England Rural Development Programme

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Overview ] Protected Areas ] [ England Rural Development Programme ] Pre ERDP Schemes ]

Agri-environmental schemes became increasingly managed through the England Rural Development Plan when introduced in 2000.  The DEFRA website provides a comprehensive overview of the schemes within the programme CLICK HERE.  The programme ended in 2006 and has now been replaced by the Rural Development Plan for England (RDPE) which was approved by Brussels in December 2007 and will run from 2007-2013 with a budget of 3.9billion.  As a result of the new plan some of the requirements of the current schemes have changed but will only affect farmers who entered the schemes in 2007.

Pause for thought........Before applying for entry to any agri-environmental scheme, what form must the farmer fill in.


England Rural Development Plan (ERDP)       

The ERDP was originally approved in October 2000 and operated through a framework of ten different but integrated schemes through the availability of 1.6 billion of EU and Government money for the seven years (2000 - 2006) of the programme. 

The programme contributed to the Government's strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food (which was launched on 12th December 2002 to work to secure a sustainable future for the food and farming industries whilst contributing to a better environment). The strategy was able to provide an extra 500 million for areas such as; a new entry-level agri-environment scheme and to provide money for schemes like Countryside Stewardship. 

The ERDP principally aimed to help farmers and foresters become more:


Environmentally Responsible








Responsive to Consumer Requirements

The ten schemes operated through the ERDP were divided into Land-based and Project-based schemes and are summarised below.

Many of the schemes have now been replaced.  In March 2005 two new schemes were introduced in England. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme, was launched to build on the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the Organic Farming Scheme and the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme and Woodland Grant Scheme were replaced by the English Woodland Grant Scheme.  In addition all the project-based schemes closed to new applicants in 2006.  A new Energy Crops Scheme (ECS) is now run by Natural England.


Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme

The Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme offers incentives to farmers to adopt agricultural practices which will safeguard and enhance parts of the country of particularly high landscape, wildlife or historic value.

The Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) scheme was launched by MAFF in 1987 with the aim of pursuing environmental objectives in designated areas of high environmental value, through the encouragement of appropriate agricultural practices. There are now 22 ESAs in England covering an area of over 1.1 million ha. The English ESA's were designated in four separate "stages". The ESAs for Stage I were launched in 1987, Stage II in 1988, Stage III in 1993, and Stage IV in 1994.

Payments and Options

ESA agreement holders receive an annual payment on each hectare of land in return for adopting measures designed to conserve and enhance the landscape, historic and wildlife value of the land under agreement. 

Payments vary widely between areas (stages) and the options include payments for:

bulletBuffer Strips (up to 400/ha, depending on area)
bulletSpecies rich hay meadows ( up to 150/ha, depending on area ) 
bulletUnimproved pasture and rough land (70/ha, depending on area)

CLICK HERE  for ESA monitoring reports 

The scheme is now closed to new applicants although old agreements will remain in force until they expire, a new Environmental Stewardship Scheme has been created to build on the ESA's success. 

Pause for thought...........In the Lake District ESA what were the two measures of grazing intensity used in the 1993-96 survey?

Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS)

This scheme was piloted by the Countryside Commission between 1991 and 1996 and transferred to MAFF on the 1st April 1996. It offers payments to farmers and other land managers to enhance and conserve English landscapes, their wildlife and history and also to encourage the general public to enjoy them. It aims to make conservation part of farming and land management practice. By 1998 there were 8 614 agreements covering a total area of 143055ha

Payments and Options

One-off payments are available for specific areas, such as 'eyesore clearance' @ 120.

This scheme differs from the Arable Stewardship scheme in the fact that a large proportion of the payments are for maintenance of the area in stewardship, i.e. payments for gates and access, reed bed planting etc. rather than farming practice payments, but a payment of 280/ha is available for recreating grassland on former cultivated land.

Featured case study:-
Photo of a harvest mouse, credit Andrew Price
DEFRA scheme helps
safeguard harvest mice


DEFRA received 3,867 applications for 2004 CSS entry and of those 2,232 were new agreements and 481 were renewals. The scheme has seen restoration of over 1,300 miles of dry stone walls and over 17,500 miles of hedgerow, and with the establishment of over 44,500 miles of grass margins. 

Countryside Stewardship is discussed in greater detail in subject 7. Although the scheme is no longer open to new application, old agreements will remain in place and will play a major role in the current agri-environmental schemes until the new ESS has been fully established. 

