There are policy pressures to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable and to give a more local expression to agri-environmental priorities. This paper considers these moves, with particular reference to the beef sector, and speculates on the further policy responses required to facilitate benign local agri-environmental management. The UK beef sector is characterized by its complexity and diversity but four major systems can be identified operating at varying levels of intensity. Of these, suckler herds and grass-rearing systems have long been associated with high natural value forms of agricultural land management. Many of the cherished habitats and landscapes of the UK are dependent upon grazing for their ecological and amenity value. However a combination of the BSE crisis, the strength of sterling and the recent Foot & Mouth epidemic threatens the sustainability of these high nature value grazing systems. The importance of grazing to fifty selected Sites of Special Scientific Interest is highlighted in the paper. Survey work identified a wide range of systems to be particularly vulnerable to changes in profitability in the beef sector, including: coastal grazing marsh, wet acidic grassland / marshland, upland moor and heath, calcareous grassland and neutral grassland. To maintain these systems requires agricultural policy to be more sensitive to local conditions than appears currently to be the case. There is little policy support for beef farmers in a regional context, still less giving special prominence to those farming within particular biotopes. Nor has there been sufficient policy encouragement to markets for traditional and local beef breeds. The continuing pressure for CAP reform offers further opportunity for policies to be devolved to regions and localities
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