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Countryside Management Scheme 11 August 2004

The countryside management scheme being piloted by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry is being evaluated. Figures available suggest increasing success in meeting its objectives, conserving habitats, maintaining landscape features and rewarding farmers.

The Pilot Agri-environment Scheme which was launched in 2002 has taken in 27 farms covering 3,167 ha or 7,822 acres. The average farm size has risen from 62 ha (153 acres) in 2002 to 157 ha (388 acres) in 2004. Each participating farm receives payments over the 5 years of their conservation plan, for habitat management, creation and for capital works, walls fences and tree planting as agreed with DAFF.

In 2004 the pilot farms added a further 400 ha (1,000 acres) of habitat to the area in conservation management, in addition to further habitat creation and capital works. Scheme farmers are receiving payments for maintaining high environmental standards on the farm, such as protecting water quality of ponds, dubs and streams. Habitat creation (eg native tree planting and conservation headlands) accounts for a proportion of the payments up to a ceiling of £3,000 a year per farm. One of the valued features of the scheme is the farmer initiatives section and this has been used to create an orchard, protect species-rich banks, put up bat boxes and other small projects. The scheme also assists farmers using rare breeds and other environmentally friendly practices. DAFF Officer Liz Charter explained:

"The high level of interest and the increasing size of participating farms indicate the value of the scheme to mainstream commercial farmers. The scheme is designed to be compatible with modern farming and the payments are appreciated by those wishing to conserve the landscape features, wildlife and habitats on their farms. It is a voluntary scheme."

Derek and Jane Cain of Glendown Farm, near Port Erin said:

"We made the decision to join the Agri-environment Scheme mainly because it offered an extra source of money at a time when farming in general is under a lot of pressure. One result of joining the Scheme is that we tend to notice the wild birds more, like the choughs and lapwings that tend to do well here. As a whole, it showed up how much wildlife we have always had around the farm, just as a result of our existing methods. It's good that this positive aspect of Manx farming is getting some more recognition and support."

Bill Henderson said:

"I am very pleased with the value of the Scheme and its reception among farmers as indicated by Mr and Mrs Cain in their comments about the value of farming practice to choughs and lapwings. These are rare and protected birds and they depend on the continuance of good farming practice by farmers like the Cains for their success."

The pilot scheme budget is peaking at around £250,000 this year. No further intakes of farms will be accepted as the pilot scheme closed to new entrants last July, 2003. DAFF is having the scheme evaluated this autumn and welcomes feed back from the public as well as farmers. There will be a farmer questionnaire undertaken in due course. Plants and birds on participating farms have been surveyed. The evaluation report is expected at the end of the year. This will be used to inform the full agri-environment scheme which is expected to be open to a larger number of farms starting in 2006. Meanwhile the pilot farms will continue to benefit for the 5 years of their scheme conservation plans.

DAFF have produced a newsletter summarising the pilot scheme. This is available from DAFF at Knockaloe and at the DAFF stand at the Royal Show.

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