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'It has stopped us from being positive, productive farmers' - farmers in row with Natural England

By Sarah Beard

 

Two farmers have been left almost £20,000 out of pocket due to a wrangle with Natural England (NE) over a piece of land which it claims has protected status.

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Claire Davis and Phil Oliver were told they would not be allowed to harvest maize for their beef cattle in the field near Redditch in May.

 

NE said the land was ‘ridge and furrow’ and was classified under environmental impact assessment (EIA) rules which protect rural land that is uncultivated or semi- natural from changes in agricultural activities that might cause damage.

 

The partners bought the land in September 2017 and obtained spray records which proved the land had been used for agricultural purposes in 2007 and 2008.

 

However, NE said the land was classified as semi-natural, meaning the farmers were forced to spray off 16 acres of their maize crop and buy in £8,000 worth of feed.

 

Farmers Guardian understands changes to EIA rules were made in May 2017, which could explain why the land has been reclassified.

 

But an archaeological survey was only ordered on the land in October and no results have been published.


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Mr Oliver said: "It is not 60cm ridge and furrow, never has been; everyone all around will tell you that, but NE is not taking any notice of witness statements. They have ignored the spray records as well which would have nipped this in the bud. If it was that deep, you would not physically be able to plough it."

 

Claire Davis described the ordeal as ’soul destroying’.

 

She said the issue had been compounded by NE’s seemingly limited knowledge of agriculture and handling of the case.

An the partners have vowed never to work with NE again.

 

Mr Oliver, who said they could be left with a £20,000 financial hole from an NE fine and not being able to grow on the field, said: “NE have ignored the spray records. If it was that deep, you would not physically be able to plough it.”

 

"We will never support anything they [NE] do. This has stopped us from being positive, productive farmers.

 

An NE spokeswoman said: “The aim of the EIA regulations is to prevent further deterioration and loss of our environmental heritage.”

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