EU rules end hope of aid

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Although sympathetic to a plea from NFU Scotland for a relaxation in grazing rules for agri-environment schemes, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead yesterday warned any such move might infringe strict European rules.

Faced with a shortage of grass on some livestock farms due to the continued cold weather, the union had asked for a derogation so that livestock could graze land covered by agri-environment projects.

The union’s director of policy, Jonnie Hall, described the pressure on Scotland’s livestock industry as relentless, with poor grass growth and fodder shortages compounding the difficulties faced by many farmers.

“We think there is real scope in a temporary relaxing of the restrictions placed on grazing under a variety of existing agri-environment commitments,” he said.

“It would make practical and financial sense if otherwise ‘closed’ areas of forage could be utilised and grazed at this time.”

Lochhead said he was aware of the difficulties facing some farmers just now and he was sympathetic, saying that was why the government had made £6 million support available to help those who need it most.

He then warned: “However, agri-environment schemes are partly EU funded and therefore subject to strict European rules. The worst possible outcome would be if, in trying to be helpful, we inadvertently jeopardised the payments in question which could affect every recipient not just those who needed the derogation.”