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Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the number of breeding sows farmed within farrowing crates in the UK; and if he will make a statement. 
Approximately 65 per cent. of breeding pigs (290,000 sows and gilts) are kept in farrowing crates for part of the production cycle. There
are strict time limits for the length of time that sows can be kept in farrowing crates. The farrowing crates protect piglets from crushing by the sowone of the largest causes of pig mortality. We feel it is important to protect the welfare of the piglet as well as the sow.
We would, however, prefer to avoid close confinement of sows. DEFRA has funded research to investigate and develop viable farrowing systems that do not confine the sow, but provide adequate protection to piglets. Some such alternative systems seem promising in an experimental environment, but in others, piglet mortality has been unacceptably high. It remains the case that results need to be replicated consistently under commercial conditions. As yet, the risk of piglet mortality in alternative farrowing systems remains unacceptably high.
Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the merits of implementing a ban on the use of farrowing crates for pigs; and what discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the merits of such a ban. 
Mr. Bradshaw: We would prefer to avoid the close confinement of all sows, but there are currently no free-farrowing systems suitable for widespread commercial adoption. Farrowing crates protect piglets from being crushed by the sow, one of the largest causes of pig mortality. The time limit on how long sows may be kept in farrowing crates is from seven days before the predicted day of farrowing until the piglets are weaned. After this period, sows must be moved back to loose housing accommodation in which they are free to turn round easily.
DEFRA has funded research to develop and test commercially viable farrowing systems which do not closely confine the sow but provide adequate protection to piglets. Some alternative systems seem promising in an experimental environment but it remains the case that results need to be replicated consistently under commercial conditions. As yet, the risk of piglet mortality in alternative farrowing systems remains unacceptably high.
Our research, and that of other European Union (EU) member states, will contribute to the European Food Safety Authority's examination of a number of issues, including farrowing systems. This work will lead to the next review of the EU Directive on pig welfare, scheduled for 2008. We look forward to working with other member states and the European Commission on this review.
The population abundance and density of basking sharks in any sea area of the world is not known. Monitoring of the UK population of basking sharks has largely been based on sightings of sharks feeding on plankton near the sea surface during spring and summer. Three public sighting recording
schemes are presently under way in the UK (The Marine Conservation Society Basking Shark Watch; Seaquest South-West and Solway Shark Watch). The MCS scheme has been running for 20 years and it has observed over 24,000 animals.
Current research (by the Marine Biological Association/Cefas) on basking sharks is using modern satellite telemetry to provide valuable information on movements and behaviour of basking sharks in the north-east Atlantic. Information uncovered to date on the geographical movement of individual sharks suggests that despite making long-distance movements they remain in the vicinity of the continental shelf around the UK, Ireland and northern France. These findings have been consolidated with sightings data from UK charities (MCS, IFAW, Shark Trust, Wildlife Trusts, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust) as part of a three-year Esmee Fairbairn Foundation-funded grant to MBA. The project is bringing together in a single database all recent data on basking shark distribution and this means that it is now possible to undertake comprehensive analyses of trends.
Nevertheless, there is no current reliable population estimate for basking sharks in UK (or European) waters. This is due to the difficulties in relating surface sightings to actual population size. While the broad distribution patterns of basking sharks in UK waters are being uncovered by sightings data, new research using telemetry data suggests there are considerable differences in the density distributions of the animal, with animals 60 times more likely to be at the surface (and thus sighted) in mixed water fronts than stratified water fronts. Genetic research is also under way to determine whether populations of basking sharks are discrete or if there is population mixing between the north-east Atlantic region and elsewhere.
Joan Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans he has to designate further areas for the protection of basking sharks; and if he will make a statement. 
It is difficult to designate specific areas for basking sharks given their mobility in UK waters. This would be more appropriate if we are able to identify areas which are key to these animals life cycle, such as, important feeding grounds or breeding grounds, or known mating areas that the animals consistently return to. At present, we do not know enough about these animals. A provision is currently being considered as part of the marine Bill to designate marine protected areas. This means that, as our scientific knowledge improves we will be able to adapt our approach to the conservation of this species, which may include the designation of marine protected areas if deemed appropriate.
