Alyn Calls For Calm On Heather

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has appealed for a more measured tone on the issue of the inclusion of heather in eligible land for CAP subsidies from those seeking to make an anti-EU mountain out of a molehill in order to score cheap political points.

Whilst there is potential for a negative impact in Scotland should no changes be made to the Commission's definition of "permanent grassland", Alyn has dismissed the current hysteria on the grounds that, with co-decision powers, the European Parliament can and will amend the proposals to ensure that heather and other forms of atypical forage areas will be included in eligible land.

The draft regulation on direct payments defines "permanent grassland" as land used to grow grasses or other herbaceous forage, or land where herbaceous forage is predominant: this leaves question marks over whether heather will be included in eligible land for Single Farm Payment - a question which is being discussed by Scottish Government lawyers and the Commission.

Alyn said:

"I'm getting quite tired of irresponsible politicians exploiting popular ignorance of the European legislative process to try and score cheap anti-EU political talking points.  Yes, there is an issue here in that the Commission's initial definition of pasture is ambiguous as to the inclusion or non-inclusion of heather, and seems to be skewed towards grass-based systems - which are not representative of all of Europe's landscapes.  However, that is why we have a legislative process.

"The Commission does not issue decrees - it issues draft proposals, which are then subject to intense scrutiny and debate by elected politicians and experts, of the exact kind which we are now doing.  We're picking up the flaws in the initial draft and we will amend them to ensure a better result for Europe's farmers.  This is not an example of the system not working - it's an example of the system working.

"And Scotland is far from alone in this.  There are other parts of Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean, where they have atypical pasture land based on shrubs and trees, not grass, and they are just as eager to change this as we are.  Also, finding an adequate definition will require some work: we don't want to include too much land, risking a return to the "naked acres" problem we know so well.  This will be primarily a technical discussion - yet some want to turn this into a black and white "barmy bureaucrats" political bunfight.  It won't wash, and our farmers deserve better from their representatives.  

"I'll work with anyone to secure the best deal for Scotland's agriculture, and look forward to building coalitions among constructive partners in the Parliament and Council to iron out the creases in the regulations.  Shouting and screaming won't achieve that consensus.  There is a time and a place for that, but this is certainly not it."