands Trust explained that of the 3.66 million hectares of England’s grassland classified as permanent pasture; most is ‘improved’ grassland of low wildlife value; some 1.45 million ha is ‘semi-improved’ of greater environmental value; and around 100,000 ha (2% of the total resource) is ‘unimproved semi-natural’, which has the highest environmental value and is identified as Habitat of Principal Importance in Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
54. The Commission’s permanent pasture proposals have caused widespread concern that, depending on how they are finally defined, they would have unintended and perverse consequences in the UK. The draft Regulations make no distinction between less environmentally-valuable pasture which is cultivated or reseeded and high nature value unimproved semi-natural grasslands, which support biodiversity and generate significant ecosystem services such as carbon storage, flood protection and cultural landscapes. According to Defra the current draft Regulation’s failure to differentiate between higher and lower environmental value pasture “undermines, if not negates, many of the [proposal’s] potential benefits”. Many organisations argued that these environmentally and socially valuable grasslands should be clearly defined and protected within the CAP.
55. Setting 2014 as the baseline for the Permanent Grassland measure provides a powerful incentive for farmers to plough up permanent grassland in the interim, leading to significant ecological damage. Our farming witnesses confirmed that farmers would be concerned about the lack of flexibility in how they manage their land and that that lack of flexibility would reduce the value of the land. The requirement to retain permanent pasture is likely to have unintended and perverse consequences. The Regulations will not target protection at areas that provide the most environmental benefit and are inconsistent with allowing farmers to respond to market signals.
56. We recommend that Defra press the Commission to adopt a definition of permanent pasture that takes account of the differences in environmental value of improved and semi-improved pasture versus semi-natural grassland. Defra should argue that the Regulations protect semi-natural grassland while providing farmers with flexibility over the management of lower environmental value pastures.
57. The Grasslands Trust highlighted the lack of protection for valuable semi-natural pasture and recommended the creation of an inventory of England’s valuable grasslands. The Trust argued that an inventory would enable conservation, protection and management mechanisms to be applied more effectively. We recommend that Defra urge the Commission to make funding available to Member States to map their semi-natural grasslands, which would inform policies such as monitoring biodiversity, planning decisions and deployment of agri-environment schemes. We further recommend that Defra commission a comprehensive grassland inventory for England.”
Director of Conservation