Special Environmental Sites and Schemes

11. Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Countryside Stewardship is an approach to managing and restoring landscapes and habitats. It is aimed at conservation, management and re-creation of valued landscapes. The Scheme was set up with the following objectives relating to landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and access:-

  • sustain the beauty of and diversity of the landscape;
  • improve and extend wildlife habitats;
  • conserve archaeological sites and historic features;
  • improve opportunities for enjoying the countryside;
  • restore neglected land or landscape features; and
  • create new wildlife habitats and landscapes.

The scheme targets particular landscape types. Since its inception these have included chalk and limestone grassland, lowland heath, waterside landscapes, coastal areas, historic landscapes (e.g. deer parks and old orchards), old meadows and pastures (in Hereford and Worcester, NW Devon and NE Cornwall) and uplands. The new enhanced options for uplands now supersede the Moorland Scheme. Registration in the scheme is for ten years and payments vary significantly with the minimum being paid for salt marsh conservation to a maximum for re-creating lowland heath. Grants are also available for allowing public access and for hedgerow restoration. By 1996 the Scheme had achieved the following:-

  • A total of nearly 107, 000 ha of land had been entered;
  • Payments had been made for improved open access on over 13, 000 ha and for educational access on 6, 000 ha; and
  • 319 km of pathway access has been provided, including 47 km of bridle paths.

Countryside Stewardship Regulations

In 2002 there were a total of 15,224 agreements covering 441,340 ha.  New arable options that became available from 2002 fall into three catagories:  wildlife mixtures, overwintered stubbles and conservation headlands. The new options will be made available on land that is registered under the Arable Area Payments Scheme (AAPS) and for which there are records of cultivation or set-aside for the previous five years.

The Scheme is discretionary thus not all applications will be accepted. Generally, the more work of different types entered the more likely Defra will accept the application.  Priority is given to plans that:

  • meet the Scheme's objectives
  • include land in a county target area
  • are of landscape, wildlife and historical interest
  • are linked to land of special interest or contribute to a national target for a habitat or species listed in a Biodiversity Action Plan
  • offer a combination of different benefits
  • provide opportunities for people to enjoy the benefits and
  • cover land in a village or urban fringe of high local amenity value.

Grants are also more likely to be awarded if the plans represent a positive change in management, are realistic and achievable, will produce the planned objectives, are well researched, are supported by environmental bodies and are good value for money.

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