Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Case study 1—Agri-Environment Review

  The Government signalled the need for a fundamental review of agri-environment schemes in England in 1999. The formal review process started in mid-2001 and DEFRA has been very keen to make the review process as open and inclusive as possible. In addition to the normal process of written consultation DEFRA has:

    —  made commissioned research on assessment of schemes available to stakeholders;

    —  developed a clear timetable and review and consultation process to seek views to seek views at each stage of the process;

    —  held a number of bilateral meetings with a range of key stakeholders, NGOs, Agencies and farmers;

    —  established a joint Government Agency/NGO steering group to overview the review process;

    —  used existing DEFRA forums, such as the ERDP Consultation Group, to explain and invite involvement from a very wide range of stakeholders;

    —  publicly acknowledged significant inputs into the review from various stakeholders; and

    —  set up a regional consultation process in parallel to the national review.

  While EN would not expect, or welcome, this intensity of consultation on all issues we do believe that it has shown a commitment to an open and inclusive approach to a major review of a policy area that is of considerable interest to a wide range of stakeholders.

Case study 2—DEFRA Science Directorate

  The recent appointment of a new Chief Scientific Adviser provides a timely opportunity for the DEFRA to realign its research and development programme to meet its vision, aim and objectives. MAFF's Research Strategy 2001-05 did not support even its own stated aims and too high a proportion of its research budget was allocated to maintaining and increasing food production, in some cases with potential adverse environmental effects. Given the broader remit of DEFRA, there is an even greater need for a fundamental shift in emphasis of its research programme away from food production towards more sustainable farming systems.

  Ensuring policies are properly informed by sound science and that the science is presented in an open and transparent way is critical to ensuring public confidence in DEFRA. We believe that the DEFRA research programme should formulated through wider consultation and research results promulgated more thoroughly. This should include more peer reviewed publications and more use of the Internet.

  We therefore welcome the increased partnership with external organisations and statutory agencies, such as English Nature, that DEFRA has pursued recently. This way of working provides much greater opportunities for collaboration, running joint projects and using external expertise to get the best value for the funds available.

  English Nature is actively engaged with the review of Science in DEFRA and with the related ongoing review of DEFRA's scientific agencies. We are also strengthening our links with DEFRA science strategists and managers.

Case study 3—National Sheep Envelope

  In late 2001, Ministers and officials put huge effort into securing a change in the sheep regime at EU level to allow member states to use part of the regime to secure environmental outcomes—the National Sheep Envelope (NSE). This followed the example of flexibility allowed under the beef regime. Use of such flexibility to achieve environmental outcomes was also recommended by the Curry Commission.

  The key issue behind creating the NSE was to address overgrazing in the Uplands. Such overgrazing is the main reason for the unfavourable condition of many upland SSSIs, with 73 per cent of upland heath and 67 per cent of upland calcareous grassland in SSSIs in unfavourable condition. Use of the NSE would be a significant step towards the DEFRA PSA target to achieve favourable condition of 95 per cent of SSSIs by 2010.

  Progress on translating the NSE into a practical scheme to meet this objective has been slow and difficult, but English Nature is now working with DEFRA to develop environmental options for the envelope that will be phased in over a number of years, hopefully with a first tranche in 2002-03.

Case study 4—Environmental Impacts of EU Sugar Regime

  DEFRA is required by the EU to submit a report in 2002 to the European Commission on the environmental impact of cultivating sugar beet and measures proposed to address these impacts. A stakeholder meeting organised by DEFRA in December 2001 was dominated by producer interests (six representatives from British Sugar and the NFU), and English Nature was the only environmental organisation invited. DEFRA appeared to be taking a minimalist approach to the review process, rather than a considered assessment of environmental impacts. English Nature offered advice on the initial consultation process and, to DEFRA's credit, subsequent meetings and consultation were more inclusive and even-handed.

Case study 5—Environmental Impact Assessment (Uncultivated Land and Semi-Natural Areas) (England) Regulations 2001

  The former MAFF delayed extending the implementation of EC Directive 85/337/EC on Environmental Assessment to agricultural land for 17 years. Again it is to DEFRA's credit that it has introduced the Environmental Impact Assessment (Uncultivated land and semi-natural areas) (England) Regulations 2001 with effect from 1 February 2002. English Nature has not been granted additional resources to implement these regulations, and so we are depending on DEFRA to do so with due diligence and regard for compliance with other EU Directives, including the future requirements of the Water Framework Directive. DEFRA's approach must not be guided by farmers concerns about "gold plating", but rather by a clear understanding of the positive role that these long overdue powers will play in environmental protection (for example in relation to priority habitats and species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan) and in promoting sustainable agriculture.

30 May 2002

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