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Farmers receiving EU conservation cash must display billboard

Landowners receiving large amounts of European funding to protect the countryside must put up a "billboard" to publicise the fact, under mandatory regulations.

Farmers receiving more than 500,000 euros (£388,250) for investments under the Countryside Stewardship scheme, such as creating woodland of more than seven hectares (17 acres), must put up a permanent billboard where it can be seen by the public.

Landowners receiving more than 50,000 euros (£38,825) of EU funding for capital items must put up a plaque at least 30cm by 30cm (one square foot), while those getting 10,000 euros (£7,765) during the lifetime of their deal must display an A3 poster.

The Countryside Stewardship scheme pays farmers and landowners subsidies through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy for undertaking measures to protect the environment, including restoring natural areas such as lakes and heathland and creating woods.

The regulations set out in the Government's Countryside Stewardship manual warn that: " The poster, plaque or billboard must be put in place at the start of the agreement and must be kept in place for the duration of the agreement.

"Failure to display the required poster, plaque or billboard, or to replace those which are lost or damaged, will be a breach of the agreement and subject to a penalty or recovery of payments."

According to the document, the majority of funding agreements which include measures over a number of years and capital items will exceed 10,000 euros, so at least a poster will be required, which must be paid for by the farmer or landowner.

The billboards have to be 1.2 metres by 1.8 metres (4ft by 6ft).

Graeme Willis, senior rural affairs campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: "CPRE has campaigned for many years to avoid signs unnecessarily cluttering the countryside.

"In the wrong place and on the wrong scale they can marr views and damage the character of rural areas. They also distract drivers from following the road and this can be dangerous for them and other road users, especially on narrow country lanes.

"Making farmers put up billboards to advertise EU funding alone is the wrong way to go. We should use small signs and explore more imaginative ways to explain to people what farmers are doing to support nature."

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