Following intensive lobbying an 11th hour addition of a new eligibility option for maintaining existing fences on stock-excluded woodland in the National Assembly's Glastir scheme underlines the Farmers' Union of Wales arguments for a delay in the scheme's introduction, a union leader said today.
"With just three months to go before the November 1 closing date for Glastir applications, the addition of this new option, whilst welcome, proves that our calls for a delay are completely justified as farmers are still struggling with the complexities of the scheme," said the chairman of the union's land use committee Richard Vaughan.
"The FUW has consistently argued that fenced off woodland should be an inherent part of the scheme but it has taken a long time for the Assembly to put this in place and we are concerned that these last minute changes are adding to the confusion amongst farmers.
"This confirms our prolonged concerns that the scheme has been too hastily devised with insufficient thought put into how practical it would be for farmers.
"We now find ourselves in a position where we have been lobbying hard for these new options whilst remaining frustrated at the time it has taken for the Assembly to adopt the suggestions which will help make the scheme more accessible for farmers," said Mr Vaughan.
The union's concerns were reiterated during its annual general meeting, which was addressed by rural affairs minister Elin Jones, and during her recent visit to FUW president Gareth Vaughan's farm at Dolfor, near Newtown.
"Each of the scheme's options has been allocated a set number of points for various land management projects and to exclude woodland from the All-Wales element of Glastir, despite it being an important feature of previous schemes, was baffling. For many farms, dairy in particular, the omission could have meant exclusion from the scheme," said Mr Vaughan.
"We now welcome the belated acceptance of our demand as a positive step forward but regrettably many issues about the scheme still remain of concern to our members," he added.
The aims of Option 40 are to encourage the continued growth of trees and shrubs to maintain the fabric of the woodland; and to enhance the character of the landscape.
Management requirements include:
This option is available on single blocks of existing broadleaved/conifer woodland with a minimum area of 0.5ha as defined on the National Forestry Index irrespective of whether they have been fenced under a previous scheme.
Any woodland entered into a current Tir Gofal, Improved Land Premium, Woodland Grant Scheme, Better Woodlands For Wales, Farm Woodland Premium Scheme and Farm Woodland scheme is not eligible for this option.
The existing fence must be maintained to exclude stock for the lifetime of the contract. If no existing fence is present it is acceptable to erect a new fence to ensure the area is stock excluded. (Points available for this option are for the maintenance of an existing fence only - existing from the start date of AWE Glastir contract)
Stock must be excluded at all times.
The woodland must not be used for supplementary feeding.
The rules for habitat under the Whole Farm Code will apply to the woodland entered into this option.