CAP environmental plans questioned

The current proposals for providing more environmental benefits in the next version of the Common Agricultural Policy came under criticism from an unexpected point yesterday when the chief executive of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) said he was not at all sure they would “deliver the goods” in Scotland.

Speaking against the background of a GWCT conference in Perth which looked at the possible outcomes from CAP change, Dr Adam Smith said he agreed with the broad principles but questioned the effectiveness and appropriateness of what is currently on the table.

He suggested that at the very least, they needed to be tidied up and made more suitable for the issues in Scotland.

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The suggestion of putting 7 per cent of the acreage of every farm into environmental focus areas would result in a loss of output from the farm with dubious benefits for the environment, he said. In environmental grounds, in some cases, the land taken out of production would not deliver the goods because the areas were too small.

In others, the environmental focus areas might be too big and not “sufficiently intense”. His preference was for what he called areas of Intensification conservation which might even include such features as feeding areas for birds. It was all about getting more from more concentrated areas, he believed.

Everyone had to remember that there were now three main competing interests for land in Scotland, he said. These were for food production, for forestry and for renewable energy. Conservation had to find a space between these and that was where an intensification conservation policy would work.

The GWCT was in discussion with the Scottish Government promoting this idea he added.

Smith also expressed his concerns over the wide number of options currently available in the rural priorities scheme and some of these provided only marginal benefits and were not “well researched”.

He wanted to see the scheme opened up for all as opposed to the current competitive situation. He further suggested the bundling up of options so that there could be a bigger environmental benefit. One obvious example was that muirburn should be linked to grazing options.

And he wanted to see more collaboration in the delivery of some schemes so that there was not a patchwork effect in the country with some landowners being involved and others not.

One option Smith was keen to see included in rural priorities was predator control. GWCT research had shown this was a very effective method of increasing numbers of some species.

“It is time for Scottish National Heritage and the Scottish Government to look at how such a scheme could be included,” he said.

The principle of predator control had already been established in protecting both Black Grouse and capercailzie and other bird species such as upland and lowland wading birds would also benefit from organised protection from predators.

Tick control should also be included not only from the sheep welfare point of view but also from human health, he stated.