CLICK HERE for Countryside Stewardship website


The scheme is now closed to new applicants although old agreements will remain in force until they expire, a new Environmental Stewardship Scheme has been created to build on the CSS's success. 

Pause for thought.......List 5 characteristics that may ensure an area is eligible for Countryside Stewardship

The Organic Farming Scheme

The Organic Farming Scheme opened for applications in England in April 1999. It replaced the Organic Aid Scheme, which was open from 1994 to 1999. The scheme was voluntary and offered financial help to those conventional farmers and growers who wished to convert to organic farming methods. Existing organic farmers may also benefited when converting new land.

It was recognised that well practiced organic farming is one of the options available for environmentally friendly and sustainable production. The scheme was therefore designed to help encourage an expansion of organic production by providing financial help to farmers and growers when converting to organic methods.

Any agricultural land not already in organic production was eligible to enter the scheme. Aid was payable on an area basis (minimum 1 ha) over a period of five years. Participants in the scheme were required to submit a conversion plan, and if approved, enter into an undertaking with DEFRA which is legally binding.

Participants were required to undertake certain environmental management operations. The rules of the scheme also required participants to be registered as an organic producer, or a producer in conversion, with one of the approved organic sector bodies (i.e. Soil Association). This was necessary in order to comply with the certification arrangements for organic production in the United Kingdom. Under EC regulation 2092/91 it is illegal to sell food as organic unless it has been produced in accordance with the requirements set out in that regulation and by a producer who is registered with, and subject to, inspection by a recognised organic sector body. The Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS) has responsibility for the administration of the EC regulation in the UK.

Applications for the OFS was lower than anticipated with for example, 143 applications for conversion aid and 92 applications for ongoing maintenance aid being received between October 2003 and March 2004. However, 120 conversion agreements were approved covering 7,509 hectares and 79 agreements for maintenance aid covering 8,165 hectares were approved. 

CLICK HERE for more details of the OFS

Organic livestock and crops, visually, can you tell the difference?


The scheme closed to new applicants in 2005 although old agreements will remain in force until they expire, a new Environmental Stewardship Scheme has been created to build on the OFS's success. 

Pause for thought............List 5 aspects of organic farming that potentially make it more environmentally friendly

Farm Woodland Premium Scheme

CLICK HERE for more details of the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme

The Farm Woodland Premium Scheme was introduced in April 1992 to replace the pilot Farm Woodland Scheme. It aimed to encourage farmers to convert productive agricultural land to woodlands by providing annual payments for 10 years (for predominantly conifer woodland) or 15 years (for predominantly broadleaved woodland) to help offset the agricultural income foregone.

Newly established trees in existing woodland

The objectives of the scheme were to enhance the environment through the planting of farm woodlands, in particular to improve the landscape, provide new habitats and increase biodiversity. In doing this, land managers were encouraged to realise the productive potential of woodland as a sustainable land use.

The scheme operated on a UK basis and was part of the approved UK programme under EC Regulation 2080/92 on forestry measures in agriculture. It was administered by the four agriculture departments and worked in close tandem with the Forestry Commission's Woodland Grant Scheme (see 5) which offered establishment grants for new woodlands. In order to ensure satisfactory environmental and silvocultural standards, applicants for the FWPS were only approved once the proposed planting had been approved under the WGS. A single WGS/FWPS application was processed in parallel by the Forestry Commission and agricultural departments, and a single approval was given.

To be eligible for the scheme, farmers must have run an agricultural business that included the land to be converted to woodland, however participants were not required to continue to maintain an agricultural business after entry into the scheme. Once accepted into the scheme, the woodland must be maintained in accordance with good forestry practice and the land planted with trees must not be returned to agriculture for 30 years after planting in the case of woodland containing more than 50% by area of broadleaved trees and 20 years in the case of woodland containing 50% or less by area of broadleaved trees. By the end of the scheme in March 2005, there had been 9 678 applications with a total of 43 668 ha approved for planting in England.

The FWPS was subject to economic and environmental evaluations in each of the countries of the UK. Independent consultants were commissioned to evaluate the impact of the FWPS at farm level.

