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GM Crops

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations the Devolved Administrations in (a) Wales and (b) Scotland have made to her Department regarding the growing of Chardon LL maize in the UK. [154705]

Mr. Morley: The transformation event T25, contained in Chardon LL, already has a Part C marketing consent under Directive 2001/18/EC. Ministers are currently considering the advice of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment on the commercial cultivation of T25 maize in light of the results of the Farm Scale Evaluations. The UK's position will be decided in consultation with the Devolved Administrations. Discussions with the Administrations in Wales and Scotland are on-going on this matter.

The question of the possible addition of Chardon LL to the UK National Seed List is a matter for joint decision with the Devolved Administrations.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the acceptable threshold under EU law is for the contamination of non-GM crops planted in the UK with GM traits. [154706]

Mr. Morley: The EU has agreed a general threshold of 0.9 per cent. for tracing and labelling the adventitious presence of approved GM traits in non-GM crops and food. The European Commission's guidance to member states is that co-existence arrangements should not go beyond what is necessary to ensure that adventitious traces of GMOs stay below the tolerance thresholds set out in Community legislation.

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make it her policy to refuse permission for the planting of GM crops before bringing laws into effect on (a) co-existence and (b) liability. [154707]

Mr. Morley: We are currently considering our policy on co-existence and liability in the light of the report on these issues by the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. We will set out our response in due course.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she will make in the Council of Ministers regarding the European Commission's decision to support a proposal to permit BT11 GM maize to be imported as food into Europe; and if she will make a statement. [152773]

Mr. Morley: This application has already been referred to our advisory body who have raised no objection on food and safety grounds. It will be discussed in Council in the normal way.

Hen Harriers

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what the

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population of hen harriers in the UK was (a) at the latest date for which figures are available and (b) in each of the previous 10 years; [154710]

Mr. Bradshaw: The most recent estimate of the hen harrier population is based on the results of the 1998 survey of hen harriers in the UK. A total of between 450–591 territorial pairs were found in the UK with a best estimate of 521 pairs. The full results were published in the journal Bird Study 48:341–353 in 2001. There are no directly comparable data for any of the previous 10 years but there is thought not to have been any overall change in the size of the population since the last estimate was published in 1993, for the period 1988–1989 (Bird Study 40: 1–11).

The information regarding breeding pairs of hen harriers is not available for the whole of the UK. However, there were 17 known breeding attempts by hen harriers in England in 2003. Just eight of these were successful. A further five attempts failed before it could be established whether eggs had been laid.

There are currently no steps being taken to encourage the reintroduction of breeding hen harriers to lowland England. The conservation effort for hen harriers in England is focused in upland moorland areas in northern England where hen harriers have nested regularly in recent decades. We believe that a cessation of illegal persecution in England, and elsewhere in the UK, would allow the population to recover naturally, obviating the need for any reintroduction programme. Furthermore, we believe that, in contrast to the Red Kite programme, the reintroduction would not be in accordance with IUCN guidelines, insofar as we cannot be certain that the factors which brought about their loss from the English lowlands (almost certainly habitat loss and persecution) no longer pertain.

The Government have not specifically conducted an analysis of the impact of agricultural changes on the breeding success of hen harriers. However, agricultural change and persecution are widely held to have been responsible for the historical decline, to currently low levels, of the UK population. Currently, illegal persecution appears to be the main factor limiting hen harrier population size and breeding success over much of its range.

This contrasts with Orkney, where the population has declined dramatically since the end of the 1970s. The decline here is thought to relate to declining prey availability, resulting from changes in agriculture, particularly a decrease in the area of rough grazing and an increase in sheep densities. Full details were published in Biological Conservation 111: 377–384 in 2003.

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It should be noted that in the absence of illegal persecution, hen harrier numbers might be expected to increase, if moorland burning regimes for both agricultural and grouse management purposes are altered. This would allow the development of taller heather swards and thus an increase in the area of suitable nesting habitat available to hen harriers. English Nature's Hen Harrier Recovery Project has shown that the inappropriate burning of moorland is a serious problem for the small number of hen harriers nesting in England. This results in the loss of nesting habitat and, in some cases, the destruction of active nests.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) when she last met (a) English Nature and (b) the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to discuss hen harriers; [154719]

Mr. Bradshaw: With Regards to English Nature there has been no formal meeting to discuss, or specific representations received, on the position of hen harriers in England. However, we have received representations on habitats, including upland heathland, which support hen harrier populations, in relation to the condition of sites of special scientific interest. English Nature has also provided briefing on the establishment and progress of their Hen Harrier Recovery Project.

The RSPB met with my hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Environment, (Mr Morley), in late 2002 to discuss Hen Harriers. Ministers met with the Game Conservancy Trust in May 2000, after the publication of the Raptor Working Group final report. Discussions focussed on the issues and recommendations surrounding this report. A further meeting is in the process of being arranged, for which the agenda has not yet been determined.

I met with BASC in November last year, though we did not discuss hen harriers. I have been invited to meet with the Countryside Alliance. However, due to other pressing diary commitments I have had to decline. This meeting was not to specifically discuss the issue surrounding Hen Harriers. Ministers have not met with the Moorland Association regarding the position of hen harriers in England.

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee on (a) hen harriers and (b) Operation Artemis; [154722]

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Mr. Bradshaw: The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had no direct discussions with JNCC concerning Operation Artemis, nor the position of hen harriers in England.

Operation Artemis is a police-led initiative aimed at combating the illegal persecution of hen harriers in the United Kingdom. Defra officials have had no direct involvement planning the Operation but outline proposals were presented at the Police and Customs Wildlife Enforcement Conference at Exeter in October 2003. This annual event is organised by Defra as part of its support for the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW).

Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom (North Wales Police and co-chair of PAW) is due to launch Operation Artemis at the forthcoming PAW Open Seminar to be held in London on 24 February 2004. In the absence of full details of the range of activities planned by the Police Service and other partners, it is too early to assess whether or not this initiative is likely to offer a long-term solution to the issue of illegal persecution of hen harriers in England.

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