Environmental Stewardship

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Environmental Stewardship Scheme

Farmers have traditionally seen themselves as custodians of the countryside. Joining this new scheme will mean they receive financial reward for environmental friendly practices



The Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ESS) was launched in March 2005 to build upon the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme, the Countryside Stewardship (CS) Scheme and the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) and is open to farmers and land managers in England.


The scheme was managed under the ERDP and will form part of the new Rural Development Plan for England. Its main objectives are to:

bulletConserve wildlife and biodiversity.
bulletMaintain and enhance landscape quality and character
bulletProtect the historic environment and natural resources
bulletPromote public access and understanding of the countryside
bulletConserve genetic resources
bulletProvide flood management

The scheme has been built into three levels:


Entry Level Stewardship (ELS)

This whole farm scheme is open to all farmers and land managers in England and encourages simple yet effective environmental management which goes further than the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) to maintain land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC). The scheme requires that land entered into it meets a 'points target'. This can be achieved through the adoption of  management options which will be worth a certain amount of 'points'. Over fifty simple management options are available to suit most farm types. 

The agreements with DEFRA are legally binding and run for five years. Early withdrawal will incur a penalty. 

The benefits of the scheme will include: 

bulletImprovements to water quality and reductions in soil erosion through better management practices
bulletImprovements in conditions for farmland wildlife
bulletMaintained and enhanced landscape character e.g. traditional field boundaries
bulletProtection of the historical environment e.g. archaeological artefacts and features



A flat rate payment of 30 per hectare, per year is made automatically every six months for land meeting the eligibility requirements. One exception being for land in the Less Favoured Area (LFA), which will receive 8 per hectare, per year. 

Changes to the scheme following approval of the Rural Development Plan for England by Brussels in December 2007 will affect provisional agreements made from January 2007. Management Plan options have been withdrawn and agreements in NVZs have to fulfil requirements on Nitrogen application.  CLICK HERE for details.


Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS)

The OELS is largely the same as the ELS but open to farmers whose land is either wholly or partly managed organically or under conversion and does not receive aid under the Organic Aid Scheme (OAS) or the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS). The management options are the same as the ELS with the exception of those that are unsuitable for Organic Farming, such as, conservation headlands. The land must also be registered with and Organic Inspection Body before application is made and during the entire time of the agreement.



A flat rate payment of 60 per hectare, per year is made to land which is OELS eligible. A flat rate payment of 30 per hectare, per year is made to land which is ELS eligible, with the exception of land within LFA's which is paid at 8 per hectare, per year. For land which is under conversion, payment rates are: 600 per hectare, per year for the first three years of the agreement for top fruit orchards (conditions apply) or 175 per hectare, per year for the first two years of the agreement for improved land (conditions apply). 

Examples of the management option for ELS and OELS include:

bulletBoundary Features - e.g. stone wall, ditch and hedgerow management.
bulletProtection of historic sites - e.g. taking archaeological sites out of arable production.
bulletManagement Planning - e.g. soil, nutrient, crop protection and manure planning.
bulletBuffer Strips - e.g. 2, 4 or 6 m strips.
bulletTrees and Woodlands - e.g. Protection of in-field trees and woodland edges.

Pause for thought......what do you think is going to happen to the market for organic products in the UK over the next few years. What factors are you considering in reaching this judgement?

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)

HLS aims to provide significant environmental benefits in priority areas and situations. The more demanding HLS management options are combined with the ELS and OELS management options into a single agreement which will be specifically focused on local circumstances.

HLS is designed to contribute to one or more of the primary objectives of ESS and will mainly apply to land with significant environmental interest and within regional targets.

Examples of the management options and priority environmental features and situations include:

bulletHedgerows - e.g. maintenance to high environmental value
bulletGrassland - maintenance & restoration of species-rich semi-natural grassland or wet grassland
bulletRestoration and Maintenance of Lowland Heath
bulletWetlands - Maintenance of ponds of high wildlife value and reed beds.
bulletResource Protection - to prevent erosion and run-off.


Agreements will be made for ten year periods and payments will be made six-monthly, the first payment being automatic and for half of the annual management payment and the second half will be paid upon the completion of a claim form.


The impacts of this new suite of schemes will not be clear for some years. The first issue is to encourage farmers to sign up for the entry level scheme. Although only providing a low level of payment per hectare, this can add up to a significant sum over the whole farm. Further it can be viewed as a mechanism to encourage those who have not previously been involved in agri-environment schemes to enter the process, possibly with a view to moving into the Higher level scheme as they become more confident in their environmental management skills.


Pause for thought....... If the new agi-environmental schemes are to be deemed a success what broad indicators would be appropriate to measure the success or failure in the short term  (next 3 years) and medium term (next 10 years)

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