Alistair Burt: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what funding is available to farmers wishing to diversify into the production of biofuels and biomass crops; 
(2) what steps he is taking to ensure that farmers are able to take full advantage of the potential of agriculture to produce (a) biofuels, (b) biomass and (c) other alternative sources of energy. 
Ian Pearson: As part of our overall strategy for improving sustainability and reducing the impact of climate change, the Government support the use of biomass sources for the generation of heat and electricity. We are aware of the potential of biomass energy for agriculture and we are working closely with farmers and industry to develop markets and promote uptake.
DEFRAs Energy Crops Scheme, part of the 2000-06 England Rural Development Programme, provides grants to farmers to establish short rotation coppice (SRC) and miscanthus. The scheme is now closed for applications. The Government have agreed in principle to support the establishment of energy crops under the new Rural Development Programme, which will run from 2007 to 2013, and are currently considering how best to take this forward.
Support for energy crops is provided by R and D funding from DEFRA. This underpins an expansion in the commercial breeding programme. The aim is to double the output of new varieties by developing crops with maximised yield and resistance to fungal diseases and pests. Studies are also looking at the development of non-pesticide control strategies and potential new energy crops such as switch grass and reed canary grass.
In 2004, the Government commissioned a Biomass Task Force, led by Sir Ben Gill, to identify the barriers to developing bio-energy and to recommend ways to overcome the problems. They published their report in October 2005. In April 2006, the Government published their response(1) to the Task Forces report. This response accepts that energy from crops, trees and waste can make a strong contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sets out 12 key initiatives and over 60 associated actions to make this happen. A number of the initiatives have already begun, and we published initial information on these in April 2006.
Alistair Burt: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure that farmers who wish to diversify into the production of biomass and biofuels are not hindered by a restrictive regulatory burden. 
Ian Pearson: Under CAP Single Payment Scheme arrangements crops can be grown for energy use on set-aside land. An additional €45 per hectare payment can also be claimed if crops are grown for energy use on non set-aside land. There are specific requirements placed upon growers and processors of crops in these circumstances. The current regime is, however, subject to review and the UK, along with other member states, is working closely with the Commission to seek simplification of the relevant regulations.
Ian Pearson: The following table details the hectares of miscanthus and short rotation coppice established in England under the Energy Crops Scheme. The figures are cumulative. It also details the growth rate in establishment of these crops since the introduction of the scheme in 2000.
|Short rotation coppice||Miscanthus||Total established||Growth rate (percentage)|
Mr. Roger Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the energy crops scheme; and if he will make a statement. 
Ian Pearson: The objective of the energy crops scheme is to encourage the establishment of energy crops grown in England. Energy crops are carbon-neutral and, therefore, as a substitute for fossil fuels, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
|Short rotation coppice||Miscanthus||Total|
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will list the areas in (a) Gibraltar and (b) Cyprus sovereign base areas which meet the requirements for designation as (i) special protection areas and (ii) special areas of conservation under the EC Birds and Habitats Directives. 
Barry Gardiner: The areas which currently meet the requirements for designation as special protection areas (SPA) and special areas of conservation (SAC) in Gibraltar are the Rock of Gibraltar Site of Community Importance (SCI)(1) and the Southern Waters of Gibraltar SCI.
British Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) on Cyprus are not subject to Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive) and Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds (the Birds Directive). However, the Administration take environmental management issues seriously and have, for example, taken steps to designate the Akrotiri Salt Lake, the largest aquatic system in Cyprus, as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
i. Akrotiri Peninsula (SPA and SAC)
ii. Areas within the boundaries of Episkopi village including the Garrison Episkopi Forest and the coastline (SPA and SAC)
iii. Cape Pyla (SAC with some features that probably qualify as SPA)
iv. Akhna Dam (a very small part within the SBA as SPA).
(1) Sites of Community Importance are candidate SACs which have been adopted by the European Commission.
(2) Potential SPAs are sites which have received ministerial approval for consultation, the results of which will form the basis for final classification.
Mr. Bradshaw: We issued a News Release on 12 July drawing attention to the publication of the summary of responses and the report of Citizens' Panels held to consider badger culling as part of the consultation. The consultation was invaluable in helping us to hear from all sides of the badger culling debate and our aim is to take decisions that are sustainable and practical in the long term. There are no plans to issue an additional response to the consultation.
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