After revision on 1st April 1997, the scheme was updated to include:

bulletincreased annual payment rates
bulletthe abolition of the requirement to maintain an agricultural business for existing and future participants once accepted into the scheme
bulletthe abolition of the rule limiting applications to 50% of the farm business, though there is to be an upper limit of 200 hectares per farm business
bulletextension of eligibility to all cropped land and to land let under short - term grazing arrangements
bulletthe simplification of administration procedures by the introduction of a single application and approval process for the WGS and the FWPS

Payments and Options

Payments again varied widely, but are generally higher, the higher quality of the land being removed from agricultural production i.e.:

bulletArable land, outside Less Favoured Areas 300/hectare/year
bulletDisadvantaged Areas of Less Favoured Areas, 230/hectare/year
bulletSeverely Disadvantaged Areas of Less Favoured Areas, 160/hectare/year

These payments are in addition to the full range of establishment grants available under the Forestry Commission's Woodland Grant Scheme. Where land is to count against the farmer's set-aside obligation, the payment rate will be restricted to the set-aside rate if that is lower.

The Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS)

CLICK HERE for more details of the Woodland Grant Scheme

The WGS grant scheme was run by the Forestry Commission and submitted plans are accepted at their discretion. The Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) gave grants to create new woodlands and manage existing woodlands. The Scheme also offered 'Challenge Funds' in which landowners could bid for money to carry out work in existing woodlands in specified areas of the country. The applicant's pack describes the grants available.

DEFRA reports that there have been 10,217 approved applications covering 186,405 since January 2001. Between October 2003 and March 2004, there were 1,372 approved applications covering 36,549 hectares. 

Both of Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) and Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) have been closed to new applicants in England since March 2005.  They have been replaced by the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) which is run by the Forestry Commission.  Different Schemes also now operate in Scotland and Wales.

Hill Farm Allowance Scheme (HFA)

The Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) scheme is designed to ensure that agriculture continues to make its irreplaceable contribution to rural society and the managed environment of the English uplands by compensating hill farmers for the difficulties of farming in less favoured areas.  The scheme is gradually being phased out and by 2010 will be integrated fully into the Environmental Stewardship Scheme.  It is currently thought a Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (Uplands ELS) will be rolled out.

CLICK HERE for more details on current funding in the uplands

Pause for thought.....use the internet to find out about the different categories of Less Favoured Areas (LFA's).



These project based schemes closed to new applicants in March 2006 as part of DEFRA's strategy to simplify funding. The economic and social development aspect of the new Rural Development Plan for England will be carried out by the Regional Development Agencies.

Energy Crops Scheme (ECS)

Energy Crops are a new opportunity for rural areas as an alternative to fossil fuels. Being carbon-neutral, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their production of heat and/or electricity. 

The Energy Crops Scheme provided establishment grants for two energy crops, short-rotation coppice and miscanthus, and aid to help short rotation coppice growers set up producer groups.

Although now closed to new applicants, the scheme is being replaced under the new RDPE and is being run by Natural England CLICK HERE for details.

Pause for thought.........What is SRC, how much is the SRC grant per ha, and on what does this depend?

Processing and Marketing Grant

The Processing and Marketing Grant (PMG) was open to individuals, groups of primary producers and companies towards new building construction, old building refurbishment and the purchase of new equipment. It was designed to benefit raw material processors and producers and to develop primary processing facilities for primary agricultural products in England. 

Between October 2003 and March 2004, 27 projects were approved representing 6 million of the available 44 million budget. The Mid-term evaluation of the PMG noted that it was highly regarded by the successful applicants and had made a significant contribution towards the proposed projects. However, DEFRA need to simplify and reconsider the objectives of the PMG to make the application process more transparent. 

Rural Enterprise Scheme

The Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) provided support for farm diversification activities through the availability of a land use planning study for farmers intending to take up practicable diversification projects. Projects so far have ranged from the marketing of agricultural produce to converting piggeries into a nursery. The scheme aimed to assist the changing role of agriculture through encouraging more sustainable diversified and enterprising rural economies and communities.  

The RES was popular and between October 2003 and March 2004 received a high number of applications of which 296 applications were approved, representing 16.8 million funding. The popularity of certain diversification measures is evident from the high number of approved applications for diversification out of agriculture (34%), encouragement for tourism (26%) and the marketing of quality agricultural products (12%). However, to ensure that measures whose targets were at risk of not being met, e.g. basic services for the rural population and economy, a particular effort was made to encourage these applications and changes are being made to the promotional literature.

Vocational Training Scheme

The Vocational Training Scheme (VTS) was available to farmers involved in forestry and farming activities and offers grants for up to 75% of training costs which contribute to an improvement in their occupational skills. Between October 2003 and March 2004, 56 applications were approved (over 86% of the applications submitted), representing grant commitment of 1.2 million.


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