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Parliamentary Questions

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she intends to take to ensure that questions tabled for a named day response are answered on the specified day. [167789]

Alun Michael: I have explained to officials at DEFRA the importance attached by parliamentarians to receiving a full and prompt reply to formal questions. I have asked for further steps to be taken to make sure that this is fully understood in every part of the Department. It must be understood that there is a cost to providing answers, both in financial terms and in the time of officials that has to be diverted to providing answers or to meeting a deadline in the case of "named day" questions and that some information is simply not available in the form requested. I and my Ministerial colleagues are always willing to discuss the needs of Members.
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David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what systems are in place to regulate the operational activities of commercial salmon farmers in the UK. [165565]

Mr. Bradshaw: All fish farms are subject to EU and national legislative controls to prevent the introduction and spread of serious fish disease. Under these arrangements all farms must be registered or licensed as required by the appropriate Fisheries Department and keep a record of the movement of fish for disease control purposes. Controls also apply to the import and export of farmed fish.

All salmon farms require a Crown Estate lease and development consent, and are subject to conservation and environmental measures. The use of medicines on fish farms and welfare of farmed fish are also subject to control.

David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment has been made of the health of the wild salmon population in the UK. [165569]

Mr. Bradshaw: Assessments of the current state of wild salmon stocks in UK have been compiled in the last month in Scotland (by Fisheries Research Services), in England and Wales (by CEFAS and the Environment Agency) and in Northern Ireland (by DARDNI). These reports have been submitted to the North Atlantic Salmon Working Group of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), which is meeting currently, and will be used to provide an overall assessment of the status of salmon stocks throughout the North Atlantic for submission to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). The report for England and Wales has been published and may be obtained from the Environment Agency. The annual statistical bulletin, Scottish Salmon and Sea Trout Catches, 2003, is scheduled for publication in late summer.

Severely Disadvantaged Areas

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many farms are currently classed as containing both severely disadvantaged area and non-severely disadvantaged area land. [168032]

Alun Michael: We currently do not classify farm businesses in the way requested. However, in 2003, 8,261 farmers claimed Hill Farm Allowance on both severely disadvantaged and disadvantaged (i.e. non-severely-disadvantaged) land. Holdings of less than 10 hectares are excluded from HFA, and so are not included in this figure. Neither would it include farm businesses with severely disadvantaged land and land ineligible for HFA, but no disadvantaged land.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what resources her Department makes available to local authorities for Sites of Special Scientific Interest; and how much was made available in 2003–04. [164971]

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Mr. Bradshaw: The overall funding requirements of local authorities is a matter for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The Department does not provide direct funding to local authorities specifically for the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). SSSI landowners and managers, such as local authorities, are able to access, subject to conditions, a variety of funding streams which can benefit SSSIs, including from English Nature, agri-environment schemes and from lottery or EU sources. English Nature estimate that overall local authorities own or manage about 4.7 per cent. of England's SSSI land.

St. George's Day

Paddy Tipping: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Country Land and Business Association about St. George's Day breakfasts. [167863]

Alun Michael: The Government recognises the benefits of local food and welcomes initiatives like the Country Land and Business Association's (CLA) initiative that aim to encourage people to buy more locally sourced foods. Money is available under the England Rural Development Programme to support activities such as the establishment of Farmers' Markets, the development of regional and local branding of food and the formation of co-operative groups to market quality products. DEFRA has also worked with the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) to produce best practice guides designed to show how supermarkets and food service companies can work with small local producers and explore how barriers to local sourcing can be overcome. In addition to this, our Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative is designed to encourage public sector bodies to procure their food in a manner that promotes sustainable development and to encourage more small and local businesses to compete to supply them with food.

The CLA initiative also complements the Government's three-year programme of support for the quality regional food sector which is being delivered by Food From Britain. This £3 million programme aims to promote the quality regional food sector and consists of a range of activities focussing on trade development, increasing competitiveness and raising consumer awareness.

Stone Curlews

Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she   has to change the boundaries of the Breckland Farmland Site of Special Scientific Interest to reflect changes in the stone curlew population. [165128]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Secretary of State has no role in the determination of the boundaries of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), this is a matter for English Nature.

I understand however, that English Nature has no plans at this time to recommend changes to the boundary of the Breckland Farmland SSSI. Survey and monitoring of the number and distribution of stone curlews is carried out annually throughout Breckland. This data is regularly reviewed to assess any significant changes in the population and its distribution.
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If, in the future, there is evidence that parts of the SSSI no longer support the special interest (breeding stone curlew) or that areas beyond the existing SSSI boundary become important, the legislation provides that English Nature has the discretion to de-notify parts of the site or extend the SSSI boundary to incorporate any new areas that may qualify.


Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the percentage tree cover in each EU member state was (a) on the latest date for which figures are available, (b) 10 years ago and (c) 20 years ago. [165798]

Mr. Bradshaw: Based on information collected by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation forest as a percentage of land area is given in the table as follows.
Country200011990 11980 2
United Kingdom12119

(6) FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Definitions of forest can vary between countries and over time.
(7) FAO The Forest Resources of the ECE Region, published 1985. The years covered vary between countries, although most are around 1980. Definitions of forest can vary between countries.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent steps (a) have been taken and (b) are planned to improve tree health. [165800]

Mr. Bradshaw: The need to maintain, and improve where necessary, the health and vitality of trees is integral to the government's approach to sustainable forest management. We have set this out in the UK Forestry Standard and its supporting literature, which contain many specific measures for protecting woodland and improving tree health. All woodland management by the Forestry Commission is consistent with this standard and we expect private woodland owners that receive grant aid from the Forestry Commission to also meet the standard. The government has encouraged the development of the voluntary UK Woodland Assurance Standard that provides an independent verification of compliance with good practice and measures to ensure the continuing good health of woodland. We shall continue to ensure compliance with the UK Forest Standard in those woods managed by the Forestry Commission and encourage it in the private sector. We will improve, through research, our knowledge of factors affecting
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tree health and we shall maintain a vigilant guard against the establishment of non-native pests and diseases.

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