CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFRA – DEPASTURED CATTLE IN THE NEW FOREST [41876] – 30 April 2020

Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what recent representations he has received from the (a) Official Verderer, (b) Commoners Defence Association and (c) National Park Authority of the New Forest, on (i) damage to the landscape caused by excessive numbers of depastured cattle and (ii) the establishing of the reference period for delinking Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments from the requirement to make an annual BPS application in order to continue to receive such payments; what assessment he has made of the accuracy of reports that the increase in cattle numbers on the Forest in recent years is unsustainable; and if he will make it his policy to make a decision on that matter as soon as possible and treat the New Forest as a special case.  [41876]

[Due for Answer on 6 May. Answered on 11 May.] 

ANSWER

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Victoria Prentis): We have received three pieces of correspondence from the New Forest Commoners Defence Association on these subjects.

The New Forest National Park Authority are aware of the challenges and have been working with the Forestry Commission, Verderers and the Commoners Defence Association to help find the best solution to support commoning and deliver the best outcomes for land management.

Natural England recently recommended that the Environmental Stewardship Higher Level agreement with the Verderers should be extended by one year as the agreement was delivering its objectives and the Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the forest were being managed in a way that improved their condition. We are not aware of damage to landscape due to increased numbers of de-pastured cattle.

We intend to consult further with the industry before setting the detailed rules for delinked payments. This will help us get the approach right for farmers and allow us to take account of any particular concerns, such as the impact on commoners.

The reference period to be used for delinked payments is one of the areas that we intend to consult on. For example, we could make payments based on the Basic Payment Scheme payments the farmer was entitled to receive in a particular scheme year or average over a number of years. We understand the importance of carefully deciding on this reference period and of communicating it to the industry in good time.