As well as looking after historic properties and sites of special interest, the National Trust for Jersey owns more than 600 vergées of farmland, which it leases to producers.
The charity’s chief executive, Charles Alluto, said that legislation enacted more than 40 years ago to protect fields for use by only bona fide agriculturalists was inadequate and in need of review.
Mr Alluto makes his call for reform of Jersey’s land-control law in the charity’s Discover magazine. As much of the Island’s farmland is rented, rather than owned by those who work it, he wants the States to give landowners the right to exercise standards – like those coming in next month to control rented accommodation – to ensure their land is managed according to the highest environmental standards.
‘The trust wholly supports the long-term protection of our land bank for the agricultural industry, but I would question that this should be at any price,’ he says.
‘If you are going to secure bona fide status then you should be required to demonstrate that you will indeed act as a custodian of our countryside and will invest in the long-term health of our soils, fresh water, wildlife and landscape.’
Moreover, Mr Alluto says the law was deficient because it only applied to land which had changed hands since it was enacted in 1974.
Environment Minister John Young said Mr Alluto had ‘set out a well-argued case for review of the law regarding agricultural land leases and sales’ and he will raise the issues with the department.
‘I recall it was previously proposed by the old Policy and Resources Committee to repeal this law in 2004 when the [former] Agricultural and Fisheries Department was broken up,’ he said.
‘Wisely, the law was retained to prevent the Island from being literally sold overseas, but as far as I am aware the conditions applied to agricultural land holdings remain unchanged decades later.’
The Island’s farmers are being obliged to join the nationally recognised producer accreditation organisations Red Tractor and Linking Environment and Farming which require members to follow best practice by the end of 2019, if they are to qualify for government funding. Mr Alluto wants the States to go a step further.
Having tried to insert conditions in its leases, such as preventing surplus potatoes being ploughed back into the land, he said the trust was advised that such clauses would render land unrentable.
‘The environmental credentials of any potential tenant need to be transparent and available to all, and the Environment Department should be encouraged to place this information in the public domain,’ he said. ‘For example, an environmental star-rating system for all bona fide agriculturalists, which would rate PCN management [controlling potato eel worm] pesticide application, soil and hedgerow care to name just a few.
‘A similar system is being put in place for residential landlords, in terms of the condition of their properties, so that tenants are able to make informed choices. I see no reason why landowners should not be placed in a similar position, which would have the added bonus of raising land-management standards across the board.’