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Environmentally Sensitive Areas

The ESA scheme was introduced in 1987. As agriculture can have a major influence on the conservation and enhancement of the countryside, wildlife and historical features, the Countryside Commission and English Nature identified areas which they considered to be particularly vulnerable to agricultural practices. These areas were designated 'Environmentally Sensitive Areas'. The scheme is voluntary and farmers within an ESA are encouraged to maintain or adopt farming practices that will protect the special environmental features. In some cases farmers are offered financial incentives to open their land for public access. Signposting and waymarks are provided free and grants of up to 80% may be given to restore gates and stiles etc.. This scheme is now managed by DEFRA.

ESA's now account for more than 10% of agricultural land in England and Wales, with 22 sites covering close to 3 million acres. Each ESA is unique, having its own particular environmental features; consequently the land management requirements which farmers must comply with differ from site to site. For example the Pennine Dales is known for its hay meadows, drystone walls and field barns. Farmers joining the ESA scheme are required to maintain these features. Those who join the scheme receive grants for each hectare of land entered into the scheme. Grants vary according to the nature of the work which the farmer needs to carry out.

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