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Natural England report highlights vital need for green farming schemes

The most comprehensive analysis of agri-environment schemes (AES) yet undertaken is published today by Natural England. Titled “Agri-environment schemes in England 2009: A review of results and effectiveness”, the report draws on research from the entire 22-year history of the schemes and analyses the impact they have made on England’s farmed environment.

Poul Christensen, Acting Chairman of Natural England, said: “This report provides conclusive proof that agri-environment schemes have again and again demonstrated their value as a fundamental part of the farmed landscape. They have successfully combined the twin goals of caring for the environment and maintaining food production. As well as sustaining our wildlife and heritage, they help combat climate change, educate our children, and deliver local investment and jobs. With the current funding programme for AES due to end in 2013, it is important that we understand the benefits that agri-environment schemes have delivered. We need to ensure that these achievements can be sustained and built on after 2013.”

The report celebrates the many successes of agri-environment schemes (AES), including:

  • Two thirds of agricultural land in England and most of our most sensitive and best-loved landscapes are managed under AES. Almost 80 per cent of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is under agreement, allowing landmark features such as stone walls, field barns and hay meadows to be restored, along with more than 90 per cent of the country’s most important conservation sites
  • Threatened habitats are being protected and restored. 41 per cent of hedgerows (101,665 miles) are now managed through AES and around 13,000 miles of hedgerows have been restored in the last 10 years
  • While overall farmland bird numbers have suffered declines in recent decades, there have been notable wildlife successes as a result of targeted initiatives delivered through AES. Skylarks, cirl bunting, bumblebees, chough and brown hares have experienced significant population increases on target sites
  • AES have an important role in reducing the impacts of climate change, through management of peat moors to help them store carbon, to schemes supporting woodlands. Greenhouse gas reductions from AES are estimated at up to 3.5m tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. AES also underpin a range of land management programmes aimed at protecting crucial services such as water supplies, pollination and flood protection
  • More than 170,000 people made educational visits to farms through AES in 2008 and 99 per cent said they enjoyed the visit
  • Around £400 million was paid to England’s farmers and land managers last year through AES – and 98 per cent of payments were on time. This investment has spin-off benefits in the wider rural community, sustaining up to 15,000 jobs and generating additional spending of as much as £850 million per year.

A companion document, “Farming with nature: Agri-environment schemes in action”, summarises the benefits of AES and outlines how they can evolve to address the future challenges of providing sustainable agriculture and environmental benefits.

Poul Christensen concluded: “Agri-environment schemes have delivered impressive results in the last two decades and have helped forge a very fruitful partnership between farmers, land managers and conservation. It is this partnership approach that must underpin the approach to the challenges facing the farmed environment; we need to ensure that the legacy of the last two decades of agri-environment schemes is sustained beyond 2013 when the current agri-environment funding programme comes to an end.”

Jim Fitzpatrick, the Farming Minister, said: “This report shows how everyone can benefit from the work farmers do to look after the countryside. With around two thirds of farmland in England now in an agri-environment agreement, local habitats and wildlife are being protected and rural landscapes are being enhanced better than ever before.”

To view the full report and summary please visit www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/farming/funding/aesiereport.aspx

For press information or to arrange interviews/photographs contact Graham Tibbetts on 0300 060 2617 / 07810 636344 or graham.tibbetts@naturalengland.org.uk

For information about Environmental Stewardship go to  www.naturalengland.org.uk/es

Notes to Editors

Agri-environment past and present

England led the way with agri-environment schemes when they were first introduced in 1987 in response to rapid post-war intensification and the corresponding loss in wildlife and landscape character. Conserving hedgerows and field margins and reducing fertiliser use were among their key aspects.

The early schemes, Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) and Countryside Stewardship (CSS), are now being replaced by Environmental Stewardship (ES), launched in 2005 and which builds on the experience gained over two decades. Taking all the schemes together they encompass more than 58,000 agreements, covering around 66 per cent of agricultural land in England.

ES, comprising Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), pays farmers and land managers to protect habitats and species, care for the landscape and historic buildings within it and encourage visits to learn about the countryside.

The scheme is operated by Natural England on behalf of Defra and has been tailored to suit the changing times; it now offers incentives for the protection of natural resources such as fresh water and the adaptation of the rural environment to cope with the effects of climate change.

Sample of wildlife gains

AES have helped populations of cirl bunting pairs increase by 130 per cent from 1992-2003 and stone curlew pairs by 87 per cent from 1997-2005.

The number of skylark chicks reared increased by 50 per cent as a result of small, undrilled patches in winter cereals, compared to conventional crops.

Brown hare increased by 35 per cent in AES fields in East Anglia and bumblebee abundance soared 35-fold as a result of certain field margins.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife sites, ensuring that over 3,500 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats. We have recently committed £6m to develop wetland areas and have detailed biodiversity action plans covering 75% of England’s species
  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

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