1.1. BACKGROUND: THE POST WAR PRODUCTIVIST ERA
The Post War productivist era experienced massive agricultural restructuring. Intensification, technological change, mechanisation and guaranteed prices all led to the expansion of agriculture in the English countryside (Smith et al., 1993). The traditional English landscape was suddenly considered to be an “inconvenient obstruction to the activities of the agri-businessmen” (Shoard, 1980, p.14). Mechanisation led to the removal of hedgerows, improved drainage removed ditches, and price support and agricultural grants led to the drainage of marshes and removal of woodland to increase production. The use of chemical fertilisers increased yields. Pesticides included herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, molluscicides and rodenticides, which severely reduced the wildlife habitats on farmland and neighbouring habitats. The soil nutrient status of field margins and non-cultivated land led to the impoverishment of plant communities as highly competitive species increased, forcing out many native wild flowers (Smith et al., 1993). The need for a fallow stage in crop rotations was also eliminated, thus further reducing the availability of wildlife habitats on the farm. On some farms in Essex wheat has been cropped continuously for 20 years without a rotation or ley.
1.2. THE POST PRODUCTIVIST ERA
In the 1980’s the productivist era had reached a climax. Production levels had increased above market demand producing huge food mountains. Budget costs had risen resulting in higher food prices (Floyd, 1992). The Council of Agricultural Ministers met in Brussels in 1992 and made dramatic changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
1.3. SET-ASIDE POLICY
The initial set-aside policy which was set up in 1988 was a voluntary scheme. Farmers who decided to join the scheme had to take at least 20% of land used for growing arable crops out of production (Ilbery, 1990). A farmer could manage the set-aside as permanent fallow, rotational fallow, non-agricultural use, or woodland. A combination of these options could be used. Under permanent fallow the farmer is committed to set-aside the same parcel or parcels of land for five years. The rotational fallow option enables farmers to set-aside different parcels of land each year as part of the normal arable rotation. The payment for the rotational fallow is lower than for the permanent fallow to take account of the benefit this brings by increasing the yield on the following crop (MAFF/WOAD, 1988).
The fallow option dictates that:
1. The land must be kept in good agricultural condition
2. The land must not be left bare, but a green cover crop must be sown, or established by allowing the naturally occurring vegetation to regenerate
3. The cover crop must be cut at least once a year
4. The application of fertilisers and pesticides is prohibited as a general rule
5. The land may be managed for environmental or conservation purposes
6. Existing trees, hedges, watercourses, ponds and pools on or next to land set-aside must be maintained (MAFF/WOAD, 1988).
In the 1992 CAP reform the set-aside policy became compulsory, and stated that 15% of land had to be taken out of agricultural production. The options for set-aside underwent a few changes. Land could be used to grow industrial crops, such as crops grown as biodiesel (oil-seed rape), pharmaceutical products (evening primrose), and solid biofuels (short rotation coppice of willow or poplar). MAFF also developed new schemes to promote set-aside for amenity and conservation use. The countryside Access Scheme was set up in 1994. In this scheme extra payments are made for farmers to open access routes, or entire fields, for recreational use by the public. The Countryside Premium Scheme and Woodland Premium Scheme dictate the specific cover that has to be established in terms of species of grass mixtures or broad-leaved trees, both of which dictate that at least four species from a list of ten native species must be established. Essentially, two types of set-aside developed, one for the purpose of supply management and the other specifically designed for socio-structural, forestry, and environmental purposes.
The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology suggest that the potential objectives for non-rotational set-aside are:
1. To conserve wildlife
2. To promote biological control of pests on nearby arable land
3. To increase stocks of game and fish
4. To manage runoff of nutrients and agrochemicals into adjacent water and land
5. To provide public access and amenity
6. To improve rural landscapes
7. To reduce carbon dioxide emissions
8. To replace fossil fuels with biomass fuels.
(Firbank et al., 1993).
1.4. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF REPORT
1. To determine which form of cover management is most beneficial to the creation of diverse vegetation communities on set-aside land.
2. To determine whether the species composition of a field is dependent on the chemical characteristics of the soil.
3. To determine whether five year non-rotational set-aside could be either beneficial to the agricultural quality of the land or detrimental (in terms of soil characteristics and the presence and invasion of hardy and noxious weeds).
These aims and objectives will be met by testing a set of hypotheses which will be set up in Chapter 4.