Natural England
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'Good progress' on Environmental Stewardship

Over 5 million hectares of land in England, an area roughly twice the size of Wales, are now covered by schemes which aim to conserve our valuable landscape and its wildlife, according to a report published by Defra and Natural England recently.

Environmental Stewardship is a Government-funded scheme open to all farmers, which funds the delivery of environmental benefits through agriculture. The scheme aims to conserve wildlife, maintain and enhance our landscape quality and character, protect our natural resources, and promote public access to the countryside.

Environmental Stewardship is the latest phase of 21 years of agri-environment schemes which have brought real benefit to the countryside.

These schemes have:

  • Delivered 5 million hectares across England under Environmental Stewardship agreements
  • Restored more than 17,000 kilometres of hedgerow
  • Created more than 4,800 kilometres of footpaths, and 2,400 kilometres of cycle paths and bridleways
  • Assisted recovery of a range of species including the stone curlew, bittern, twite, cirl bunting, and chough
  • And we are on target to bring 95% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest into favourable condition by 2010.

Today’s report also makes a number of recommendations for the future of the scheme, in particular the need to address the scope that Environmental Stewardship has to help combat climate change and help mitigate its effects on wildlife and habitats.

Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, visited Pympes Court Farm in Maidstone today to launch the report and to see the benefits that Environmental Stewardship can bring to the local environment. He said:
“Environmental Stewardship is our flagship scheme for farming and the environment. It is open to all farmers in England and has introduced a wealth of improvements to our countryside. Our farming industry has such an important role to play here, and I’m pleased that with their help we’re seeing real changes.

“I am delighted that so many farmers have entered Stewardship and hope that more will now do so. The scheme’s additional focus on tackling climate change is particularly important.

“I warmly welcome the recommendations of this review and we will now work closely with Natural England to implement the changes to the scheme options and to develop the other ideas on scheme design to ensure that Environmental Stewardship continues to achieve its aims.”

Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said:
“We are pleased that the review has recognised the progress made since the introduction of Environmental Stewardship, but agree there is no room for complacency. Natural England will be working hard to implement the findings of this review in a way that allows Environmental Stewardship to address the challenge of climate change and to do more to help the environment. In implementing the findings of the review we will be mindful that we must offer farmers a sufficiently attractive and competitive package to ensure their continued participation in the scheme.”

Notes to Editors

1. A copy of the Environmental Stewardship Review of Progress can be found at: www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/schemes/es/#2a

2. ES is composed of three tiers:

  • Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), a whole farm scheme which aims to encourage farmers and land managers across England to deliver simple but effective environmental management
  • Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS), which is open to farmers who manage all or part of their land organically
  • Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), which, when combined with ELS or OELS options, aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority areas.

3. The scheme replaced the Countryside Stewardship, Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Organic Farming Schemes, which are now closed to new applicants. 2008 marks 21 years of these agri-environment schemes.

4. Around £2.9billion is earmarked for Environmental Stewardship and other agri-environment schemes from 2007-2013, under the Rural Development Programme for England.

5. Pympes Court Farm, which Hilary Benn visited today to launch the Environmental Stewardship Review of Progress report, is a livestock and horticulture farm in the Loose Valley run by Colin and Virginia Duncanson. The farm has traditional orchards, mixed grazing and an education centre in a medieval barn. Environmental Stewardship agreements have been in place on the farm since May 2007, focusing on traditional orchards, education access and hedge restoration.

6. The findings of the review can briefly be summarised as follows:

    1. Scheme Policy Change
    • Climate change should be an overarching theme of ES.
    2. Scheme Option Effectiveness (Entry Level Stewardship)
    • Overall Recommendation: Over 100 detailed changes to ELS options (revised options, prescriptions and new options) should be implemented.
    3. Scheme Option Effectiveness (Higher Level Stewardship)
    • Overall Recommendation: Over 80 detailed changes to HLS options should be implemented.
    4. Scheme Design and Process.
  • Investigate funding sources and develop a significantly enhanced, geographically differentiated, programme of advice to support ELS delivery
  • Explore ways of making further improvements to the Farm Environment Plan (FEP) process
  • Continue to develop and refine a map-based approach to targeting HLS agreements
  • Carry out and implement a full scheme payment review
  • Develop and trial a package of further measures aimed at improving the environmental delivery and local relevance of Entry Level Stewardship.

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