ARCHIVE: England Rural Development Programme

The Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme

The ESA scheme was introduced in 1987 to encourage farmers to help protect those areas of the countryside where the landscape, wildlife or historic interest is of national importance.

ESAs have been designated in four separate "stages": 5 were launched in 1987; 5 in 1988; 6 in 1993; and 6 in 1994. Total land coverage of the 22 England ESAs is now over 1.1 million hectares. The 22 ESAs are shown on the map.

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The Scheme involves farmers voluntarily entering into 10 year management agreements with MAFF, under which they receive an annual payment on each hectare of land under agreement. Agreement holders have to follow specific management practices designed to conserve and enhance the landscape, historic and wildlife value of the land under agreement.

Each ESA has more than 1 tier of entry and each tier lays down different management practices. Land entered into an ESA may be eligible for an additional payment if new public access is allowed. The payment rates and policy for each ESA are reviewed regularly.

Payments vary depending on the management required under each tier. They range from 8 per hectare to 500 per hectare.

Once an agreement is made with the Ministry, a farmer may apply for a conservation plan on any part of their land within the ESA boundary. These plans are aimed at improving particularly valuable features and might include, for example, planting new hedges or restoring ponds or traditional farm buildings. This work, which has to be completed within an agreed period, attracts a specified level of grant aid.

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