Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)

Section 1 - Introduction to Entry Level Stewardship

1.1 Introduction and general overview

1.1.1 What is Environmental Stewardship?

Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) is an agri-environment scheme that provides funding to farmers and other land managers in England in return for delivering environmental management on their land.

ELS is one of three elements of Environmental Stewardship (ES). The other two elements are Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). Detailed information about OELS and HLS is provided in the separate OELS and HLS Handbooks.

Farmers and land managers can select from a range of environmental management options to create an agreement which fits with their farming practices and meets the environmental priorities for their farm. Our booklet Look after your land with Environmental Stewardship is available to download from the Natural England website at www.naturalengland.org.uk and provides examples of how farmers are using the scheme to benefit their farms.

There are options suited to all farm types, including a range of options specifically for upland farms. The Uplands ELS options offer a higher level of payment in return for environmental management of land within the Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDAs).


1.1.2 Benefits of ELS and Uplands ELS for farmers and land managers

ELS rewards farmers and land managers for the adoption of environmental land management practices on their land. The scheme makes two payments for each year of the agreement. It can complement your existing farm practices and help you to meet other requirements such as cross compliance.

You can make awkward corners, small fields and wet areas of your farm work better for you by entering them into ELS options. The least productive areas of a farm are often, with the correct management, the best for birds, wildlife and natural resource protection. You can protect the historic features on your farm, and help maintain the landscape character of your area.

ELS agreements can be beneficial to your wider farming practices. ELS can help you to protect vital assets such as soil and water, and provide habitats for beneficial wildlife that can help to control crop pests, through options such as the creation of beetle banks.


1.1.3 ELS aims and objectives

The aims and objectives of ELS are to:

  • conserve wildlife including farmland birds (biodiversity);
  • maintain and enhance landscape quality and character by helping to maintain important features such as traditional field boundaries;
  • protect the historic environment, including archaeological features and traditional farm buildings;
  • protect natural resources by improving water quality and reducing soil erosion and surface run-off;
  • respond to climate change by protecting existing soil carbon levels, increasing carbon sequestration and supporting the adaptation of the natural environment to climate change.


1.1.4 Priority options and priority areas

The combination of the options you choose and the areas on your farm where you choose to locate them will have a big influence on what you deliver through your ELS agreement.

Section 2, entitled Environmental objectives, contains a selection of themed pages covering farmland birds, wildlife, landscape, the historic environment, resource protection and climate change. These pages explain why your farm is important for each objective and the priority areas that can be used. They also list the best options to maximise the environmental benefits and describe how you can have a positive impact by implementing these options. Not all of the packages will be appropriate for your farm - the ELS Priority Area maps and your own knowledge of the features and wildlife in your locality will help you identify which objectives and options are most relevant in your area.

More detailed regional maps are available on the Natural England website at www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/farming/funding/es/default.aspx.


1.1.5 What the scheme has delivered to date

The 39,550 current ELS agreements (including combined ELS-HLS agreements) are delivering over 185,000 km of environmentally friendly hedgerow management (nearly 115,000 miles), more than 5,000 hectares of bird seed mix and protecting more than 180,000 in-field trees. Monitoring shows that this management is achieving real benefits for wildlife.


1.1.6 Further help: free farm visits and events

Natural England can provide a free ELS farm visit from a farming and environmental specialist. Whether you are applying for ELS for the first time, renewing an existing agri-environment agreement, or looking for guidance on how to manage your existing agreement more effectively, the support provided can include:

  • a discussion on the options most suited to your farm to benefit farmland birds, wildlife, water, soil, the historic environment, landscape and climate change;
  • practical suggestions on option location and management, such as tips on establishing wild bird and nectar flower mixes, guidance on buffer strip weed control and how to get a good sward structure;
  • information on new and updated options;
  • an explanation of the financial benefits and how ELS options can complement your existing farming practices; and
  • information and support on applying for ELS by paper or online.

Natural England also runs a programme of farm events to deal with the above topics from a local perspective. To arrange a FREE farm visit or to book a place on a farm event please contact our events team on 0300 060 1695 or visit the Farm Events and Visits page on the Natural England website at www.naturalengland.org.uk/.

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