Special Environmental Sites and Schemes

19. Environmental Stewardship Scheme

In December 2003 Ministers agreed that the new agri-environment scheme would be referred to as the 'Environmental Stewardship Scheme'.  From spring 2005, existing Defra agri-environment schemes are intended to be replaced by the ESS.  The ESS has three elements, a basic Entry Level Scheme, an Organic Strand paying ongoing aid to organic farmers and a more demanding Higher Level Scheme. The aim of the scheme is to encourage a large number of organic farmers across a wide area of farmland to deliver simple yet effective environmental management.

Entry Level Scheme: In February 2003 Defra commenced a five year pilot on the Entry Level Scheme. The aim of the pilot is to test the practicability of the ELS design on a range of farm types, and to then revise and improve it before making it available to all farmers across England early 2005.  The Entry Level Pilot is no longer open to applications. The following December the Rural Development Service carried out an Entry Level post-pilot exercise in which forty farmers participating in the Entry Level Pilot (10 from each pilot area), were consulted on the potential changes and improvements to the scheme.  The aim of the Entry Level Scheme is to encourage a large number of farmers across a wide area of farmland to deliver simple yet effective environmental management. Farmers taking part in the scheme will select environmental management options from a wide-ranging list, and these simple options, applied widely, will help to reduce:

  • Diffuse pollution (soil erosion and nutrient leaching)
  • Loss of biodiversity (farmland birds, brown hares, bats and invertebrates such as butterflies and bees) 
  • Loss of landscape character (avoid the fragmentation of traditional landscape patterns and maintain traditional field boundaries)
  • Damage to the historic environment (archaeological sites and ridge and furrow grassland)

Applicants will be required to prepare a simple environmental farm record and then choose from a wide-ranging list of environmental management options to include in their application.  Options include:

  • hedgerow management
  • maintenance of stone walls
  • woodland rides
  • buffer strips
  • low input grassland
  • management of upland grazing
  • preparation of management plans

Each option is worth a certain number of points and farmers need to reach a points target, related to the size of their farm, a score of 30 points per hectare for most farms.  For less extensively grazed upland areas, farmers will need to score 15 points per hectare.  Farmers in the scheme will receive payments of £30 per hectare per year, or £15 per hectare per year for extensively grazed upland areas. The agreements will last 5 years.

Higher Level Scheme:  The Higher Level Scheme will be based on the existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) and is likely to be launched across England in early 2005. It aims to broaden coverage of agri-environment schemes and build on the achievements of the existing CSS and ESAs. It is intended that existing agreement holders will progressively transfer to the new scheme from 2005.  The five main objectives for the Higher Level Scheme are:

  • Wildlife conservation
  • Protection of the historic environment
  • Maintenance and enhancement of landscape quality and character
  • Promote public access and understanding
  • Resource protection

With two secondary objectives of:

  • Flood Management
  • Genetic Conservation

This Scheme will focus on management of greater complexity where land managers need advice and support, where agreements need to be tailored to local circumstances and where management needs to be carefully targeted.

Organic Strand of the Entry Level Scheme (OELS):  It is proposed that both the OFS conversion and maintenance schemes will close to all new applications on the launch of the OELS. Existing OFS agreements will be honoured. Payments under the OELS will be based on compliance with farm management geared to organic farming systems. The OELS will largely mirror the ELS list of options and prescriptions but will be tailored specifically to organic systems. As for the ELS Scheme organic farmers will have to achieve a points target and will choose from a list of management options in order to reach that target. It is also proposed that payments for conversion to organic farming in top fruit orchards and improved land will also be delivered through the OELS.

It will be open to all organic farmers and land managers:

  • not currently receiving OFS conversion aid
  • with land that is fully converted and being farmed organically, and
  • which is registered with a recognised Organic Inspection Body.

It is a whole farm scheme and farmers will choose from a wide ranging list of environmental management options to include in their application.  Each option will be worth a certain number of points. Farmers will need to reach a points target, relating to the size of their organic unit.  Since many organic farmers will also have non-organic land, there will be the facility to have a combined ELS (on conventional land) and OELS (on organic land) agreements.

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