Details of 'broad and shallow'

By Johann Tasker


.......Using a formula which could have been inspired by a TV quiz show, producers will score points for carrying out environmental odd jobs around the farm.

Farmers who notch up a target number of points will see their tally converted into cash.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will then distribute the prize money in the form of an annual payment.

Civil servants believe the idea represents a major shift in thinking about paying farmers for looking after the countryside.

Producers must score about 30 points/ha (12/acre) by implementing various environmental measures to receive an equivalent payment in Sterling.

Points will be awarded for a range of jobs such as looking after hedges (32 points per 100m) or creating nesting plots for skylarks (2 points per plot).

Until now, only a few farmers have seen details of the scheme.

Jon Hatt, who farms 120ha (300 acres) of beef and arable at Goring Heath, Reading, would have to score about 3600 points in return for #3600 a year.

He said: "If it were offered to me, I don't think the extra hassles are worth the modest payments involved."

With generous helpings of points for looking after permanent grassland, hedges and stonewalls, the scheme appears to favour hill farmers.

Upland livestock producers with small fields in Devon or the Peak District should have little difficulty qualifying, especially as Less Favoured Areas have a lower target.

But arable farmers may have more of a problem.

Unless DEFRA changes its mind, looking after ditches will be pointless - even though the drains which criss-cross the hedgeless Fens are a haven for wildlife.

With virtually no stone walls to look after, farmers in East Anglia will have to concentrate on other measures.

Skylark plots, designed to create nesting sites for one of Britain's best-loved birds, are particularly hard work for what some regard as a measly two points.

Farmers will be asked to leave a 6m x 6m unsown area in autumn-sown cereals. Pesticides, fertilisers or manures must not be applied.

The plot must then be avoided when the rest of the field is worked.

A mixed-farming version of the scheme will be piloted next year at Mortimer, Berkshire.......