The rural environment protection scheme requires farmers to follow a set of measures aimed at protecting the rural environment. There are 11 basic measures in the scheme dealing with farm practices and six supplementary measures designed to cater for particular environmental issues. One of these is the degradation of commonage land by overgrazing. In the measure, stock can be removed from the degraded area for a period from 1 November to 30 April and there is also a requirement to limit stock numbers to sustainable levels. REPS provides compensation for farmers complying with these rules. There is no other grant scheme to compensate for removal of sheep from degraded areas.
Supplementary measure 2 in REPS deals with the rejuvenation of degraded or overgrazed land in designated areas and it is mandatory for REPS participants in these areas to comply with the conditions. To date 57 farmers have been approved for payments under this supplementary measure. The average and maximum grants paid in respect of this supplementary measure are £1,056 and £1,202 respectively. Payments are made annually for five years.
As I am sure the Deputy is aware, ewe premium and sheep headage payments are available to farmers who meet the conditions of these schemes. These payments are based on animals held, subject to quota rules in the case of ewe premium and up to a maximum of 200 in the case of sheep headage.
I accept that a problem exists in relation to overgrazing by sheep in some commonage areas. I am confident, however, that the improved incentives available under REPS in such areas will go a long way towards tackling the problem.